Blueprint: How to Start Creating Developer Education Courses

If you're marketing software products to developers or technical audiences and are itching to build developer awareness and adoption for your product, let’s explore how developer education will get you there.

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Developer education is big business. We’ve shared why developer education matters, but in this article, let’s go a step further and dive into actionable steps you can take to start expanding your content engine to include developer education programs and courses. 


Developer Courses And Your Existing Content 

A common objection we’ve heard when talking to developer marketing clients about developer learning courses is that courses seem very disconnected from the rest of a company’s content. In some organizations, developer education is seen as a support activity — meaning it’s in an entirely different division of the company with a separate budget.  

A better way to look at it: it’s helpful to look at developer education as a marketing or developer relations activity. I’ve seen quite a few companies with both a technical content marketing team and a developer education team. But they are in very separate silos and don’t communicate — sometimes even fighting each other for budget!  

This can be a huge missed opportunity. Everybody wins when your technical content marketers and your DevEd team pull in the same direction. 

I think it’s best to treat courses as the third leg of a tripod, or for any Zelda fans, a Triforce. Imagine the other supporting pieces are your existing content in the form of blog posts and tutorials. 

The Developer Content Triforce (Thanks, Zelda)

This formation demonstrates how developer education courses aren’t a separate thing that stands alone from the developer-focused content you are currently creating.  

Instead, they form a mutually reinforcing Triforce. Each part alone is a robust and value-providing triangle. But if you use them together intelligently, you end up with a content structure greater than the sum of its parts. 

That star in the middle? Well, that represents the extra value you get by combining these types of content such that they make each other stronger.  

You’re (hopefully) already getting results from your developer-focused blog posts and tutorials, and that’s great! Keep doing that. Adding courses doesn’t mean you should stop or slow down publishing blog posts and tutorials.  


Good News for Content Marketers: Start With the Content You Already Have


The marketer inside (Source) 

Most of you, as marketers or developer relations experts, probably already have plenty of blog and tutorial style content in place. That’s great news, because it serves as an ideal launchpad for courses. 

You already have traffic coming in and developers reading your content. Having developer courses gives you a compelling call to action — a next step that wows developers, gets them to stick around, sign up for the course, and gradually learn more about the company and your products. You can add these calls to action to your existing content to give developers a reason to move down your funnel and get to know you better.  

It can work both ways, too. If you notice developers are dropping out of your course at a certain point, you can send them an email with links to a few blog posts or tutorials or guides that will help them get unstuck. 

Similarly, once a developer has finished a course you can send a follow-up email containing links to related blogs, tutorials, and courses the developer might enjoy. 


Creating Developer Learning Courses: A Step-By-Step Guide

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that you should add developer courses to your content mix. But how do you start doing it? First, let’s look at a process that has worked well for ContentLab: 

Steps to get started building developer education programs

I’ll note that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to creating good developer education content. But this is a general process that has been effective in designing courses for ContentLab’s clients. 

If you’re already producing developer-focused content, this process probably looks familiar. That’s intentional!  

A point of anxiety I’ve heard from clients is that course creation looks quite different from the kind of content they are used to creating. 

I submit to you that it’s not all that different. As you can see, the production flow is not much different from other types of content at a high level. However, there are a few differences that I’ll point out as I go through each step.  


Step 1: Perform a Content Audit 

Step one is a content audit. This may seem unnecessary, but I recommend it for several reasons when kicking off a developer education program. 

Even if you have a good idea of what topics you’ve covered well, it’s helpful to go through your content while thinking about how each piece of content can help support your developer education plans. 

Popular articles can be a good starting point because they offer ideal avenues to drive traffic to your course once it is published.  

But also look for parts of your existing content you can reuse in developer learning courses. While you don’t want to lift everything word-for-for, you will likely find that some of your tutorials can serve as a unit in a longer developer education course with a bit of modification. 


Step 2: Ideation & Topic Mapping 

Next, it’s time for ideation — ideally, based on personas. I mention personas because they’re a great way of segmenting your audience. 

Personas aren’t the only way to segment your audience, but they are helpful because they help visualize your audience in a way that makes it easier to decide what course topics you should cover and how you should cover those topics.  

If you’re trying to teach Ruby, for example, a course that targets experienced enterprise developers will look different from a course targeting new developers. 


Step 3: Create a Syllabus 

Once you’ve chosen a topic, it’s time to create a syllabus. A course syllabus will look similar to the content briefs and outlines you’re used to writing but needs to be more detailed because a course needs additional structure to ensure a smooth progression as learners work through it. 

Your syllabus should include checkpoints to add quizzes that give learners a chance to reflect on what they’ve learned and consolidate their knowledge. If you’ll be publishing to a course environment like Appsembler Tahoe that includes interactive virtual labs, make sure the author knows their code samples will need to run in a Dockerized lab environment. 

Social validation is a crucial part of the learning experience for many developers. Think about adding shareable badges, rewards, and certificates as developers move through your DevEd experience.

Step 4: Creator Selection 

Once you’ve completed the syllabus, it’s time to choose an author or creator for your course. I’ve seen anxiety around creator selection because of the mistaken idea that courses are so different from other content that you need to work with different creators than you’ve worked with for tutorials. At ContentLab, we’ve found this not to be the case. 

You can, in large part, work with the same creators you’ve worked with for tutorials. Most of them are probably developers or come from a developer background. Consequently, they can usually take the additional guidance you’ve provided in the syllabus and translate that into a course that works well for the target audience. 

Transparency is key. Share as much additional context with the creator as possible, including details of the persona you’re trying to target. 


Step 5: Production 

After selecting a course creator, it’s time to push the courses into production. The production stage should feel essentially the same as tutorial production, though it usually takes longer.  

Add extra check-ins to ensure the creator is making progress and not getting stuck. Be ready to provide additional resources to ensure the course creator has everything they need.  


Step 6: Validation and Testing 

Next comes course validation and testing. You’ll want to spend more time at this stage than you would on blog posts and tutorials. Since developers will be spending a lot of time working through the course, it’s worth the upfront time investment. Courses will last longer and be more evergreen than blogs and tutorials, so it is worth getting them right.  

After copy editing, work through the course the same way a learner would work through the course. Ensure that all of the instructions make sense. 
Ensure that all of the code and commands work in the virtual lab environment if you’re using one. 

Make sure that quizzes focus on crucial points learners should have picked up. Ensure they’re neither too easy nor too difficult.  


Step 7: Course Delivery 

Last comes delivery and publishing. Ideally, look to a learning management system (LMS) provider like Appsembler to give you a powerful, easy-to-use platform to publish your developer learning courses.  

While you could build your own, it will be a distraction that takes six to twelve months – time you’d probably prefer to spend delivering courses to developers rather than making your own LMS.  

When choosing a delivery platform, look for one that lets you see detailed data about how learners are progressing through your courses. For example, you should be able to see things like how quickly they move through the course, how far they get, and how many learners follow the course through to completion.  

Finally, look for an LMS that offers rewards like badges and certificates that developers can share on LinkedIn and other social networks. Social validation is a crucial part of the learning experience for many developers. 

Measuring Success of Developer Education Programs

What metrics can be used to determine if the courses are effective? Take a look for: 

  • Registrations 
    The most basic measure of effectiveness is whether developers sign up for the course at all. Although it will take time for learners to work their way through the course, the registration rate gives you an early look at how effectively your course description and syllabus entice developers to register and dive into the course. 
  • Milestones 
    Courses are great because you can track developers’ progress through the course. If you notice that developers get partway through the course but drop off at a certain point, you could try editing that section of the course to make it less difficult or more interesting.  
    Similarly, if you find that some units of a course take developers far longer to finish than other units, you might consider splitting a large unit up into smaller units, which helps give learners a sense of accomplishment and progress and encourages them to continue on and finish the course. 
  • Course completion rates 
    The percentage of registrants who finish a course is an obvious and easy-to-measure metric that helps determine how effective a course is at connecting with a developer audience.  
    However, note that a low completion rate doesn’t mean a course is ineffective; it might just mean that developers are getting everything they need out of your course before they finish it. You can check this by looking at milestone completion; if most learners are skipping the last two or three units of a course, it might be worth dropping those units (or moving them to a second, more advanced course,) giving more developers an opportunity to finish the course.  
  • Follow-up 
    Ideally, you should have automated follow-up actions that you recommend to developers who complete a course. This might include other courses that they might like, but could also include blog posts and tutorials relevant to what the course covered.  
    If you’re using a marketing automation platform, you can track how many developers engage with your follow-up suggestions. While this is an indirect measure of course effectiveness, it helps you measure whether developers found your course useful enough that they want to engage with related content you have created. 
  • Conversion 
    At the end of the day, conversion rates (i.e., how many developers completed a course and then when on to become customers) is the ultimate measure of course success. Since you’re able to gather much more data about how many developers register for, work through, and complete courses as compared to blog posts and tutorials, it’s easier establish a causal link from course registrant to qualified lead to customer.  
    Of course, conversion is not the right metric for every course. For developer courses aimed at educating existing clients, you might need to look at the results of customer satisfaction surveys to determine whether your developer courses are getting the results you expect. 


Getting Stakeholder Buy-In For Course Creation

None of what we’ve discussed matters if you can’t get buy-in from executives and other stakeholders. Courses are seen as more expensive to produce than shorter forms of developer content, so it can be more difficult to get budget allocated to courses in addition to blog posts and tutorials. There are a few ways you can overcome skepticism from stakeholders: 

  • Emphasize that you can start small. You don’t need to dive in and publish an entire library of course at once. You can start with a single course, and as I explained above, you can use a process that’s very similar to the process you use to create blog posts and tutorials. 
  • Explain that courses encourage developer engagement and build brand affinity. Courses require additional commitment from developers because they need to register before they can work through a course. However, courses offer a far more attractive value proposition than other assets that typically require registration like eBooks and whitepapers.  
    So, explain to stakeholders that by getting developers to make a commitment by registering for a course and then providing them with great value in return, you get the opportunity to build developers’ trust for your brand, get them engaged with your products, and increate the probability that developers will move down your funnel toward a purchase.  
  • Share success stories. Chef’s learning courses cover a range of topics – some are about Chef itself, but many are about general DevOps and automation topics that aren’t about Chef. The net result: courses are Chef’s top lead generator. That’s the kind of story that’s hard to ignore, and can help convince stakeholders that developer courses are worth a try.  
  • Show them the data. If all else fails, you can rely on hard data to emphasize the importance of developer education. Companies like Evans Data provide both strategic and tactical reports provide data on developer marketing, developer content, and developer education that can help you convince stakeholders that developer courses are a worthwhile endeavor. 


Getting Your Developer Education Program Off the Ground 

We’ve covered a lot of ground here today, but even armed with all this knowledge, kicking off a developer course creation program can feel like a daunting task.  

If you’re excited about courses but could use a helping hand, consider working with ContentLab. We have strategists and content creators who can guide you through the course creation process from start to finish. If this is something you’d like to explore, send us a message.  

Picture of Ryan Peden
Ryan Peden
Ryan is a developer and marketer who lives at the intersection of business and technology. He loves writing code, writing about code, and planning developer marketing strategy. Visit him on LinkedIn.

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