Cisco: Preparation through Performance
Refining one’s proficiency in a particular skill or job through repeated execution is indisputably a great way to learn, particularly for the task-oriented processes of information technology. When preparing for IT certification exams, techies should consider getting their hands on the equipment and software that the credentials’ tests cover.
Cisco Systems’ certification program is well known for its emphasis on performance in both teaching and testing. In the former area, hands-on training is a central component of overall strategy. “The multi-modal approach is definitely part of our strategy in just about any curriculum that we build,” said Cindy Hoffmann, certification track manager at Cisco. “All of our classroom training includes labs. Those concepts are introduced, and the individual has the opportunity to go into either a remote lab or a lab that’s right there in the room and practice the skills that are being taught with guidance from a Cisco certified instructor who can give them feedback as they go through the exercises.”
Cisco also offers performance-based training on its various certification communities, Hoffmann said. For example, on the CCNA prep center, the company provides numerous remote labs that people can access. Additionally, simulations have been created for advanced, emerging technologies such as voice over IP. Because of its utility, responses from learners who have used Cisco’s labs and simulations have been overwhelmingly positive, she added. “I think that our studies and feedback—surveys and ‘smile sheets’ that people complete at the end of a class—really reinforce the value students find in being able to practice as opposed to just being able to hear. I know for myself that hands-on element of any learning experience really hits it home, and it seems that a lot of people feel similarly. Understanding a theory and being able to explain it somebody is one thing, but actually being able to translate what you’ve learned into an action that will enable you to optimize a network or activate a router is something different.”
However, in spite of its efficacy, you shouldn’t rely solely on hands-on techniques of preparation. Performance-based methodologies in general are beneficial for training because they round out educational experiences by providing a practical element that complements the conceptual learning prevalent in classrooms and books. “Just as we use both simulations and other complex items, you’ve always got multiple tools that you want to use,” added Erik Ullanderson, manager of certification exam development and innovation at Cisco. “From my standpoint in education and adult learning, you need to have multiple ways. A book is a great way to get certain aspects of information.”
Therefore, like most vendors, Cisco develops and delivers a suite of training products and solutions, many of which are designed to supplement each other. “We’re constantly in the backroom identifying those concepts and competencies that are either the most critical or difficult to learn, and then building either remote labs or simulations that individuals can use to reinforce what they’ve learned after they’ve read a book or gone to a seminar,” Hoffmann said. “Hopefully, there’s a multi-pronged approach to giving people those opportunities. We work closely with the Cisco Press to create a book that can be a companion to the instructor-led experience, and simulations and remote labs would be available on the (certification) communities and through Cisco learning partners. We also have e-reading. You can go back and reinforce what you’ve learned in the way that would be most effective. We shouldn’t limit people to just simulations or books or classrooms.”
Besides, if you’re especially busy or travel a lot, you’ll have to work in training wherever, whenever and however you can. “Hands-on experience is a great thing and I’m all for it, but if I’m flying on a plane, then a book is a great way for me to learn,” Ullanderson said.