The advantages (and increasing prevalence) of simulation-based IT training
IT certification exams can be rigorous. For unprepared candidates, chances of passing are slim. It’s often necessary even for IT professionals with several years of experience to devote some time to formal training for the exam, either by studying on one’s own, studying under the supervision of instructors, or pursuing some combination of self-study and instructor-led training.
There are many different ways for certification candidates to learn, train, and prepare for a certification exam. One method that has gained popularity in recent years is simulation-based training. Leading certification providers, such as Cisco and CompTIA both offer training and exam simulators that enable candidates to develop hands-on problem-solving and troubleshooting skills in real-life scenarios.
Certification training providers such as Pearson IT Certification and TestOut also offer simulation-based training for some CompTIA and Cisco certification exams. Corporations have been using simulation-based training modules to train their employees for quite a few years now. Many are of the view that it improves learning outcomes and improves workplace productivity.
What is simulation-based IT certification training?
Simulation involves using technology to create a lifelike IT scenario. This simulated environment may be physical or software-based, or a browser-based virtual lab. Learners first try to understand concepts by reading up on the topic, and viewing and interacting with training videos. They are then required to apply these concepts in a simulated environment.
A student uses a keyboard and mouse to complete simulated tasks. Ideally, such interaction provides a level of “hands-on” expertise in setting up a network or a computer, configuring a system, troubleshooting network and system issues, and other IT functions. One level of learning is accomplished by traditional reading, watching, and listening.
Giving students the opportunity to practice with simulated equipment, however, enables them to understand how a process works, identify the right response, and retain knowledge at a deeper level. Learning by doing improves understanding and application of IT concepts in a way that simply can’t be achieved when learning is restricted to reading, watching, and listening.
Simulation has also begun to change the way certification exams are conducted. Many certification exams now include performance-based questions, which normally assess a candidate’s problem-solving ability in a simulated virtual environment. Having solid hands-on experience with the topics covered in the exam is crucial. This is why practical training is necessary.
While professional experience is often mandated for intermediate and advanced certifications, it’s not a direct prerequisite for many entry-level certifications. Practical experience in the lab or at the workplace is recommended for in-demand entry-level credentials, such as CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, and CCNA — but not required.
This is where stimulation-based training can be a helpful learning tool that enables candidates to experiment in a simulated workplace environment, gives them the freedom to fail in a safe learning scenario, see the result of their actions, and learn through their mistakes.
How simulation improves learning outcomes
The key positives of simulation-based learning are as follows:
Simulation enables development of hands-on-skills for the workplace. Simulations offer candidates the opportunity of practicing in a true-to-life environment. By putting concepts into practice, they learn how to respond to workplace situations. Simulations are also cheaper and safer than actual physical environments, with real assets, and yet are efficient and effective learning tools.
For example, CompTIA Labs is designed to enable learners to apply their learning, complete jobs, and view the outcome. CompTIA Labs include browser-based virtual simulations, lab guides, and pre-configured exercises.
Simulation allows for customization. Simulation-based training is often configurable by either the learner or an instructor. This enables students to personalize their learning experience by experimenting with diverse approaches. This helps them look at different aspects of the same technology or product.
Simulation enhances knowledge retention. Applying knowledge of IT concepts in a simulated workplace environment introduces the “learn by doing” element of IT education. Students who encounter a challenge they don’t know how to solve can often figure out a solution by trying out different responses. This help cement concepts, and boosts knowledge retention, at a deep level.
Simulation engages learners. Revisiting content helps learners to understand and remember better. Merely reading the same content over and over again, however, is a passive process — it’s uninteresting, and certainly not the best way to develop expertise. Simulations, on the other hand, make repetitive learning both active and engaging.
Simulation enables learners to assess their own skills. When learners apply concepts in simulated scenarios, they experience the outcome right away and are able to assess their level of expertise. One can keep experimenting with different responses until one identifies the optimum way to deal with a specific workplace situation. Learning by the process of trial and error promotes in-depth understanding of technological processes.
A few caveats
This method of learning does have a few disadvantages, including the following:
Simulators can be more expensive than some other learning tools. Simulation-based training is less expensive than instructor-led classroom training, but it can be more expensive than other learning tools.
Simulations are not identical, 100 percent accurate representations of actual workplace scenarios. It often isn’t possible to reproduce every aspect of a real-life workplace situation, and there is some scope for error.
Simulation-based learning products can get outdated fast. Technology keeps evolving. Technology-based learning tools can be expensive to maintain and update, and sometimes become outdated quickly. It’s important to ensure that one uses up-to-date learning simulations.
The future of simulation-based learning in IT
The prospects for simulation-based IT certification training appear reasonably good due to the growing demand for validation of hands-on-skills in the IT industry. Simulated learning is a fast and effective way to develop real-world tech skills.
Well-designed simulators are learner-friendly, being easy to navigate and use on different devices. They’re also an engaging learning tool that enables active learning in an interesting way, thereby enhancing skill development and knowledge retention.
On top of these considerations, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand for virtual training. It is a safe, effective, and convenient mode of training. Going forward, simulation-based certification training looks set to become one of the preferred learning tools because it’s easily accessible and offers students the opportunity to practice in a true-to-life environment without having to commute to a lab or classroom.
According to Allied Market Research, the virtual training and simulation market is projected to grow from $204 billion in 2019 to $601 billion by 2027. This works out to a CAGR of 13.7 percent from 2020 to 2027.
While simulators are an effective tool to develop real-world skills, learners are advised to use other learning tools as well to study all the exam objectives, assess their skills and knowledge, and hone test-taking strategies. Other learning tools include study guides, practice tests, classroom training, quizzes, and videos.