Training Get An Extreme Makeover (Part 1)

4/9/2013 9:18:46 AM

From movie-like videos to hands-on hacker contests, fresh approaches to skills development have gussied up the world of IT training.

For Jerome Provensal, it training hasn’t always been a pleasant experience. In fact, “stuck-in-a-classroom training courses taught by semi-inspired instructors of uneven quality” is how Provensal, director of software development at ITG, describes much of his IT education.

The good news, he says, is that dull approaches to training are fast becoming a thing of the past. Instead, more and more companies are granting IT professional access to simulated environments, cloud-based e-learning modules, high-quality video productions and even Hollywood green-screen technology to earn certifications, upgrade their skills and otherwise advance their careers.

“New grads joining the workforce who have been raised on a diet of Khan Academy-type courses are more likely to embrace the bite-size video model,”

“New grads joining the workforce who have been raised on a diet of Khan Academy-type courses are more likely to embrace the bite-size video model,”

There are a number of variables helping to push staid PowerPoint presentations into history’s dustbin. “Innovative IT training programs got their start because of cost-cutting measures,” says Kendra Lee, president of the KLA Group, an IT training and consulting firm in Centennial, Colo. As IT managers contend with shrinking budgets and skeleton staffs, many can no longer afford to enroll their workers in month long, off-site workshops. At the same time, new delivery mechanisms, such as cloud technology, are enabling companies to offer online courses anytime, anywhere, and at a fraction of the cost of on-premises programs.

Also driving innovation in the IT training sector is a new generation of techie. “New grads joining the workforce who have been raised on a diet of Khan Academy-type courses are more likely to embrace the bite-size video model,” says Provensal, referring to a popular not-for-profit educational organization and website.

Video Killed the In-person Training Star

Provensal would know. In December 2011, he signed up for, an online training service that’s wildly popular among techies because of its hands-on, all-you-can-eat approach. He has viewed videos on everything from Photoshop and Word-Press to jQuery and data analysis.

At a starting price of $25 per month, members receive unlimited access to nearly 1,600 courses encompassing more than 85,000 video tutorials. These tutorials, which range in length from one hour to 20 hours, are led by experts in specific disciplines, rather than trainers, and have a decidedly movie-like quality to them. Each video is divided up into 10-minute chapters bite-size chunks that allow members to easily search for relevant content, or jump in and out of a training session for a quick Share Point refresher or MySQL query.



It’s a self-directed, piecemeal approach to training that’s particularly appealing to today’s typically independent, supervision-resistant techies. In fact, since launching its online training service in 2002, has enlisted more than 3,000 corporate clients and more than 2 million individual members. And content is always being refreshed, with nearly eight new courses every week.

“While it’s always beneficial to have live instructors that you can ask for help, a lot of IT professionals are very good at teaching themselves,” says Lee. “Actually, a lot of them prefer [video-based training]. They just like that environment.”

Comic Relief

Content is also undergoing an extreme makeover in some surprising places. Consider Broadway Bank in San Antonio. In the past, Diana Huntsman, Broadway Bank’s vice president and information security officer had a simple formula for teaching employees not to scribble their passwords on Post-it notes: “pages and pages of materials, a question and answer period and PowerPoint.”

That was the case until Huntsman began rolling out Digital Defense’s SecurED program in late January 2012. SecurED is a series of 12 online training modules that are designed to help companies reduce the risk of security breaches. What makes SecurED different, however, is that Digital Defense partnered with Hollywood actor Fred Willard, of Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman fame, and Emmy award-winning comedy writer T. Sean Shannon to develop highly entertaining training modules. While there’s nothing funny about the topics tackled physical security, phishing, social engineering viewers are warmed up with a comedy skit before delving into serious subject matter. As a result, Huntsman says the SecurED program promises to be a pleasant switch from “humdrum” material to “humor that is really going to capture our employees’ attention.” In fact, Huntsman suspects that SecurED has the potential to become a powerful recruiting tool for the financial institution.

 “As the younger workforce comes in, they expect something different from IT training,” says Huntsman. “They expect training to be faster and more concise, so I think SecurED is going to be a very good way to accommodate that need.”

Educational Experimentation

But for every fresh-faced college grad enamored with training videos, there’s an IT professional whose learning style is best suited to hands-on experimentation. Rob Wittes is that type of learner. CareerBuilder’s manager of business intelligence development, Wittes recently graduated from the company’s Leadership

Development Series, a three-year, part-time program that offers training in finance, law, sales and marketing. Whereas traditional training courses are typically taught by in-house personnel, the Leadership Development Series, held in CareerBuilder’s Chicago headquarters, is led by professors from institutions like Booth University College and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Educational Experimentation

Class size is limited to 30 students, and courses consist of a lecture, lab time and peer review. But it’s the program’s hands-on approach that makes it unique, says Wittes. Many class exercises involve breaking into groups to create a new product or service, and then devising a strategy for bringing that offering to market as a CareerBuilder competitor.

“There isn’t a portion of these classes where you don’t get hands-on work,” says Wittes. “Everything is taught in a collaborative way that gives you exposure to other areas of the company and other employees.” Getting your hands dirty with real-world case studies and marketplace scenarios is critical to any IT professional’s continuing education, according to Lee. “The one thing that is most important for IT professionals is to have hands-on time,” she says. “Training that is mostly listening just won’t work with techies.”

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