5 Best Practices for Designing Effective Software Development Training

How to Overcome Curriculum Mistakes and Your Coding Skills Gap

When It Comes to Training Your Team, There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Solution

Technology evolves so quickly that skills gaps can sneak up on development teams. Although this presents an urgent need for training, companies shouldn’t rush to implement stopgap solutions. After all, a shortsighted approach to talent development opens the door for new skills gaps to strike.

In this guide, you’ll explore common oversights that prevent companies from designing training that delivers long-term results. Even better, you’ll learn five best practices that can make your skills gap obsolete.

Common Curriculum Design Oversights

Oversight 1: Business Goals Are Never Considered

Many companies design curriculum with one goal in mind: providing new skills to their developers. But skills merely represent actions that individual can do, not what your business wants to accomplish. This can result in training that helps your employees learn new tricks but doesn’t zero in on strategic skills that enable your business to serve more customers or break into new markets.

There is strong evidence that a failure to consider business goals commonly plagues workforce training. For example, only 4 percent of company leaders believe training programs provide a return on investment (ROI) to their business.1 This dissatisfaction underscores why a failure to account for business goals can diminish the dividends that training can pay. To ensure ROI is substantial, the connection between talent development and business strategy shouldn’t be overlooked during the curriculum design process.

Oversight 2: Individual Skills Are Never Assessed

The skills of software developers on your team likely vary considerably. Some developers may have a decade of experience, while others are new to the field. That said, a company may try to save time and money by skipping the important step of assessing its workforce before developing education programs. This is a mistake, as without skills data, your curriculum won’t fully account for a team’s diverse learning needs. As a result, seasoned developers could sit through training that covers topics they already know. Or, junior developers may get lost trying to understand concepts beyond their grasp — wasting their time and your money.

A failure to assess employee skills may be a reason 38 percent of learning professionals fear development initiatives fall short of learners’ needs.2 That said, companies that base curriculum on measured proficiency are better positioned to improve the performance of their entire team.

Oversight 3: Too Much Showing, Not Enough Doing

Explaining concepts to employees isn’t the best way to provide them with new skills. But this doesn’t stop many training initiatives from relying heavily on lectures, especially those that favor prerecorded videos. That approach runs contrary to studies that show active learning is the best way to learn new skills and concepts.3

“Think of it like this: If someone wants to learn carpentry, they don’t want to sit and listen to an instructor define a hammer or explain how to mill wood,” said Alan Galloway, director of curriculum and instruction at The Software Guild. “They want the hands-on experience of actually making things. That’s why the best curriculum gives developers the chance to use tools to build functional applications.”

Oversight 4: No Plan for Continuous Development

When managers realize their software development teams need to expand their abilities, they may think one-off training will solve their problems forever. This explains the overreliance on off-the-shelf modules and video training — and why only about 34 percent of workers feel employers provide adequate continuing development opportunities.4

But effective development teams aren’t built in a day. In fact, your team needs ongoing finetuning to keep pace with evolving technology. This means companies shouldn’t plan to create a single set of curricula. Instead, training should fit into long-term development plans that enable developers to sustainably grow their skills and find new ways to contribute to company success.

Oversight 5: SMEs Aren’t Consulted

Businesses that train their employees using off-the-shelf training programs have little control over what is taught. The reason is simple: The material was produced by a third party who never gave its subject matter experts (SMEs) and management teams a chance to customize content to fulfill their specific needs.

Leaving your SMEs out of the curriculum design process could result in training that seems irrelevant to your software developers. This happens when course topics and exercises are designed for a general audience instead of your business. When your developers participate in this type of training, they may simply tune it out — a problem that afflicts about one-third of workers who participate in training.5

1 Staples, T. (2017, February 7). Introducing the 2017 workplace learning report: Top trends & challenges among L&D leaders [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://learning.linkedin.com/blog/learning-thought-leadership/introducing-the-2017-workplace-learning-report–top-trends—cha

2 ATD Research. (2015). Instructional design now: A new age of learning and beyond. Retrieved from https://www.td.org/research/instructional-design-now

3 Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K. Okoroafor, N. Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. PNAS, 111(23) 8410–8415. Retrieved from https://www.pnas.org/content/111/23/8410

4 Kane, G. C., Palmer, D., Phillips, A. N., Kiron, D., & Buckley, N. (2018, June 5). Coming of age digitally. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/focus/digital-maturity/coming-of-age-digitally-learning-leadership-legacy.html

5 Brant, C. (2016, July 20). The future of corporate training in a changing world. Retrieved from https://trainingindustry.com/articles/learning-technologies/the-future-of-corporate-training-in-a-changing-world/

5 Best Practices for Curriculum Design

Now that you’ve reviewed oversights that can plague the creation of curriculum, it’s time to review how to overcome them. Follow these best practices when designing learning opportunities for current and future members of your software development team.

Best Practice 1: Put Your Business Goals in the Driver’s Seat

When the training design process begins, you shouldn’t simply ask which skills your employees lack. You should ask what your business wants to accomplish. After all, you aren’t providing new skills to your developers for the sake of bragging rights. Instead, you are enabling them to master technologies that can boost company performance and bring your goals to fruition.

Like your business strategy, your talent strategy shouldn’t be shortsighted. Forecast workforce infrastructure for the long term so software talent is in place to support markets you want to serve and outcomes you want to achieve over time.


Best Practice 2: Identify, Assess, and Map Required Skills

Once you document goals that your business wants to achieve, it’s time to determine the skills your workforce needs to achieve them. In addition, you must assess employee performance to learn if — and how far — their competencies fall short of your proficiency needs.

This process requires all developers to take part in a data-driven talent assessment. This assessment tests each developer’s proficiency in using core technologies to create applications, such as programming languages or back-end development practices. Armed with this data, you can visualize workforce skills gaps and begin designing curriculum that will close them.


Best Practice 3: Customize the Learning Experience

After a company assesses its developers, it’s time to use those insights to create curriculum that enables them to thrive. Customization is key. By tailoring lessons and code-alongs to meet the needs of individual developers, you can help them overcome their shortcomings to become contributors to the team.

Keep in mind that roles and project requirements vary on a single team. That’s why it’s best for development programs to deliver a diverse set of skills. For example, you may have software developers who are familiar with jQuery, JavaScript, and HTML, while other developers must be knowledgeable in React for their projects. Accounting for different libraries in a single curriculum can help your team become more versatile.

Best Practice 4: Train to Retain Top Talent

Employees value training above all other learning options you could offer.1 But retaining top talent requires more than one-off training opportunities. For best results, curriculum should fit into individual development plans that connect to overarching company objectives. This allows workers’ skills to synchronize with company initiatives and connects talent development with your long-term business strategy.

You can help developers visualize their talent plan by formatting it as learning schedule that relates to business initiatives. This provides employees with a clear picture of skills they’ll need to contribute to future success. In addition, showing the mutually beneficial relationship of personal and workplace growth could deepen an employee’s commitment to your business.


Best Practice 5: Rely on — and Design for — Real-World Experience

There’s a dependable way for training to boost performance: Design curriculum in collaboration with SMEs who have real-world experience. It may sound obvious, but instructional designers with firsthand knowledge of how development teams work are better suited to spot deficiencies in your training plan.

For best results, ask SMEs to help customize lessons and code-alongs to apply to projects, products, and services your workers encounter each day. This can help employees focus solely on acquiring skills without the distraction of abstract exercises that don’t relate to what they already know — a common feature of canned modules.


1 Weber, J. (n.d.). What do employees value most? training. Training Magazine. Retrieved from https://trainingmag.com/trgmag-article/what-do-your-employees-value-most-training/

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The Software Guild Is Here to Help

As this guide shows, designing effective curriculum is a challenging process. But don’t worry. The Software Guild is here to ensure you do it right. Our proven approach to talent development goes beyond curriculum design. We can provide complete solutions to help you identify, train, and retain the talent that your business goals demand.

Driven by Company Insights

Your business has unique objectives and specific skills gaps to close — factors that The Software Guild identifies at the beginning of each training partnership.

“Your desired business outcomes lay the foundation for curriculum that goes into your learning stack,” said Corbin March, lead instructor at The Software Guild. “After we learn the technical objectives that your company has, we administer a skills assessment to determine the technical proficiency of your workforce. This is the first step to designing curriculum around programming languages and applications your workforce must learn to achieve your business objectives.”

A Collaborative Process

Your business and talent objectives drive every aspect of curriculum we design, from the complexity of instruction to the environment where training takes place. This is how we set the bar for competency levels when we develop individual course elements, according to Amanda Clapper, corporate operations manager at The Software Guild.

“We deep dive with your technical staff to identify the projects currently in your workflow, the skills your employees lack, and the applications you want to build,” Clapper said. “Then, we customize curriculum to fit your needs. For novice developers, we may begin by focusing on basic concepts, while seasoned developers could jump right into learning leading-edge technologies.”

The result is a custom learning stack that serves as a cohesive, comprehensive playbook for delivering skills to your workforce.

Customized for Your Business

When you partner with The Software Guild, you don’t receive generic curriculum that we use for every business; we customize it to provide the precise skills your workforce needs. Whether you want to upskill a development team or reskill nontechnical employees, we can create a program that boosts workforce skills while reducing staffing costs.

In addition to delivering technical skills, we can factor the employment background of employees into the learning stack we design. This is important when designing reskilling programs that help legacy employees transition from nontechnical to developer roles, as we recently did for a Fortune 100 global insurance company.

“Like many businesses, the company was struggling to hire developers,” March said. “At the same time, they had many legacy employees with valuable industry knowledge but obsolete skills. The company’s goal was to transform those legacy workers into developers. Being new to the field, they didn’t have prerequisite knowledge for software development. In that situation, we can front-load the learning stack with basic concepts.”

March said this approach helps novice trainees learn to think like programmers and explore rudimentary coding techniques and tools they must grasp before progressing to intermediate and advanced courses.

“On the other side of the coin, your team may include seasoned developers who need to learn an emerging technology,” March said. “We can create a learning stack that teaches leading-edge skills in an accelerated format that minimizes the time your team is away from work.”

In the end, the exact design of your learning stack comes down to one thing: the skills your workforce needs to achieve your business goals. Partner with The Software Guild to start a collaborative process that transforms the employees you have into the software talent you need.

About The Software Guild

The Software Guild creates talented software developers through corporate training programs designed to enhance your workforce. Through immersive hands-on coding education, The Guild provides expertise in upskilling, reskilling, onboarding, and staffing. In partnership with companies who are active in workforce development, we help align corporate goals, design education solutions, and deliver student outcomes. The Guild has more than 450 companies in its employer network, boasts a high job placement rate for bootcamp graduates, and offers master instructors who have an average of more than 10 years of industry experience. With on-ground locations in Louisville, KY, and Minneapolis, MN. The Guild also offers courses in partnership with universities and companies across the country. The Software Guild is owned and operated by leading education technology solution provider The Learning House, Inc.