In this post, I’ll attempt to demystify the various training options there are out there for individuals looking to get up to speed on a given subject or material. The predominate focus will be on System Administration, Information Security & Physical Security. The organizations you acquire training from may differ as will their subject matter but the general delivery method & how you receive the information will be the same for the type of training listed.
Back in the day before the Internet was popular, if you struggled with a given product, you would need to call the people who designed or created it for training, documentation & support. If that wasn’t available, you would be limited to what resources were provided by your re-seller or, lastly, local consultants.
This form of education was usually costly as you, along with some of your organization or team would either be given training at a remote site where you’d have to be physically present (gasp!). Or, alternatively, the organization would fly specialists out to your site to provide training for your team. This is generally deemed a very dated education approach, but it is still utilized today.
Given* my limited professional experience, one of the largest companies I know that still provides services like these for IT Professionals is Global Knowledge (shorthand, GK). There are other companies that do this, but they teach to their brand (see: Microsoft, Cisco, IBM)
Personal aside on being an Instructor
This type of instruction was very similar to the teaching I used to do. I used to teach people how to use technology (learning Microsoft Office, Windows, Linux) and how to get certified in a particular technology (CompTIA, Microsoft, Linux) along with understanding how to best meet their needs.
Teaching in person is very difficult unless you’ve done it before. You have to be extremely comfortable with the material, confident in your natural speaking ability, have high analytical skills to process information, questions & responses in a quick manner & need to have a thorough understanding of psychology.
I worked toward becoming a trained technical instructor (yes, there’s a certification for this) — the certification is in two parts: a sit down exam along with a video portion. At some point in time, the video portion of exam was waived, but I missed that opportunity.
If this interests you, the certification I sat for was the Certified Technical Trainer exam (CTT+) by CompTIA. The book I used to study for the exam & help me become a better instructor is “How to Become A Successful Technical Trainer: Core Skills for Instructor Certification”
One of the key things I learned is about adult learner theory. The particular concept that I read about boiled down the fact that, if adults aren’t interested in something, they won’t want to pay attention and/or will not retain what is learned (sounds dumb, but it seems logical…) If you want to read about adult learner theories that have some backing to them, you can check out this PDF.
End Personal Aside…
With the explosion of the Internet & storage, bandwidth & network connectivity getting cheaper with time, people have realized that they do not need a physical presence to educate someone. This is where virtual learning — typically eLearning & to a larger extent, MOOC comes in.
Typically you’ll see some of these terms mixed together, although they are fairly distinct:
- Virtual Classroom – The instructor, from the comfort of their own home or office, utilizes a camera, a headset, microphone, a slide deck they know very well & tons of motivation to teach students in a virtual setting. You may not see the students if they do not have a camera. Teaching like this can be very tough if you are not comfortable with the material. Learning this way isn’t for everyone. You may also see webinars done in this style. A popular software suite for this type of collaboration is e-lecta LIVE – very cool software. Joe McCray (@j0emccray) uses this effectively for webinars where he teaches InfoSec concepts.
- Massive Open Online Course – You’ve probably heard of this term by now. Popularized by Khan Academy, MOOCs are essentially courses you can sign up for at any given point in time & complete them at your own pace. There’s so much content out there in terms of MOOCs that it would take some people an entire lifetime to learn all that is out there. Absolutely fascinating things can be found if you look. Some additional resources for these: mooc.org | khan academy | EdX MOOC
Many IT professionals find that they do not necessary have the time for traditional classroom / course materials, so they go with one of the following routes:
- Computer Based Training – Get your mind out of the gutter! Essentially, this type of training is a virtual version of classroom training, combined with no live instructor (e.g., the courses are recorded in advance). These courses have no real exam toward the end & are geared toward getting someone up to speed with a particular subject or concept; or to get them prepared for a certification exam. One of the most popular companies to corner the market with this type of training is CBTNuggets – I cannot say enough good things about this company. They have extremely high quality material of consistent quality, great instructors & an easy to understand format.
CBTNuggets videos are pre-recorded, typically in a WMV/MPG format, with a virtual whiteboard (essentially, a white background in PhotoShop, PaintShop or some art program) where the person draws on the board with their mouse. They will then explain a basic concept, for example, deploying a sample Group Policy. After explaining important gotchas if you will be taking a specific Microsoft exams — a demo of deploying a Group Policy is done on screen, step by step.
Another highly recommend resource that has shown up recently is PluralSight. They have high quality material, comparable to, if not better than CBTNuggets. Their material is slightly different, along with including different instructors & subject matter experts. Their site is here: PluralSight.
- Self Learning – This is by far the most popular way that IT professionals train & learn. Within reason, self learning is the best option. Utilizing servers at home, VMs, virtual private servers & doing things by hand is one of the best ways to learn. This concept is “Learning by Doing“. A future blog post will cover self learning examples, with many, many lists of things that will keep you busy covering the entire scope of Information Technology.
Most technology professionals use a mixture of all of the above training methods. In addition, many people later in their career go back to get trained or get their degree so they can get paid more, or get promoted. A variation of much of the in-person training are bootcamps which are week-long training courses that cram your brain full of as much information that will fit, to get you to pass a certification exam.
If you enjoyed this particular post, or have suggestions for future blog posts, please don’t hesitate to let me know – I can be reached @DarkSim905 . This post is a work in progress, you may want to check back for changes over the next few days — generally after I post, I make changes over a few days until I am happy with the outcome.