In Practice: Bay Area Engineers Appreciate a Blended Learning Approach

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In Practice: Bay Area Engineers Appreciate a Blended Learning Approach

For Salesforce, one of the world’s top customer relationship management platforms, technical training is all in a day’s work. Its global, engineer-heavy workforce needs continual development in order to provide the latest, most effective products for the more than 150,000 companies that use its CRM platform.

Caitlin Mann, the company’s Director of Technology, Marketing & Product’s Learning, said the right training is goal-driven and customized where needed. Further, when created with the right vendor partner, training is easier to scale and easier for the workforce to consume how and when they need it. Tailored training programs have been proven to improve engineers’ performance, and elevate their productivity. Mann spoke with DevelopIntelligence to discuss how and why their relationship works.

What’s The Best Solution When You’re Trying to Accommodate Tech Talent?

It depends. What are the goals of your program(s)? Are you trying to foster a culture of continual learning? Are you trying to develop a program to help move a business initiative forward? Are you trying to move the Titanic and build a program around org transformation? In an organization like ours all three are key. The best learning solution depends on the goals that you’re trying to achieve for whatever initiative you’re working on.

Our team was founded on a ‘continual learning’ model nine years ago. Traditionally our course offerings have been open enrollment, in-person classes, based on a number of different technologies and methodologies that are relevant to our employees. DevelopIntelligence has been key in creating this ‘continual learning’ catalog with ever-changing topics while using a tailored approach. For context, we offer over 200 classes each year through our open enrollment catalog.

Our learning programs based on business initiatives depend on what our leaders are looking for at that time and what’s happening within our business. Most recently it’s been machine learning. It’s a huge topic within the industry right now. A number of tech companies are looking at how to not only enable machine learning within their features, but how to create programs that allow engineers to learn and get hands-on with these new technologies.

Machine learning has been a huge shift in our partnership with DevelopIntelligence. We developed a five-day, hands-on class focused on the fundamentals of machine learning. We then used Salesforce-specific examples so our engineers could get hands-on and run some of these data sets through our own tools to see how it would impact the projects they’re working on.

We wanted a massive amount of people to go through the program. We had to look at a solution that was going to fit everyone’s needs, from how they prefer to learn to where they are located. We partnered with DevelopIntelligence to create the five-day class, then we built some Trails around that with Trailhead, our fun online learning platform. It became a blended learning solution that included in-person training plus online learning for the basics.

Now where blended learning solutions become key is when you’re building transformational programs. For us this means times when we want to focus on a shift in behavior or skills across the entire organization and complete it on a deadline; it’s like moving the Titanic on a dime. These are not one-and-done initiatives. These are programs that are part of a larger change management shift that are happening within the org. When these opportunities come along, it’s important we partner closely with our leaders to ensure that whatever our learning solution is, it meets the needs of the business and our learners.

The framework for our transformational programs include Trailhead content and resources, followed by hands-on classes tailored to the business needs, continual touch points with additional resources (docs, vidoes, research etc.), and ensuring they are working on applicable projects during the day so they practice what they’re learning. We then put a lot of the retention work back on the managers, asking them to make sure employees not only understand the content but ensuring it’s impacting their daily work and they’re practicing it every day. If people are not continually working on their craft, skill or mindset, it’s going to go away. Blended learning plus continuous practice is absolutely key.

Does That Require Customization?

It depends on what the engineer is trying to achieve. If our engineers want to ramp up on JavaScript, or they’re using a new technology for a specific feature, it’s not necessary. For business initiatives and transformation, having customized content so people understand what it looks like in actual practice for our company is really important.

If an Organization Decides to Go the Customized Route, Are There Certain Things They Need From a Vendor?

Absolutely. We always look for our vendors to be experts in the field we ask them to develop content on. We don’t want to just outsource content and completely release all responsibility. I have a team of engineers, instructional designers, program managers and learning and development professionals. We’re not reaching out because we don’t know how to develop this content; it’s mostly to help us scale.

However, we want to hear from our vendors on the industry standard. How are other companies succeeding in these areas? What are some of the tripwires that we should consider? We scale year over year, but DevelopIntelligence has worked with a number of companies that may have met some of the same challenges already. We’d love to learn from them to make sure that we’re as successful as we can be.

When it comes to learning and development vendors, I’d much rather it be a partnership where we work closely together to achieve our business goals and to produce the best outcomes. Plus, the instructors teaching the content, I would much rather have one who has been a professional within that industry for years versus someone always doing training. We can teach our own engineers to do train the trainer.

That’s one positive when you work with the right third-party vendor, you find people who know how to teach, are passionate about teaching and passionate about the subject area. Internally it can be difficult to find the right person with presentation skills, charisma, who knows how to make information stick and has subject matter expertise. When you work with DevelopIntelligence you get all of those.

We’ve worked with some instructors for years now. They’ve truly started to understand our culture and get to know our engineers. It speeds up the process quite a bit when we’re developing new courses. It also creates a lot of trust. I trust that when we show DI our content, it’s safe in their hands. They’ve always been incredibly open to working with us on iterations when we ask for them. They’re incredibly agile in how they get content out to us that’s up to date, and they iterate on the curriculum, which is fantastic.

DI Has Been Running Micro Learning Sessions For You. What Prompted Those?

One of the business opportunities we were focusing on was how to scale our ILT classes, Instructor-Led Training. We have engineers around the globe, and the company continues to grow. The problem statement was ‘how do we get learning programs out to people at different locations with the same budget?’ DI helped us scale our programs to what we now call “Technical Targeted Topics.”

Technical Targeted Topics is way to scale content across a number of locations virtually. We take a topic like JavaScript and divide it into a number of sub-topics. We then allow learners to enroll in each sub-topic over a two to three day period. If a learner wants to attend the full course, great. However, many times we have engineers that just need a refresher in one particular area. This allows them to jump in and out of the program based on their needs. Even better is that it’s all virtual. As we know, one of the biggest challenges of virtual training is keeping people engaged and online for a long period of time. Each sub-topics is just a few hours so that removes many of the barriers for us. Lastly, knowing most people can only retain 10 percent of the information they receive at a given time, bucketing our content and trimming it down allows for a higher rate of retention.

Keep in mind Technical Targeted Topics is not our only mode of training. We still have plenty of our traditional ILT classes where instructors are live in one of our global offices. However, the learning organization needs to grow and change along with the tech industry. This is another way for us to scale and meet the growing demands of our organization.