IT Training: Cardinal Virtues & Deadly Sins
The organization from which you receive your IT training will have a substantial effect on your understanding and proficiency within the technology of your choice, the quality of your skill set and, of course, your marketability. Not all IT training organizations are created equal, and the choice of which organization to partner with (or switch to) should be made carefully and knowingly. If you find yourself at one of the virtuous organizations, as we like to call them, you will no doubt learn a lot and be satisfied. Alternatively, you might end up at one of the more sinful establishments that will be detrimental to your success. Because you are probably paying a lot of money for IT training, it is important to be able to identify these virtuous and sinful organizations before you get in a parable trap.
Just as the IT organizations are not all equal, the sins and virtues of each rise to different levels. Some sins are deadly, others mere equivalents of “white lies.” Some virtues are cardinal, others mere bonuses. An organization with even one of the deadly sins should be avoided. These sins are immediate deal breakers while other sins have proverbal warning signs. Conversely, those organizations with cardinal virtues should be pursued because these are rare indeed.
Here are the seven “deadly” critical categories of sins and virtues: instructor qualifications, equipment, cost, sales, enjoyability, teaching strategy and reputation. As is true with many sins in the religious sense, sinning is nothing more than a failure to be virtuous — it is virtuous to be without pride, but sinful to be prideful. Those organizations, therefore, which adhere religiously to these critical categories, possess the cardinal virtues, but those neglecting the virtues are, well, “dead in their sins.” Instructor Qualifications
The first thing you should look for are qualified instructors who possess both industry knowledge related to the subject and certifications covering what they teach. One without the other is not sufficient. Those without industry experience cannot answer questions outside the material, while those who are not certified cannot direct you toward the certification objectives. The worst type of instructors are those with “paper certifications” because they lack both industry and certification knowledge.
Some organizations might employ instructors who have been certified but lack the skill set to properly identify potential issues that an IT professional will experience in the field. Have you ever had the experience of having a person uneducated in IT try to instruct you on how to solve the problem they asked you to fix? Their advice is more than useless: It is often absurd, irrelevant and downright annoying. It is both frustrating and ineffective to receive instruction concerning a topic that your instructor has never experienced. Instructors without real-world experience will not be able to address issues that deviate from the official curriculum, and they will not be able to give you a good picture of how the technology really works.
The opposite occurs when an organization hires instructors with experience without a certification. It is hard, if not impossible, to prepare students for a certification exam when the instructors have not taken the exams themselves. Instructors must explain how an exam is structured, how to prepare and how to attack exam questions.
This sin becomes most deadly when organizations hire instructors with “paper certifications.” Paper certification holders are those who obtained the certification but did not retain the knowledge tested. On the outside, these individuals might seem like any other certified professional, but they lack the most vital aspect of IT: working knowledge. This person won’t offer real-world value that merits any working experience whatsoever, thus leaving you, the consumer/student, with insufficient knowledge for adequate preparation. These “instructors” embody the unflattering adage: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”
Virtuous training centers employ certified instructors who have both real-world experience along with true teaching experience. Also, for some vendor training and IT academies, there is an official trainer certification that must be obtained to teach in that field. Qualified instructors rely on working experience as well as their comprehension of thick manuals, whitepapers and certification objectives to be able to clearly and concisely explain the ins and outs of specific technologies.
The teaching strategy of a training provider has a few components. One component is the adaptability of the instructor to recognize different learning styles and teach accordingly. Also, instructors should be comfortable with multiple delivery methods and use new teaching technologies and material. Another strategic component is a proper blend of theory and practice. The last component is the use of metrics to measure your progress.
With adaptability in mind, you will need to be in an environment where the teaching is geared, at least in part, with your learning style. An inflexible instructor might use group work with shy introverted students or use only printed resources with those who learn best hands-on. Before signing up, take some time to talk with the instructor to see if you click. You should be able to realize whether or not you will effectively learn from the instructor as you ask a few questions and listen to his or her explanations.
Virtuous organizations will assess their students’ various learning styles and will teach with multiple modalities. This enables the teacher to use different methods to reach each person. In this setting, a teacher could lecture using a whiteboard demonstration, a story from personal experience, questions to the class and PowerPoint presentations. These variations help motivate students to learn the material and facilitate retention as well. Some training takes place online, through virtual labs or videos while other training might take place in a more traditional environment, such as a lecture. Stay away from instructors who can only use one delivery method.
It is also helpful to use some of the latest technology in course delivery and update curriculum as technology changes. Video podcasting can make material available for students when they are not in the classroom. A deadly sin emerges most often when a teacher has not updated his or her methodology for instruction over a long period of time. Believe it or not, some colleges still teach COBOL as their primary programming language. A school that teaches how to fix only 486 machines for an A+ course will not prepare you for the exam or for a job as a hardware technician.
Organizations should have a healthy blend of theory and practice. Theory gives an overall picture of the technology, and practical knowledge with a hands-on approach gives you skills that can be applied in the workplace. A theory-only approach lacks application while a practice-only approach does not foster adaptability. Watch out: If, when you talk with the instructor, he or she only talks about theory and doesn’t value practice and trial, or vice versa, you will want to avoid that organization.
Virtuous organizations will measure your progress during the program. They also will check to make sure assigned work is completed. Some training centers conduct assessments before each class to see what the students learned from their reading and then another after the class to see what they retained after the lecture and lab. It is vital for instructors to be able to address this quickly because most concepts build upon one another, and not understanding each concept could lead to greater problems later on.