Have you ever ordered an expensive filet mignon at a five-star restaurant? Cooked extra well done? With a side of ketchup? Of course not (we hope). Corporate IT learning and development programs share a similar logic. Where quality is concerned, the cooking process is paramount. 

The purpose of an IT learning and development program is to align employee skill sets and career goals with company objectives. In doing so, organizations can meet new market demands, improve employee engagement and retention, and gain competitive ground. However, when companies invest in “off-the-shelf” L&D solutions, they often inadvertently get an extra helping of risk. On more than one occasion, we’ve seen less-than-palatable outcomes, including higher cost per student, less flexibility, and slower speed-to-market.

If your organization wants to serve up a choice, five-star IT learning experience that mitigates these risks, it needs to work with an instructional design team that understands how to “cook” with all the key ingredients of a world-class training program. Here’s what our experts recommend:

1. Meaningful Lessons

Learners inherently assign value to the information they receive in class. When information is not framed within the context of practical life applications, that value goes down, which may result in lower attention and participation levels. The most effective IT learning programs build context into the coursework during program design and curriculum development to ensure that lessons simulate real-life applications. Sarah Dutkiewicz, one of our most experienced instructors, takes her classroom experience a step further.

“I also use relatable analogies and stories to make technical concepts easier to understand and welcome students to chime in, ask questions, and participate in open discussions. This enables them to use class time in ways that suit their learning style, which makes the time more meaningful to them.”

2. Personal Progress Benchmarking

Learners inherently look for ways to gauge their own progress to validate whether or not they can and will succeed. Without the means to do so, they may feel less confident and, by default, less willing to participate in discussions or problem-solving activities. In other words, the more learners can visualize their own progress and positive performance, the more inclined they will be to engage in future learning activities. 

To foster a stronger sense of competence in IT training programs, our curriculum developers structure content so that it can be delivered incrementally in lessons that are just slightly beyond current student comprehension. This ensures that learners are always on the brink of a breakthrough, but constantly absorbing new information. Furthermore, we recommend progress reporting to benchmark learner development.

3. Autonomy & Collaboration

“The key to a great learning experience is realizing that we are all social creatures—even the introverts!” Said Mike Vanderpool, Director of Curriculum Development. “When you think about it, we’ve only really evolved this far as a species because of social learning. That’s why it’s so important for learners and instructors to welcome diversity in thinking. We all bring different experiences and perspectives into the classroom, and sharing them is crucial in building teams of problem solvers who can work together to make a better future.”

To Vanderpool’s point, there are often infinite ways to approach and solve an IT problem. As such, learning environments must create awareness and respect for differing perspectives. 

“One of the more memorable moments I’ve had in the classroom occurred when S3T’s founder, Eric Wise and I had an open discussion about databases and Entity Frameworks (EF),” said Randall Clapper, Principal Consultant and Instructor. “Students were able to see more than one point-of-view on the subject, which provided a deeper understanding of the topic. We don’t want the future generation of technical professionals to stop at the first answer,” he continued. “We want them to investigate other ways to solve problems, because if there’s one thing we know for certain; it’s that there is always a better way.” 

4. Emphasis on Mastery, Not Success 

In traditional training environments, memorization and strong test-taking can pass for skills development. There is only one way to measure success — pass or fail. Once reached, where do learners go next? Instead of focusing the narrative on “student success” in the classroom, the most effective IT learning and development programs promote mastery, which frames progress as an ongoing journey. This mindset helps to create a culture of lifelong learners who are willing and motivated to pursue new skills as technology continues to change and challenge how businesses operate.  

5. Experiential Coursework

Data science, analytics, and software engineering are not skills that can be developed by reading a book. Experiential training uses “simulations” to provide employees with real-life, hands-on problem-solving experience. Equally important as the simulated lesson is how instructors turn experiences into memorable teaching moments.  

Alan Galloway, Principal Consultant, IT specialist, and design engineer sees great value in the teaching moments that follow mistakes or failures.

“IT learning and development programs must promote a culture and learning environment where mistakes aren’t just accepted — they’re encouraged,” he explained. “The learning environments we create instigate mistakes and failures to mimic the process of discovery that is often applied in the day-to-day creation of work products.”

According to Galloway, when risks, mistakes, and failures are celebrated as important parts of the learning experience, learners develop a stronger sense of curiosity, independent thought, and creative problem-solving skills—all of which are hallmarks of a true innovator.

6. A Process For Measuring, Iterating, & Improving

A master chef, like an expert in instructional design, stands by their work. To that end, the IT learning and development program a provider puts into place should offer more than one way to track and measure performance and improve quality (nobody wants a mouthful of burnt filet mignon). In addition to student surveys, we conduct routine classroom audits to assess instructors and learning environments and ensure that lessons nurture the skills and experience employees need to deploy training immediately. 

“If employees can take the training and put it right to work, that’s going to have a better business impact than if skills require more time and experience after training to become useful,” explained Dutkiewicz. “By then, technology might have already moved on, rendering their skills outdated!” 

Process is Paramount

When it comes to IT learning and development, you get what you pay for (chuck is chuck, even on Bobby Flay’s grill), but not all design and development approaches create the same savory IT learning experience. Process is paramount, which is why organizations that lack an internal framework for developing and deploying customized curricula are best served by partnering with a full-scale team that does. 

For additional help creating a world-class IT learning experience, check out this Essential IT Skills Training Program Planner.