As part of our ongoing review of the marketplace, and our preliminary analysis of the space during our data collection for the top 20 IT training companies, I had the opportunity to get a look at what makes these surging bootcamps tick. Besides the overwhelming and insatiable need for coders in the global marketplace, and their ability to generate a pipeline of new coders to fill openings across many industries, these coding bootcamps are leveraging some practices that I feel have more than a casual applicability in the corporate learning and development space.

Across all the companies we interviewed and surveyed, these programs tout the quality and experience of their trainers. The mentors/coaches (their words) are generally skilled in rapid iteration training, and are deep in the concepts of industry best practices like clean coding. They are dynamic and energetic, keeping the engagement level high over what, in many circumstances, are 10-11 hour days of working on projects in pairs (a common coding practice for obvious reasons). They are truly SME’s, industry experts who get it and don’t view themselves as instructors.

What became apparent to me was the flipped classroom strategy across almost all the companies in the space.  Most had a significant pre-work element to establish a baseline understanding of the technologies they will use. There was a range in the medium for the pre-work, from classic e-learning to video-based programs. However, the level of pre-work was significant, and in most cases, required before gaining access to the classroom/bootcamp. This meant the focus of the workspace learning was a repetitious pattern of application, use cases, actual practice, application and even more practice. The best companies were continuously monitoring success rates of the students on the practice cases, using an Agile approach to the program delivery by leveraging the data to morph the case studies used to practice and develop the coding skills. I felt that this was a clear best practice that can be put in place for any corporate learning program, even something as “soft skill” focused as role plays. Monitoring the success rate and adjusting the role plays can be a best practice for those programs also.

A phrase I heard a lot was the concept of the challenge, or challenge-based learning. This meant that the coach needed to have the ability to provide quality exercises to stretch the complexity of the work to match the skills and capabilities of the learner. Everyone in the program was challenged to enhance their skills as they saw it, and I agree, is the heart in delivering value to every learner.

By design the programs are constructed in an immersive learning environment, simulated to look like one they will likely work in once they graduate from the program. The classroom looks like an IT development company’s workspace, with all the distractions that they will likely face in the real world. This was another key takeaway that I think can be used in the design of other corporate learning and development programs. They don’t and shouldn’t all be held in a U-shaped classroom setup.

The programs also entailed group separation based on blockers, areas some students struggled with and breakout sessions that allowed excelling students to push the envelope and learn new skills when the rest of the team needed more time to master the basics.  These were not small class sizes based on the trend in corporate learning and development.  As we see corporate training class sizes trend toward six people (Training Industry Research Oct, 2015), the session generally had between 25 and 40 students, and often involved a small team of coaches.

So when we are faced with a skills shortage as a company, we should look to adopt some of the best practices from these bootcamps.  Look for real coaches and mentors who are real SMEs with real-world experience, adapt the program to the needs of the student, real-time during the sessions, leveraging the data you accumulate as you run the program. Challenge the students, all of them! Structure the bootcamp to allow for some learning pace gaps within the class. Allow the program to take place in a setting that they are likely to employ the new skills….and don’t worry if the class size goes up a bit.