Real Live Learning

Despite the flood of new products and processes competing to educate you, the oldest, least sexy medium of all is often the most expedient and effective: traditional classroom training.
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Sometimes it seems as if there are almost as many ways to study as there are certifications to study for. Choosing which method to use is often a battle between your budget, your learning style and your daily schedule. Throw in a healthy dose of the boss's biases and you've got enough variables to set your head spinning faster than your computer's hard drive. But despite the flood of new books, online courses, self-paced CD-ROMs and instructional videos competing to educate you, the oldest, least sexy medium of all is often the most expedient and effective: traditional classroom training.

Pros

Classroom training has a lot going for it. For starters, it imposes a predefined external structure on your learning. Students have specific times they must be in class and material is covered at a consistent, predefined pace. This tends to place it a bit higher up on the IT professional's priority list. You can't just do it tomorrow and you're more likely to schedule other things around the training than vice versa.

In addition to serving as an ally against the procrastination beast, classroom training comes with that most valuable of assetsa living, breathing, involved instructor. A good instructor will adapt and respond to class needs. Got a question specific to your company's computing environment? Need a few real-life stories from the field to bring the material home? With a canned course, you're out of luck, but in a classroom the chances are good that you'll be able to receive these extras and others.

Although not always the case, chances are also good that your course will include hands-on access to the technology being studied. Although one can learn how to configure a Cisco router or add a new user to a Windows 2000 network through reading or hearing about it, nothing brings home the process more than doing it. Simulation software and remote labs make it possible to do some of this on your own, but they don't come with a handy instructor to guide you or bail you out if you get too adventurous and screw up the works.

Cons

Like everything else in life, classroom training has its downside. The most prominent drawbacks are the time commitment and expense. You'll have to add the time to commute to the training site into your schedule. And the very thing that's a plusthe external structuremeans that instead of fitting your studying in around your life, for a short time you'll have to fit your life in around your studying.

Plus, classroom training is a lot more expensive than self-study through books. Classes cost from several hundred to several thousand dollars eachcompare that with $50 to several hundred dollars in books or CD ROMs. A third feature of classroom training that some people find objectionable is that you will have to proceed at a pace defined by the instructor. You won't be able to zip ahead or lag behind to any significant degree. For most people this is a plus more than a minus.

Where To Find It

Finding quality classroom training is a bit more difficult than flipping open the Yellow Pages to computer training, though that's a reasonable place to start. Many certification vendors offer a customized training curriculum themselves, or have a network of affiliated trainers who offer certification specific courses. The best way to uncover these courses is to go straight to the certification vendoreither through a Web site or by telephone. Even when vendors don't have affiliated training programs, they can probably point you to someone who offers applicable education.


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