The Ins and Outs of Instructor-Led Training
Individuals seeking certification can choose from numerous alternatives to help them prepare. Statistically, self-study remains the most widely chosen, adopted by about 60 percent of aspiring candidates in their quest for credentials. Those who attend classroom training sit at the other end of this spectrum, where less rather than more people partake. Ranges between 20 percent and 30 percent are typical for today’s smaller, choosier classroom populations.
Overall expenses for preparation involving classroom training are highest—typical costs vary from $15 to $30 an hour at community colleges up to $50 to $75 an hour for top-flight commercial outlets, plus classes at conferences or boot camps. Between these extremes, you’ll find computer-based and online training options, some of which seek to present instructor interaction in ways that make them more like a classroom than a purely self-study experience. The more like a “real classroom” an e-course is, the more its costs go up. (For example, SANS Institute offers online versions of some of its classes, but they cost about what you’d pay to take that class live.)
Costs aside, traditional classroom learning methods have tremendous value and appeal. That’s because in a classroom, students can ask questions, request clarification or explanation when necessary and interact with a knowledgeable instructor who can help them understand concepts and terminology in terms carefully chosen to make sense to the questioner.
Instructors Make the Difference
As the common jargon for classroom training—namely, “instructor-led training” or ILT—indicates, its biggest asset lies in the instructor. A qualified, talented instructor’s insight, knowledge, flexibility and leadership are what make a class great. As instructors come up short in one or more of these characteristics, the quality of the experience declines. This means it’s essential to be choosy when selecting a class because you want to sign up not only for the best course, but also for the best instructor. Thus, exercising your best choice requires asking colleagues, checking references, seeking clues in newsgroups and chat rooms and following other leads to decide who’s the best instructor around.
What’s at issue here is an instructor’s ability to recast and represent training materials in whatever form is necessary to reach the audience. Thus, what gives ILT its value and justifies its higher costs is an instructor’s flexibility and sensitivity to student needs, knowledge and backgrounds. The best instructors alter examples to fit students’ frames of reference, raise or lower subject matter coverage to match student comprehension and choose illustrations likely to make sense to people in the classroom. An instructor’s ability to elicit feedback—especially non-verbal or implicit—from students and turn it to the class’s advantage is what gives classroom training its value. This dynamic is unlikely to change until other kinds of training become 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 afford it, ILT offers definite advantages:
- Structured classes, delivery hours and well-equipped and -controlled facilities provide a great learning environment.
- ILT is like being in school—it uses familiar learning models and techniques. By taking IT professionals away from their desks and routines, ILT permits real concentration and learning.
- Access to a savvy, experienced instructor permits students to apply what they learn to real-world situations by asking questions and looking for job relevance. 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 taught. This is particularly useful to those preparing for certification exams because analysis and problem-solving skills are learned best through trial and error, with access to a helpful mentor when students get stuck or puzzled or go astray.
- Good instructors distinguish between information that students must master to pass exams and information they should use on the job. They can explain and illuminate such differences. This not only improves the odds of passing exams, but also helps develop useful job skills and knowledge.Thus, it’s easy to see that ILT offers tangible value to its consumers. But it’s not perfect, either:
- ILT is expensive. A typical classroom seat still costs about $250 to $300 per day for training. High-end classes can cost $600 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 from three to five days in class, plus travel to and from class. It often means additional costs for travel, lodging and meals.
- Because the quality of any ILT experience rests on the instructor, a bad instructor can negate all of the benefits of an otherwise good experience.
- ILT follows the pace dictated by its training materials, by the time allotted for class and by the instructor’s approach. If you don’t fit the profile, it can be frustrating.Getting the Most out of ILT
Given that a negative ILT experience is possible, you should take steps to stay on the plus side. Be sure to select only training providers that offer money-back guarantees to unsatisfied customers—and don’t be afraid to use that guarantee if warranted. Ask for references and talk to former students before you sign up for a course. Don’t be afraid to change courses until you find an instructor whose teaching style fits your needs. Last (and probably most important), clear your calendar while taking any class. Nothing diminishes a good learning experience like being forced to divide your attention between work and the classroom.
When shopping for ILT, note that classes are available in numerous forms. By understanding available ILT offerings, you can strike a balance between cost, time commitments and how fast you get certified. Remember too, that the faster you go, the sooner you can meet certification goals, but that high performance always costs more.
Consider these typical ILT offerings as you shop for the right class:
- Official Versus Unofficial Outlets: Some outlets offer vendor- or organization-authorized training, while others deliberately avoid “the party line” to offer a different slant. Official providers must meet minimum requirements for instructors and facilities and must teach official curriculum. Unofficial training providers use their own materials and can deviate 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, plus a more balanced view of the material. Good values are available in both camps, so don’t let this control your decision-making—a provider’s reputation and instructors are far more important.
- Boot Camps: Boot camps take attendees through a sequence of courses and exams for a certification. Thus, there are boot camps for multi-exam certifications like the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) or the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) that may run for as long as 16 days. These sessions are intense and jammed with content, labs and practice tests to prepare you for exams (which you’ll often take on the premises or in a nearby testing center). No ILT costs more, but none gets you certified faster or more thoroughly if you can take the pace. Expect to spend up to $700 a day, but this often includes meals and lodging, plus training and exams.