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Learning culture in software engineering teams: Training & E-learning (3/7)

This post is part of a series of 7 blog posts on the topic How to create a learning culture for software development teams:

#3 Training

A traditional approach to acquiring knowledge consists of organizing training sessions, generally lasting 2 to 3 days. They are delivered by an in-house or external person and involve a small number of participants (maximum 10). These training sessions can target a programming language, a framework, development techniques, or general acculturation. While they usually happen in physical sessions to facilitate interactions and exchanges, the COVID-19 episode has seen the democratization of many remote training courses since 2020.

This training has the advantage of being concise, concentrated on a short duration, and delivering a significant amount of knowledge to the participants. On the other hand, it is not uncommon to hear the following cues:

  • In my team, we have practiced the concepts seen in training on an example project, which is far from the reality of our project. As a result, we have difficulty applying what we have learned in real-life conditions ;
  • In my company, the turnover implies that new people join our teams, and we will have to train these people. Organizing new sessions can have a high cost over time.

Therefore, the challenge is to organize training sessions when it is most relevant for the teams and try as much as possible to ensure that the content, especially the practical aspect, is as close as possible to the teams’ daily lives. While these training sessions naturally support the development of the team’s skills, we note that the issue of sustaining and putting the concepts into practice is far from trivial.

#4 E-learning

E-learning has several advantages over traditional training. On the one hand, the content is split into several modules, and it is possible to follow a few modules over a short period (1 hour, for example). Moreover, this learning happens in an asynchronous way: each person follows the course at the most convenient time.

The content can be produced by resources internal or external to the organization. The production of video material is generally more expensive than the production of more traditional material such as presentation slides. Some topics can be outsourced, but others more specific to the organization will be more difficult to delegate.

In addition to the pace, the content is customizable, and the follow-up can be as well. It is vital to have support people (tutors) to answer learners’ questions to ensure that each person has grasped the knowledge, and it is even a motivating factor for the learners. We can even go further by using microdoing methodologies, which propose regular micro-actions to put theoretical concepts into practice.

Thanks to this continuous and scattered learning, developers gain additional time to ingest knowledge, ask the right questions, and question specific knowledge. This is not always possible in short courses, where you may need more time to step back. However, blocking dedicated slots in the schedule to follow the online content will bring comfort to the teams. This is a difficulty encountered by traditional multi-day training courses: finding time slots that suit everyone is not easy.

The global e-learning market has grown dramatically from the decade 2010-2020, and projections between 2020 and 2024 show a market increase of $38 billion. Companies put forward the argument of financial cost, as e-learning offers a qualitative training tool without the organizational and logistical costs inherent to more traditional training.

Editors such as Xperteam or Elucidat offer LMS (Learning Management System) solutions to enable companies to create E-learning content and make it available to their employees. Projects such as UpSkills4IT, launched in early 2022, offer a platform and educational content specifically for IT teams.