Envision Future: 21st Century Training Approaches

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In the Information Technology world, if you want to show your stuff and prove your mettle, having a certification exam or two under your belt can help greatly. To pass certification exams, you need to consider training options that will best help you to prepare.

Exams have been given throughout history to assess abilities, skills and knowledge. Tests are created, and a bar is set—a level or score that determines whether you pass or fail. Failure shows that the test-taker did not know enough information or have the appropriate skill level to pass the exam, which means more study is required. In some cases, a failed exam may show a need for additional hands-on training. A passing score indicates that the test-taker has acquired the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities to demonstrate a defined level of proficiency.

In education—and certification—a test’s results will show you the areas where you may need to hone and polish your knowledge and skills through additional training. The results also will show which areas are your strongest. Exams show the certification vendor that the test-taker has learned and mastered the concepts well enough, and precisely enough, to pass. They show the tested what they know and don’t know, as well as specific areas that need further development.

As time progresses, your weak areas will change as technology advances and evolves. For example, if you were an expert in Token Ring networking technology, by now you would have had to update your skills to Ethernet if you wanted to stay on top of today’s competitive job market. This is a good example of how technology can become outdated and why new technology needs to be retested, especially for vendors that base their exam upgrades on changes and upgrades to their own technology. Cisco, Microsoft, Novell and Oracle, for example, continually update their certification programs to reflect changes in their product lines, to make sure candidates are tested on what is most current and important.

The Need to Update Skills
It’s imperative to continue to update your skills as technology changes and advances. For example, if you are an expert in Visual Basic programming with older versions of VB, you may need to update your skills to Visual Studio. Of course, earning the most up-to-date Microsoft certification would demonstrate that you have expertise with a newer technology. As time goes on, the landscape of information technology changes and with it, so does the way we learn and test. Systems are updated and have to be upgraded. New versions of software are released on a daily basis. Most technology vendors that offer certification will update their certification test information to match the newer technology that they are trying to promote.

So, now that you know technology will force you to update your skills, what can you do to stay afloat? Identify your weak areas, accept them and develop them.

To build on any weak areas, testing candidates usually seek out training options that help them improve their skills in the areas that need it most. For example, if you wanted to make a change from one career to another, you could simply prepare for an exam with the various training options that work best for you, focusing on new or unfamiliar areas of knowledge, then earn the credential and move into a new position with your acquired skills.

The Evolution of Training Options
Certification candidates have many training options to choose from in order to prepare for—and pass—their exams. If you take the test and fail, you may need to find additional options to help focus your continued training on the areas where you have not mastered the concepts or where you may have hit a wall.

Your training options should mirror the ever-changing field of information technology and certification testing. You can prepare for today’s examinations by selecting some newer methods of training—methods created to help you prepare using different, nontraditional learning strategies.

Boot camps are a common method of training and are not exactly new news, but what about e-learning centers? E-learning centers might allow test-takers to check out a plethora of books for a fraction of the cost, then sign up for a 12-hour online simulation to do all the labs on a real set of enterprise equipment. What’s better? Would you rather purchase your own lab and library, or pay a fee and have exactly what you need provided for a fraction of the cost?

These 21st century training options also include online simulations that allow you to pay for time or space on a system you don’t own and practice on a real set of equipment without running the risk of taking down your own or your company’s equipment when you make a mistake.

Using this type of training to develop weak areas will not only help you master the hands-on portion of the exam, but also will provide valuable experience that you can list on your résumé. For example, if you study for six months using an online Cisco router and switch lab, you have six months of experience configuring routers and switches. Just be sure to be honest and say that your experience is not in a production environment. You don’t want to walk into a live network environment and make mistakes that you could avoid.

Training Mindset
Selecting from training options can be confusing not only for IT newcomers, but also for some of the folks who have been working in the field for years. How do you know what works best for you? How do you know what you need to do to develop in your weaker areas? There are several breakthrough areas in training for the 21st century, including simulations, e-learning and more. For example, many training vendors offer solutions to help candidates prepare for Microsoft’s new simulation questions, as well as other vendors’ updated testing methods.

You do need to have a positive outlook and get ready for success by preparing properly. To train, you have to consider what it is you can handle, and the way that you learn best. Are you a visual learner? Can you read something and file it into your memory, or do you need to go over material several times before you get it down or consider it mastered? Do you need one-on-one interaction with experts and your peers, or can you handle learning on your own? How much time do you have, and what are the limits of your learning environment? Do you want to tote a book around, or would you prefer to learn online?

No matter how you learn, make sure that you are honest with yourself and take the correct steps in order to maximize your training effort. This will help keep the cost of preparation down and the exam experience realistic in your mind as you prepare. Remember, you only cheat yourself if you do not properly prepare.

Many times, you may need to see something to have it make sense to you, so drawing it out often can help you learn it. This also is true with training for certification tests. Do you fare better in a boot camp with an on-site expert? Do you learn more when you take your time? Does a three- to four-month college course sound more your speed? Whatever you wind up settling on, make sure that you are comfortable and able to learn so that you don’t waste your time and money. You have to consider the different training options available and choose the ones that are most effective for you.

Also, you need to be realistic and remember that continuing your career in the IT field automatically means that you can never stop learning. Like most professionals in the field, you will have to maintain your existing skills, continually add new competencies and know when they are starting to become obsolete. Keeping your eye on the horizon can help you stay current with IT trends. Try to seek out training for those subjects or in other areas of interest.

Certification vendors will mirror exam content to the skills you

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