Even a cursory scan of online technical training and certification courses shows how plentiful these options are. With so many programs available, how can you decide which is best for your needs? Although cost and reputation are key factors in the evaluation process, prospective students are advised to consider their preferred learning styles as well. The student's levels of commitment and motivation are important because those who choose online training must "go it alone" to achieve successful results.
Tim Sosbe, managing editor of Certification Magazine, says: "Web-based training may not work for all learning styles and may therefore not offer the best training value for students who do best when interacting with an instructor, or in a more formal classroom setting. For such people, Web-based training may simply not work."
Web-based training can take one of several forms. Some Web-based training courses resemble instructor-led training (ILT) in that they feature regularly scheduled classes. Students watch a live instructor and use chat or discussion software to pose questions. Other Web-based training offerings work more like self-paced courses. Students interact with text- or animation-based lesson materials, rather than with an online instructor. More costly Web-based classes offer interaction with a mentor or instructor by phone, e-mail or chatware, while less expensive offerings may not provide opportunities to ask for help or guidance.
Individuals most likely to excel at online courses are those naturally inclined to self-study. For those seeking the benefit of a classroom experience, the virtual classroom in many Web-based classes falls short. At a minimum, students should try to get a money-back guarantee from an online training vendor so that if the approach and content don't work for the student, he can get a refund and try a different route.
Even though they don't generally provide as much personalized instruction, Web-based alternatives offer some benefits in comparison with conventional ILT classes:
- Many Web-based classes are available on demand, so there's no need to wait for classes to start or conferences to occur.
- Most Web-based classes are cheaper than their ILT counterparts; they seldom cost more than $100 per classroom-day equivalent, compared with the $300-plus per-day price tag that is typical for ILT.
- According to Paula Moreira, vice president of e-learning at Anaheim, Calif.-based New Horizons Computer Learning Centers, Web-based training "fits almost any time or budget constraints and removes the location issue [bringing people and training together], especially for those in isolated areas or for those who must travel regularly."
Clearly, there are several important trade-offs to consider including, in particular, lack of access to labs, equipment, software, and hands-on support, as well as lack of direct interaction with instructors and other students.
Bill Peeples, a training and network consultant, says: "Individuals who attend Web-based training must have the commitment and drive necessary to work alone and must make the effort to find necessary support -- be it from a mentor or a colleague -- in a regular, consistent way. The issues of hands-on access and lab exercises to help students apply and cement what they learn must also be addressed."
In other words, Web-based training demands heightened individual initiative and puts the onus on students to make their own arrangements to gain hands-on experience, including access to equipment and software needed. Web-based classes with online labs or simulator-based training offer considerable advantages in this regard.
There's another important consideration when contemplating Web-based coursework: the stability and continuity of the organization that provides the training.
"Investing in Web-based training is like buying stock in a company," Sosbe says. "The more money you plan to spend, the more carefully you must spend it. As with any other investment, learn as much as you can about a training company before spending anything on its offerings."
Sosbe also suggests that the past is the best predictor of the future, particularly when it comes to buying whole training programs for thousands of dollars, which is the often the price range for complete Web-based programs for MCSE, Oracle DBA or other multi-exam programs.
Companies or organizations that offer classroom or computer-based training in addition to Web-based training, particularly those that have been in business for several years, may be better choices than new, relatively unknown companies -- no matter how inexpensive their offerings are. Likewise, organizations that advertise nationally, that can point to credible references and which get good reviews in publications and student guides are safer places to invest your training dollars than are lesser-known outfits.
By exercising a bit of common sense, choosing a well-known training provider and making sure that materials cover topics in ways that match your knowledge base and learning style, you can assure yourself of the best possible educational experience in a Web-based class or program.
About the author:
Ed Tittel is the president of LANWrights, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of iLearning.com. Tittel has been working in the computing industry for 20 years and has worked as a software developer, a manager, a writer and a trainer. He's contributed to over 100 computer books, including creating the Exam Cram series for Coriolis and over a dozen "? For Dummies" titles. Tittel also teaches on Web and security topics for Interop, Austin Community College and the Internet Security Conference.
MORE INFORMATION ON THIS TOPIC:
SearchSystemsManagement.com has a listing of training and online courses in their Best Web Links.
The webcast, "IT training and certification: How to find & benefit from top solutions," offers guidelines for selecting the program that's right for you.
This was first published in October 2002