Individuals seeking certification can choose from many alternatives to help them prepare for their exams. Statistically, self-study is the most widely chosen option, adopted by more than half of all aspiring certificants in their quest for credentials. Those who attend classroom training sit at the other end of the spectrum, where less rather than more people participate. Ranges between 20 and 30 percent are typical.
Overall expenses for preparation strategies that involve classroom training are highest; typical charges vary from $25 to $30 an hour at community colleges up to $50 to $75 an hour for top-flight commercial training outlets, classes at conferences and boot camps. Between these two extremes, you’ll find computer-based or online training offerings, some of which seek to present instructor interaction in ways that make them more like a classroom than a purely self-study experience.
The bottom line is that traditional classroom learning methods still have tremendous value and appeal. That’s because in a classroom, students can ask questions, request clarification or explanation when it’s needed and interact with a knowledgeable instructor who can help them understand concepts and terminology in terms of their own frames of reference.
Instructors Make a Difference
As the common designation for classroom training—namely, “instructor-led training” or ILT—indicates, its biggest asset is the instructor. A qualified and talented instructor’s insight, knowledge, flexibility and leadership are what makes a class great. As instructors lack or are deficient in one or more of these essential characteristics, the quality of the training experience declines. This means it’s vital to be choosy when selecting a training class because you want to sign up not only for the best possible class but also for the best instructor around. In turn, this means asking colleagues, checking references, looking for clues in newsgroups and chat rooms and following other leads to solid information about who’s the best instructor on your topic of choice.
What’s really at work here is the instructor’s ability to recast and represent classroom training materials in whatever form is necessary to meet student needs. Thus, what gives ILT its value and definitely justifies its higher costs is the instructor’s flexibility and sensitivity to student needs, knowledge and backgrounds. The best instructors will alter their examples to fit the students’ frame of reference, will raise or lower their subject matter coverage to match student knowledge bases and will choose illustrations most likely to make sense to people sitting in the classroom. An instructor’s ability to elicit feedback—especially nonverbal or implicit feedback—from his students and turn it to the class’s advantage is what makes classroom training so valuable. This dynamic is unlikely to change until other kinds of training can be as sensitive to feedback, as cognizant of learning styles and as flexible and accommodating of student needs as only a live instructor can be today.
ILT’s Pros and Cons
For those who can pay what it costs, ILT offers some definite and real advantages:
- Structured classes, delivery hours and well-equipped and controlled facilities provide a great learning environment. This goes double when students participate actively in class.
- ILT is like being in school—that is, it uses familiar learning models and techniques. By taking IT professionals away from their desks and everyday demands, ILT permits real concentration and learning. Self-study, computer-based or online training all suffer when they are pursued during normal working hours at one’s desk.
- Access to a savvy, experienced instructor permits students to apply what they learn to real-world needs by asking questions and looking for connections to the job. Because learning works best when materials are relevant, good instructors add real value.
- The best classes not only include, but also insist that students get hands-on experience with the subjects being taught. This is particularly useful for those preparing for certification exams because analysis and problem-solving skills are learned best through trial and error, with access to a helpful mentor as needed.
- Good instructors distinguish between the information that students must master to pass exams and the information they must know to do their jobs. They can explain and illuminate such differences. This not only improves the odds of passing exams, but also helps develop genuine job skills.
Thus, it’s easy to see that ILT offers great value. But it’s not without its negatives, either:
- ILT is expensive. A typical classroom seat costs at least $300 per day for training; high-end providers or classes can cost up to $600 or 700 a day!
- Taking an ILT class means making room in your schedule and rearranging your life around training.
- In most cases, attending ILT means time away from the office, usually three to five days. It may also demand additional costs for travel, lodging and meals.
- Because the quality of any ILT experience rests squarely on the quality of the instructor, a bad instructor can negate all the benefits of an otherwise good ILT experience.
- ILT follows whatever pace is dictated by its training materials, by the time allotted for the class and the instructor’s approach. If you don’t fit the profile for a class’s target audience, it can be frustrating.
Getting the Most Out of ILT
Given that a negative ILT experience can happen, you must take steps to stay on the positive side when shopping for training. Be sure to select only those training providers that offer money-back guarantees to unsatisfied customers, and don’t be afraid to use that guarantee if you must. Ask for references and talk to former students before you sign up for any course. Don’t be afraid to change courses until you find instructors whose teaching styles fit your needs. Last (and probably most important), be sure to clear your calendar while taking any class. It’s a drag to have to work remotely and be online, on the phone or otherwise occupied when you should be totally immersed in your class. Nothing lessens a good learning experience as much as being forced to divide your attention between work and the classroom!
When shopping for ILT, note that these classes are available in numerous forms. By understanding what kinds of ILT offerings are available to you, you can strike a good balance between cost, time commitments and how fast you get certified. Remember that the faster you get your credentials, the sooner you might meet your certification goals, but that such speed-ups cost extra as well.
Consider the following typical ILT offerings as you shop for the right class.
Official vs. Unofficial Outlets
Many programs offer vendor- or organization-sanctioned training; others deliberately avoid “the party line” and offer a different slant on what they teach. Official training providers must meet minimum requirements for instructors and training facilities and must teach official curriculum materials. Unofficial training providers normally use their own materials and do not teach only from the party line. The plus side of an official curriculum is usually more material and information, with occasional access to evaluation or limited-use software. The plus side of an unofficial curriculum is lower prices and a more balanced view of the training material. Good values are available in both camps, so don’t let this status weigh too heavily in your decision-making process—the provider’s reputation and the quality of its instructors are far more important.
Boot camps take attendees through an entire sequence of courses and exams for a certification. Thus, you’ll find boot camps for multi-exam certificat