Tuesday, December 22, 2009

LabSim a Success at DeVry’s SkillsUSA Competition

Two weeks ago I wrote about the Texas high school students participating in the SkillsUSA practice competition hosted by DeVry University in Irving. The event went off successfully, and word is, teachers and students alike were “very impressed.” Bill McClure, Associate Dean of the College of Engineering and Information Sciences at DeVry, oversaw the computer maintenance competition. “The students really enjoyed being able to use LabSim and thought it was pretty cool they could perform the tasks in a simulated environment,” McClure said. “From our standpoint running the competition, being able to use LabSim made our life much simpler. It worked out really, really well.”

Planning the content for the skills test hasn’t always been easy. With more than 90 students in the competition, it would have been difficult for DeVry to prepare a physical lab and have the hardware available for each student. LabSim simulates a physical lab and allows students to complete real-life, hands-on tasks without needing physical hardware. “LabSim’s simulations made it very easy because we didn’t need to worry about the logistics,” McClure said.

DeVry chose two sections of the LabSim A+ course to test students in computer maintenance: installing a hard drive and creating logical partitions. “Before we started, I asked if anyone had ever used LabSim before, and no students had,” McClure said. But several of the students’ teachers were familiar with LabSim and thought it was a great idea to use it as the test content for SkillsUSA.

Eric Manuel, Electronics and Technology teacher at Duncanville High School in Duncanville, Texas, said, “This was our second year participating in the competition hosted by DeVry, and it gets better every year. They’re including more simulations like we will see at contests—combined with written tests—giving the students questions on command line interface, operating systems, and troubleshooting, modifying, or repairing a computer.”

Quinton King, a senior at Duncanville High School, competed in the computer maintenance tests. He said, “The simulation was really effective because what you do there is what you would do in real life.” King said the students used LabSim’s tutorials to understand the tasks they needed to perform in the simulated environment. For example, even though he had never created partitions before, the LabSim tutorial helped him figure it out and he was able to complete the exam.

Motivation for Competition

Most students competing in the computer maintenance category are enrolled in high school technology courses focused on A+ content, including computer maintenance. Their technology teachers can reference guidelines by SkillsUSA to know what skills may be tested in competition and then help their students train. To prepare his students, Manuel says he teaches his curriculum in class and holds extra tutorials outside of class—but not until after the practice competitions. “I don’t hold extra tutorials until after the new year—on purpose. I don’t set the students up for practice competition. Rather, the practice competition functions as a pre-assessment. It shows the students what they can expect in competitions and gets them motivated.”

In the recent competition hosted by DeVry, Manuel’s students learned where they need additional training. “My students enjoyed the level of complexity in the exams, but they thought maybe they could have done better, especially on the troubleshooting concepts,” Manuel said. “But now I know where to focus in my tutorials.”

Manuel’s students, including King, are looking now toward their next big event: the District 6 regional SkillsUSA competition in February held at Texas State Technical College Waco.

Emily Howard, TestOut

Thursday, December 17, 2009

CompTIA's Initiative "Getting America Back to Work"

College isn’t a bad place to be when the economy is suffering and unemployment rates are high. But as you near the end of your education, you may be glad to learn of programs in place to help graduates and other IT professionals who are looking for work.

CompTIA—a provider of vendor-neutral IT certifications—just introduced their program Getting America Back to Work, designed to help job seekers in the IT field acquire job skills through training and certification. Skills assessment and job placement tools (a database of current job openings around the country) are also part of the Getting America Back to Work program.

CompTIA’s program will include their own certifications, many of which are widely accepted in the IT industry. You’ve probably heard of some CompTIA’s certifications, particularly the A+ certification that many companies require of their entry-level IT staff. Network+ and Security+ certifications are also included as options in the Getting America Back to Work program.

Of course, you can still pursue relevant job skills, training, and certifications on your own if you don’t want to participate in CompTIA’s program. But the idea is clear: additional training will always help your job search, and certifications show potential employers that you’re willing to go the extra mile in acquiring job skills and keeping them current. And that may be just what you need to get a step ahead of other applicants in a competitive job market.

Emily Howard, TestOut

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

IT Salary Guide: A Tool in Preparing for Your IT Career

If you’re getting close to graduating from a technology major or course of study, you’re probably already thinking about the job market and wondering what you may find. The 2010 IT Salary Guide was recently published by Datamation, and it gives a useful and fairly comprehensive look at salaries in the IT industry, including how salaries differ by geographic region, as well as the sectors of the IT industry that are experiencing the highest growth and demand.

Although the data presented in the 2010 IT Salary Guide is indicative of the recent overall economic slump, Datamation writer James Maguire wrote, “IT staffers, compared with the overall workforce, remain some of the highest paid professionals. A veteran IT pro who can change with the times—and versatility is more important than ever—can command a good salary even in rough times.”

Twelve IT job roles are assessed in the 2010 Salary Guide, including Developer/Programmer Analyst, Software Engineer, Systems Administrator, Network Engineer, Systems Security Administrator, and others. If any of these professions sound like the direction you want to take, I recommend spending some time analyzing the information presented in the guide. For example, with each professional role in the survey is listed the skills that lead to a pay increase in that role—including the amount of pay increase, by percent, for having each skill.

Many skills that lead to higher salaries are those that are acquired through on-the-job experience, such as Cisco network administration skills, Windows server skills, or database skills. Of course, getting that first job is an important step. Alternately, many of these same skills can also be acquired through certification training that includes realistic simulated labs, instructional videos, and quizzes on the material taught.

However you choose to acquire the skills and experience for your career, the 2010 IT Salary Guide will be a helpful tool for understanding the job market you’re about to enter and determining where you want to focus your time and attention in training for it.

Emily Howard, TestOut

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TestOut's Year-End Blowout Sale

Now is the best time to buy TestOut's LabSim certification training courses. During our 11th Annual Year-End Blowout Sale, you get the best prices TestOut has ever offered on the LabSim library of courses.

If you've been thinking about certifications or waiting for the right time to start training, this offer will help you get started.

The LabSim library of certification training courses includes training for 12 important IT certifications:
  • MCITP
  • MCSE
  • MCTS
  • SSCP
  • CISSP
  • CCNA
  • CCNP
  • A+
  • Network+
  • Security+
  • Server+
  • Linux+

Every purchase of a LabSim training library also comes with TestOut's Update Guarantee that gives you access to every new LabSim course developed in the 12 months following your purchase.

TestOut's Year-End Blowout Sale ends December 31, 2009. Visit www.TestOut.com to make your move!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

DeVry Uses LabSim A+ in SkillsUSA Event

High school technology students are participating in a unique, skills-building event today at the Irving Campus of DeVry University, and TestOut’s LabSim A+ course is supporting their experience. Part of a SkillsUSA event, 85 students from high schools around north Texas are competing in the computer maintenance skills test that includes both written and hands-on portions. LabSim’s A+ course is the content used in the skills test, with a focus on the hands-on lab simulations that differentiate LabSim from other A+ courses.

Today’s competition hosted by DeVry is a practice competition to help prepare students for the state and national SkillsUSA competitions in coming months, where winners will be awarded their actual A+ certification. Bill McClure, Associate Dean of the College of Engineering and Information Sciences at DeVry, said, “We set up the same types of scenarios, exams, and skills tests that students will have at the state and national levels. They get exposure to having to complete the tasks within a time limit.” McClure said that students don’t see the requirements for their computer maintenance test until they are at the competition, and they have to “work under pressure” to complete the exams.

Students have been preparing for the computer maintenance competition through the coursework and labs they’ve completed in their high schools. In some of their classes, they’ve experienced building computers or taking them apart—tasks they would face in a real A+ certification exam. “The challenge for us at DeVry is to come up with skills tests similar to what students have been exposed to in high school.” DeVry also receives guidelines from SkillsUSA that help them plan the test content and make it similar to A+.

DeVry knew that LabSim would be their best solution to the computer maintenance test. DeVry uses the LabSim A+ course in their own college courses, and DeVry instructors were familiar enough with it to make suggestions about the specific LabSim modules to include in the SkillsUSA competition. Even though the competing students have never used the LabSim A+ software, McClure and DeVry instructors felt confident incorporating it. “We thought LabSim was a good way to approach this competition because it is really easy to work with,” McClure said.

We’re looking forward to hearing from DeVry and learning the outcome of the competition. Watch for a follow-up entry on The LabSim Experience to read more details about the students’ experiences with LabSim and A+.

Monday, November 30, 2009

More College Students Taking Classes Online

With rapid growth in online learning, tools for effective online teaching become urgently important. David Nagel of Campus Technology recently reported, “Nearly 12 million post-secondary students in the United States take some or all of their classes online right now. But this number will skyrocket to more than 22 million in the next five years, according to data released recently by research firm Ambient Insight.”

That’s a lot of students taking online courses. But even more interesting is Ambient Insight’s forecast that the number of students who take all of their courses in physical classrooms will drop from 15.15 million in 2009 to just 5.14 million by 2014. The landscape of college education in the United States is definitely changing. What tools of technology will make this change successful?

Penn Foster Career School
in Scranton, Pennsylvania, is a school of independent study with many courses offered online. Penn Foster utilizes LabSim training to offer students a course in Crime Scene Investigation. The training in the LabSim course gives Penn Foster students relevant, hands-on technology education. And while LabSim courses are frequently taught in a physical classroom, they are also extremely effective as online curriculum. Online students succeed in LabSim working at their own pace, viewing instructional videos, online lessons, and hands-on lab simulations. Built-in section quizzes and practice exams test students’ knowledge, and LabSim’s reporting system tracks the progress and scores of each student—accessible by instructors any time.

What other tools do you utilize in online courses to make learning successful?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

TestOut Wins Gold in 2009 Windows IT Pro Editors’ Best Awards

Congratulations, TestOut!

TestOut's LabSim is the Gold winner, selected by the editors at Windows IT Pro in the 2009 Editors’ Best Awards, in the category Best Training and Certification Product or Service.

Plus, TestOut was awarded Silver in the 2009 Windows IT Pro Community Choice Awards, thanks to our loyal customers who contributed their votes.











The Industry’s Best Training and Certification Product

We’re honored that LabSim has been recognized as the industry’s best training and certification product. TestOut’s LabSim training courses are developed with thorough planning and research to be accurate, current, and to give IT learners realistic, hands-on experience working with technology. When students train with LabSim, they prepare not only for a certification exam, but for their future career.

LabSim training courses set themselves apart from other training options with high-quality online labs where students work in a simulated environment, utilizing real-to-life hardware, operating systems, and networking components. Video instruction taught by industry experts, written lessons, and practice exams support the complete training experience provided by LabSim.

Your Experiences with LabSim
We'd love to hear about your experiences using LabSim training courses. Email us at experience@testout.com.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Happy 18th Birthday, TestOut

Happy 18th TestOut!

Eighteen years ago today, TestOut began offering certification training courses. While the courses have evolved with the evolution of technology through the years, the goal has always been the same -- to help individuals be more skilled and marketable in their IT careers. It's been an amazing adventure and we look forward to another wonderful 18 years to come!

Fred Ball of Zions Bank, who does the daily "Speaking on Business" on KSL, shared some of those adventures on the radio back in June. It was a nice early birthday present!

http://www.zionsbancorporation.com/zionsbank/fb/fb20090616.html

This is Fred Ball for Zions Bank, speaking on business.

For nearly 18 years, Pleasant Grove-based TestOut Corporation's mission has remained the same—to make a real difference in people's lives. And it's working.

Back in 1991, the exploding growth in technology was creating a real demand for certifications and training. As a result, Noel (know-el) Vallejo launched the information technology (IT) certification-training company, in hopes he could help individuals be more skilled and marketable in their IT careers. Through the years, Noel has seen TestOut help thousands, including his brother, become trained IT support specialists through extensive LabSim training. So, what's the secret?

TestOut's LabSim software is built around what no one else in the training field offers: online labs. These online labs put students in a virtual environment that lets them simultaneously learn in class and practice the technologies as if they were using an actual $30,000 physical computer lab. And they do it all from their personal computer, whether they're taking courses online or in a traditional classroom setting.

Coupled with video training, practice exams and text lessons, these online labs give students interactive, real-world scenarios that enable them to acquire the skills necessary to succeed in their careers.

Schools such as DeVry University, ITT Tech and the University of Phoenix are just a sampling of institutions helping their students gain experience with LabSim. This hands-on experience is especially critical in an economy with such a high unemployment rate. Who is going to get the job: the candidate who knows how to do it and is certified to do so or the one who doesn't? Noel says it's a no brainer.

Getting the hands-on experience and certification required for an IT career can make all the difference. TestOut Corporation and its LabSim Online Labs make this experience possible. Mission accomplished.

For Zions Bank, I'm Fred Ball. I'm speaking on business.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Free LabSim Practice Exams in November 2009

Have you wondered how well you would do on an IT certification exam if you took it today? Would you pass?

During the month of November, TestOut is giving you the chance to take LabSim practice exams for free. Every LabSim certification training course includes a realistic practice exam that helps learners gauge their readiness for the actual certification exam. During November, you can have free access to the LabSim practice exams.

LabSim courses include training—instructional videos, hands-on lab simulations, written lessons—and practice exams for the following IT certifications:

  • Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist. The starting point in Microsoft certifications, MCTS evaluates your skills on key Microsoft technologies, such as Windows operating systems, Exchange server, SQL server, and Visual Studio.
  • Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. Evaluates skills for Windows Server and Active Directory administration. Prepares you for jobs such as systems engineer, technical support engineer, and system analyst.
  • Microsoft Certified IT Professional. Evaluates your skills for professional IT job roles, such as database administrator or enterprise messaging administrator.
  • Systems Security Certified Professional. Prepares you for jobs such as network security engineer, security systems analyst, or security administrator.
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional. Evaluates experience in access control, application security, cryptography, risk management, security architecture, and more.
  • Cisco Certified Network Associate. Entry-level networking certification, demonstrates your skills in installing, configuring, operating, and troubleshooting networks.
  • Cisco Certified Network Professional. Demonstrates ability to install, configure, and troubleshoot converged LANs and WANs with 100-500 or more nodes, manage routers and switches, and manage applications that integrate voice, wireless, and security into the network.
  • Linux+. Demonstrates a fundamental understanding of Linux systems, including command line, user administration, file permissions, software configuration, and management of Linux-based clients.
  • Server+. Demonstrates technical knowledge in areas such as RAID, SCSI and multiple CPUs, as well as capabilities with disaster recovery.
  • A+. Entry-level certification, tests the fundamentals of computer technology, networking and security, as well as communication skills, professionalism, and hands-on understanding.
  • Security+. Demonstrates competency in system security, network infrastructure, access control, and organizational security.
  • Network+. Focuses on managing, maintaining, troubleshooting, installing, and configuring basic network infrastructure.

Go to www.testout.com/exam to access the free LabSim practice exams. If you pass the LabSim exam, you’re ready to certify. If not, you’ll need some additional training, but you’ll know exactly what your areas of weakness are and where you need to focus your training from now on.

Good luck, and let us know how you do!

Friday, November 6, 2009

CompTIA Survey of IT Professionals Shows Certification Strategies


CompTIA—the trade association that offers industry-accepted certifications such as A+, Security+, and others—released data from their recent survey of 1500 IT professionals. The survey asked respondents about their certification strategies, and the data they presented should give insight to students planning to pursue technology certifications in the near future. Here are several key points from the survey’s results that may be of particular interest to students and instructors:
  • Security is a topic at the top of IT professionals’ minds as they consider certifications. 37% of survey respondents plan to pursue a security certification in the next five years. With security threats occurring more and more often in every industry, better training in information assurance and security is a must.
  • The top two reasons people pursue certifications are 1) to enhance their resume and 2) for personal growth. These reasons, given by 88% of the IT professionals surveyed, probably sound familiar to you and may be the same reasons you as a student pursue certifications.
  • The average length of time respondents spent preparing for their certification exams was 44.5 hours, and 1/3 of respondents said they spent up to 60 hours preparing. If trained IT professionals are spending this much time in test preparation, these exams obviously aren’t the type to cram for! You may be able to complete your test preparation as part of IT coursework at your school.
  • When asked who pays for the certification exam, 50% of respondents said they pay for their own, and 38% get their employer to pay for it. CompTIA senior vice president Terry Erdle said, “This confirms that many professionals are truly committed to the IT field and take pride in developing their skills and showcasing their expertise.”
How do the responses given in the CompTIA survey compare to your own strategies for pursuing certifications? Leave a comment or email us experience@testout.com.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Do Your Students Perform Better in Online Courses?

Some instructors are reluctant to teach online courses because they’re concerned that students won’t receive the same high-quality learning experience online as they would receive in a classroom with face-to-face interaction with the teacher and other students. Especially for technology studies, offering the courses online begs the question: Are students really gaining the necessary practical experience for understanding the technology? At Henderson College in Henderson, Kentucky, instructor Kimberly Conley was asked for years to teach an online A+ Essentials class, but she refused. She said, “I could teach a theory class all day online, . . . but it’s impossible to teach a practical, hands-on application class online.”

Through technology for Web-based video, instant messaging, and collaborative work online, however, opportunities for interaction in online courses are growing, and studies have been conducted with surprising results. A recent report written for the Department of Education in the United States examined 99 quantitative studies comparing students’ performance in online versus traditional classrooms, mostly in college or adult-learning courses. The studies found that, on average, students in online courses ranked higher in tested performance than students taking the same course in a traditional classroom setting.

New York Times technology reporter Steve Lohr suggested that in the past, “Online education amounted to little more than electronic versions of the old-line correspondence course.” He continued, “The real promise of online education, experts say, is providing learning experiences that are tailored more to individual students than is possible in classrooms. That enables more ‘learning by doing,’ which many students find more engaging and useful.”

LabSim certification training courses are a fine example of the “learning by doing” that can be available for online technology courses, and many colleges have incorporated LabSim into their distance IT curriculum because LabSim allows students to actually perform in a simulation the tasks they are taught. At Henderson College, Conley discovered LabSim in 2006, and she was finally willing to teach the A+ Essentials course online. Now she can give her students the practical, real-world environment they need—“all the benefits of a physical lab without the constant upkeep and expense of a physical lab,” she says.

What experiences do you have teaching a course online, and how have technology tools improved your students’ online education? From your perspective, do students perform better in your online class or in your traditional classroom? Leave a comment, or email us your story at experience@testout.com.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Entry-level Certification Training Gives Students What They Need

Teachers and professors, if you’re giving your students training for an entry-level type of certification—A+, Network+, etc.—you’re giving them exactly what they need, according to reports from certification industry experts.

“Certifications for workers in the information technology industry, historically targeted at professionals with at least a few years of experience on the job, are more and more being tailored for entry-level candidates,” wrote Certification Magazine’s John Venator. And we’ve noticed that at TestOut as well. Our LabSim A+ training course is by far the most studied course.

The A+ industry-standard certification is required by many corporations for their IT and technical support staff because it demonstrates a broad base of knowledge and competency in areas like installation, preventative maintenance, networking, security, and troubleshooting. When schools incorporate training for a certification exam such as A+ into their technology curriculum, they’re teaching students the core concepts that corporations need most in their employees but frequently can’t find. Preparing students with A+ and other entry-level certifications gives them a powerful advantage as they begin their job search.

Higher-level certifications will certainly still be useful for your students, but more important in the future, when they’ve chosen a specialization for their career. “Certification vendors have begun targeting the entry-level crowd, offering certs aimed at proving your starting point rather than your final destination. The traditional, powerhouse, industry-standard type certifications aren’t going away, but they are getting augmented with a throwback to the apprentice levels and a future eye toward the specialization sector,” wrote Certification Magazine’s Matt Walker.

We’re sure many of you have seen your students succeed because of the starting point they received through certification training in your classroom. We’d love to hear your experiences! Leave a comment or email us at experience@testout.com.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Microsoft's Transition from 70-640 to 83-640

You may have heard that Microsoft has updated the 70-640—Windows Server 2008 Active Directory—certification exam within the United States and some other countries to include performance-based questions. The new version of 70-640 is called 83-640. Both versions of the exam count equally toward the MCITP certification, but if you’re in the United States, you’ll only have the option to take the 83-640 when you arrive at the testing center.

What’s the difference between the two versions? Performance-based questions. The purpose of performance-based questions is to measure your realistic skills. Multiple-choice questions can measure knowledge, but performance-based questions go further and ask you to actually perform real tasks.

Even though Microsoft just added performance-based questions to their exam, LabSim has always included training for performance-based exams in our interactive, hands-on lab simulations. We want your training to be complete, no matter what type of exam you take.

Preparing for a performance-based exam requires more than just studying a book about the concepts in the exam. You’ll need hands-on practice to prepare for the hands-on evaluation. Marc Vaglio-Laurin of SAS made a great analogy about it: “When you learned to drive a car, you didn’t just read the book. You got behind the wheel and you practiced, and most of us don’t have our own car to practice on,” he said. “…IT performance-based tests are no different. You have to have seat time with the technology. You have to have experience driving. It doesn’t have to be with a live system. There are lots of training classes out there where they use simulators. ”

Vaglio-Laurin is right; “seat time with the technology” is crucial, but it doesn’t have to mean purchasing all the hardware and components to practice with at home. Training courses like LabSim and others offer simulated environments that prepare you for the performance-based evaluations you’ll face in 83-640. If you do have a home lab to practice with, use it in conjunction with a well-designed training course to ensure you’re fully prepared for the exam.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

LabSim Training Course in Crime Scene Investigation

Do you teach criminal justice in a high school or college? If so, how do you give students the hands-on training they need on crime scene investigations? Having a class full of students at an actual crime scene isn’t very practical.

To prepare for a career in criminal justice—as police officer, medical examiner, or crime scene investigator, for example—students need to learn correct procedures for:

• Lifting fingerprints
• Performing DNA tests
• Handling crime scene evidence
• Interviewing suspects
• Working in emergency dispatch centers
• Investigating death
• Photographing and documenting crime scenes

Teaching a full classroom of criminal justice students is difficult to do effectively unless a way can be found to individualize each student’s opportunity for hands-on experience with each procedure.

King Career Center in Anchorage, Alaska—a vocational high school for grades 11–12—solved this issue by incorporating the LabSim Crime Scene Investigation course from TestOut into its Public Safety & Security classes in 2007. The CSI training suite is full of graphics, simulations, and video trainings that give students hands-on, realistic experience for future work in criminal justice careers. With LabSim in the classroom, every student completes each hands-on simulation exercise—realistically practicing each task they’ll need to learn and master for success in the criminal justice field.

Instructor Teena Calkin explains, “After we walk through all of the terminology and bookwork-type material, we pop in the LabSim crime scene scenarios and they actually get to work through them as if they were playing a virtual game. It makes learning fun.” Watch a clip from the LabSim CSI course to see how students learn through simulated experience.


In subsequent entries on our blog, we’ll talk more about the LabSim Crime Scene Investigation course and the benefits of using it or other simulated labs instead of physical labs in your criminal justice classroom. Specifically, we’ll discuss how it can help individualize the instruction for your students and lower the costs of teaching your course. We’ll also discuss situations where the LabSim CSI course is an ideal supplement to a physical lab in your classroom.

Friday, September 25, 2009

How to Prepare for Your IT Certification Exam

Are you preparing for a certification exam? Since it’s our specialty at TestOut to help you prepare for your exams, we’ve spent significant time learning what you need and creating training materials that can best help you. Consider these ideas as you plan how best to prepare for your exam.

What type of exam are you preparing for?
Are you preparing for a skills-based or performance-based exam? Skills-based exams test fundamental understanding of concepts and skills, while performance-based exams go a step further to test your ability to actually perform the functions you know. Examples of skills-based exams are the CompTIA A+ Essentials exam and the CCNA exam (Cisco Certified Network Associate). Examples of performance-based exams are the A+ Practical Application exam and the MCITP 83-640 exam (Configuring Windows Server 2008 Active Directory).

If you’re preparing for a skills-based exam, instructor-led training, written lessons in a book or on the computer, and practice exams will help you. In addition, hands-on simulations can also help solidify your understanding of the concepts you’ve studied, either individually or in a group setting.

Kellye Whitney of Certification Magazine wrote about performance-based exams: “Today’s employers need to know that the candidates they examine for contract and full-time employment have the right skills and are capable of executing a job. Accordingly, preparation for these more intense and rigorous performance- or competency-based exams requires more effort and more time to study.”

For performance-based exams, your best option is to train in a like manner—with performance-based study materials, such as hands-on labs.

What type of learner are you?

Different routes are available for different learning styles. For example, if you are a self-motivated learner and don’t mind working through problems on your own, consider a computer-based training (CBT) course. However, if your learning style is more visual, an instructor-led class might be a better fit. In a classroom setting, the instructor is nearby to answer questions. Knowing what style fits your needs best will be to your advantage in preparing for your certification exams.

How much time do you have?

Many working professionals don’t have time available to attend classes, making CBT courses a great route because they allow for self-paced learning. If you do have time to attend a class over a quarter or semester, many colleges and certification prep companies offer courses. Distance learning programs or boot camps might also be the answer for those who have time; certification candidates can familiarize themselves with testing concepts through instructor-led courses. Knowing your time frame will help you select the right certification training.

Do you have a friend or colleague who is also taking the exam?

We all love a study buddy! “Find someone who is interested in taking the exam, has taken the exam or is maybe at a similar level in terms of experience, and challenge each other,” says Marc Vaglio-Laurin of SAS.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Should Colleges Incorporate IT Certification Training into Their Curriculum?

Many colleges across the nation are beginning to offer their information technology (IT) students more practical opportunities—opportunities for learning not just out of a book, but through hands-on experiences—by actually doing what the textbooks teach. Wise faculty and administrators recognize the need for hands-on training to prepare their students for careers in the IT field.

Administrators at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana, were recently featured in an article in Campus Technology for their efforts to make their IT curriculum more current and relevant to the needs of the IT industry. The university is incorporating curriculum from IBM to focus more on practical skills. Nicholls State Professor Neset Hikmet explained that the revamped curriculum will “better prepare our graduates to help organizations use technology to intelligently respond to the global trends and disruptions affecting businesses, while also achieving a sustainable competitive advantage.” Students complete four semesters of practicum that include “work in IT service management, an apprenticeship, lab, and simulation.” Students are also eligible to receive accompanying certification through the program.

Nicholls State University understands that they play a key role in the placement and success of their students in careers after graduation. Incorporating apprenticeships, labs, simulations, and certification into the curriculum serves both the students—who are better prepared and qualified for their fields—and the university—which enjoys a better reputation for its IT program and its job placement for graduates.

Furthermore, incorporating hands-on experience and certification training into a college IT curriculum offers students the best setting for learning and practicing the material companies need them to know. Speaking to Certification Magazine, Marc Vaglio-Laurin, manager of certification test development at SAS, recommended that college settings are the best place for students to prepare for certification exams “because quarter- or semester-long college courses offer a longer period in which to study, practice and acquaint oneself with performance-based tasks.”

TestOut works with many college campuses that have incorporated IT certification training into their IT curriculum because the training teaches their students what they need to know—not only for their IT education, but also for their careers.

Monday, September 14, 2009

High Schools Should Add Certification Training to Career and Technical Education Programs

Many high schools have incorporated IT certification training into their technology curriculum, giving students practical, hands-on experience along with their more traditional theoretical education. Walla Walla High School in rural Washington State and the King Career Center in Anchorage are perfect examples. Other schools are still debating, and some haven’t even given it serious thought. So why should high schools incorporate certification training into their curriculum?

Less than a year ago, Sean Cavanagh in Education Week wrote about high school career and technical education (CTE) programs. He said, “Critics have long questioned whether [CTE] programs challenge students academically in subjects like math and science. Are CTE students being given skills that will help prepare them for challenging, and potentially high-paying jobs? Or are these courses serving to relegate them to low-paying work and outdated career tracks? How can CTE courses be made more academically demanding?”

In response to the important questions Mr. Cavanagh posed, IT certification training may be one of the very best additions to any CTE program exactly because it challenges students academically in a highly relevant science/technology field and prepares them for high-paying work and cutting-edge career tracks. For example, CompTIA’s A+ certification exam—the exam for which most high school and college IT curriculums offer training—“tests for the fundamentals of computer technology, networking and security, as well as the communication skills and professionalism now required of all entry-level IT professionals.” As a profession, IT work continues to grow in demand like few other fields, even in a struggling economy (http://redmondmag.com/salarysurveys/). Preparing students for the information technology field, with hands-on experience and training, is preparing them for success.

Incorporating certification training into an IT curriculum can be made most academically challenging when teachers combine multiple teaching tools. For example, LabSim training courses offer written lessons, video trainings by industry experts, hands-on lab simulations, and practice exams to gauge readiness for the actual certification exam. By using multiple teaching tools like those offered in LabSim courses, teachers educate students thoroughly in the subject matter and prepare them practically both for the initial exam and the subsequent career.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Confidence Comes Through Experience and Makes the Difference in Your Job Search

In a tough economy, students nearing the end of their education begin worrying whether they’ll find a job after graduation. Among the concerns is whether they’ll be able to compete with applicants who already have on-the-job experience. How can graduating IT students have confidence in their skills and their ability to find the job they’ve been training for? A great place to start: IT certifications.

Certifications are designed to demonstrate the specialized skills and knowledge in a field such as information technology. Each certification course has specific objectives and concepts that have to be mastered to pass certification exams. The important thing to remember is that it is the practice and training each certification provides that is important to employers. Through these courses, you are gaining skills that set you apart from your competition. Learning to solve problems and provide answers will make you an asset to your employer.

Early this year, Larry Dignan—editor-in-chief of ZDNet, wrote: “Some 75 percent of IT professionals responding to [a] Kotler study said their CompTIA certifications make them more attractive to employers, while 84 percent believe they now have the skills necessary to fulfill a job’s requirements. Further, some 93 percent agreed or strongly agreed that customers felt they are in good hands when working with them, due in part to their certifications.

“With numerous other factors seemingly out of your control, IT certifications present at least one element you can command,” Dignan continued. “In an age of unprecedented business and economic turmoil, the resulting confidence boost can only help.”

Certifications make it easier to stay on top of a rapidly progressive industry like IT. Updating your skills and getting the experience that is available to you will give you much-needed confidence. Preparing with a certification training product like LabSim, with hands-on simulations that work together with the video instruction, written lessons, and practice exams, gives you realistic experience to go along with your certification.

The IT industry is unique because it promotes constant learning; the more you know and the more experience you gain, the more employment opportunities you will find. Now go build some confidence!

Monday, September 7, 2009

The LabSim Experience: A Blog about Learning through Experience

Welcome to The LabSim Experience, the new blog of TestOut Corporation. We’ve started this blog to begin a conversation about your training experiences.

How do you learn best? Did you use LabSim within a school classroom, online, or on the job, and did you work on your own or as part of a group? How have you used training materials as you’ve prepared for your certification exams, and what have been your experiences taking the exams—did you prepare sufficiently, or do you wish you had done something different?

With a focus on education and online learning, this blog should be a resource of relevant, current ideas and articles where you can share what you’ve learned by experience, and others learn from the experiences you share. Whether you’ve already completed 12 certifications, 1 certification, or you’re just thinking about certifications for your future career, The LabSim Experience should offer valuable insights about learning through experience.

Writers, instructional designers, and developers at TestOut Corporation will contribute original entries to The LabSim Experience blog, and we’ll also post entries from instructors who teach courses that include LabSim training products. We’ll write some about the hands-on LabSim IT certification training products, but more about the training and education experience as a whole—both the technical and the theoretical. Watch for new entries, and move the conversation forward by leaving your comments, feedback, and ideas.