Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How Do You Choose Which Certification to Go After?

So many certifications . . . where to start?

When you’re working on your IT education, you know that certifications are an important step, but you may not know where to start. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you?

When I start interviewing for jobs, companies will want me to have certifications. But which ones are most important?
I know I want to be a network engineer (substitute security professional, database administrator, etc.). Which certifications will I need for that?
I’ve been so focused on getting through my college courses that I haven’t had time to think about certifications. Now I’m about to graduate. Where do I start?

Many college IT programs train their students for certifications, but others don’t, leaving students with questions about what certifications they need and how to prepare. Doing some research on your own is the place to start. In an article for Certification Magazine, analyst Howard Nicholson suggested, “One of the most important steps when making a decision about which designation to pursue is to understand the objectives of the certification. Take the time to research as much about the certification as possible, and ensure you understand what the certification is designed to do, what an organization would expect to gain from you having the certification, and what it does for your professional career.”

As you put in the time to research certifications, you’ll understand which certifications will work toward your career goal. Depending on your desired career direction, it may be CompTIA’s A+, Network+, or Security+; Microsoft’s MCTS (Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist); or Cisco’s CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate). Start doing some research on these sites:


Certification Magazine’s Luis Carselle offered useful ideas to further prepare for certifications and careers. He wrote, “At work, volunteer to help on projects that may be only tangential to your main duties; talk to colleagues during lunch breaks and at industry events to learn how they handled different situations; read publications that offer best practices; review award-winning programs; and scan industry magazines and Web sites for the latest tools and solutions.” The more knowledge and experience you gain, the better you’ll understand the certifications you need.

Emily Howard, TestOut

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Blended Learning Is a Natural Fit in IT

Blended learning—the learning that happens through a combination of instructional methods—has a natural home in information technology. For example, instead of relying solely on the traditional approach of a teacher standing in front of a class and lecturing, IT training—including the new LabSim A+—incorporates computer-mediated instruction with face-to-face instruction.

While IT learners frequently seek instructor-led training, they utilize self-study materials just as often. The wealth of information available online and in print, videos, and even practice tests makes it possible for IT learners to gain valuable knowledge from many sources. Additionally, the dimension of knowledge gained through hands-on experience is invaluable in IT; practicing or experimenting with real equipment is an irreplaceable learning tool.

All of these learning methods contribute to IT learners’ training and overall preparation for the workplace. Vincent Lowe and Avis Beiden, in Converge Magazine, wrote that “true learning is realistic, applied, collaborative, and multi-sensory.” They suggested further:

“True learning is achieved by providing a realistic context . . . and opportunities to collaboratively explore, investigate and challenge new concepts. This must be supported by a variety of experiences: visual diagrams and demonstrations, printed explanations, interactive discussions and hands-on application.”

The new LabSim A+ certification training courses are an example of an effective blended learning solution for IT learners, and when coupled with a teacher’s own instruction, LabSim A+ is a fierce tool for IT training. The virtual labs—all new and created for the most realistic learning experiences—combine hardware and software tasks in each lab. Videos, written lessons, and practice exams round out the training experience and contribute to what Lowe and Beiden call “true learning.”

Have you ordered your new LabSim A+ courses? If you’re still wondering, give us a call and learn about evaluating the A+ courses for free at your institution.

Emily Howard, TestOut

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

10 Tips for IT Training in 2010

Make 2010 your year to expand your knowledge of IT subjects, seek IT certifications, or improve your IT job performance. Follow these tips to make your training experience most effective.

1. Use training that includes online lab simulations for practical experience. Your training is for more than just passing an exam, right? If you want to learn how to do your job well, make sure you invest in training that gives you real practice performing tasks with hardware, operating systems, and networking.

2. Find training software that combines hands-on experience with practice exams, expert video instruction, and written reference material for a complete training package. There’s more than one way to learn, so be sure to incorporate different methods in your training. Each method will build on the others and reinforce what you’re learning.

3. Use online training to have the flexibility to study wherever you are. Computer-based training gives you flexibility in your training schedule and allows you to review the training again and again so that you really master the concepts.

4. Take an intense on-campus course for quick completion. If you’re working on a tight deadline to receive a certification, a “boot camp” may be the way to go. These intense courses cover a lot of material in a short time, and they’re designed to help you pass a certification exam.

5. Only use training that follows IT certification course requirements exactly to help prepare for certification exams. Make sure you pass your certifying exam the first time by preparing with materials designed according to exam objectives.

6. Utilize training that tracks every action and scores results accordingly. The only way to gauge your readiness both for a job and for a certification exam is to track your progress. Find a training that keeps track of your scores as you go. You’ll be able to see where your strengths are and where you need additional training and practice.

7. Practice on physical hardware if it’s available to you. Do you have access to computers or components that you can practice on? Many people don’t, but if you do, be sure to use it!

8. Take advantage of on-the-job training whenever possible. Every job comes with opportunities to learn and practice new skills as part of your job responsibilities. Never pass up a chance to receive additional training—formal or informal.

9. Follow a schedule to maintain steady progress in your training. Without a plan, you may find the months passing by without making progress toward your training goal. A schedule will help you stay on track.

10. Focus on the fundamentals. Learn processes, how things should be done, and how things work. Good training will help you really understand your job and prepare you to do it well.

Emily Howard, TestOut