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ILT vs. CBT for the IT Certification Candidate

By  Mar 23, 2008

Topics: Other IT, Certification

One question I am asked seemingly all the time by students is "Which do you think is a better fit for me in my certification studies: instructor-led training (ILT) or computer-based training (CBT)?" In this essay I will speak from my experience and describe some pros and cons to each learning method.

The first salient question for you, the IT certification candidate, is how do you learn the best?

Are you the type of person who learns principally by doing? In other words, do you pick up new technologies by 'playing around' with the relevant hardware and software until conceptual light bulbs begin to illuminate?

Alternatively, do you require demonstration to accomplish mastery of a new subject? That is, do you develop new IT skills most efficiently when a subject matter expert shows you how the technology works, and you then repeat the procedures on your own?

Are you an auditory learner? By this I mean do you require interaction with your instructor and other students in a classroom setting in order to synthesize new material? Auditory learners may not gather new skills very well simply by reading instructional books or even by watching CBT materials.

Once you have determined your particular learning style (which may very well be a combination of the previously described learning methods), your task is to follow the appropriate learning path.

Let's take two examples. Julie is the type of learner who needs "just the facts and only the facts" to pick up new technical skills. Whenever she needs to learn a new IT skill, Julie tends to purchase a couple trade books on the subject, fire up one or more practice virtual machines, and "grind it out" on her own.

On the other hand, Todd is the type of student who learns best be seeing an instructor visually demonstrate new concepts. Todd then mimics the new procedures in the classroom in order to solidify his new skills. He needs ongoing collaboration with his instructor and his peers in order to validate that he is on the 'right track' conceptually.

Therefore, Todd is a much better fit for ILT than CBT, in my opinion. Julie might find ILT and CBT tedious at best and a waste of time at worst.

Honestly, I am, personally, an 'old-school' instructor. Although I have developed many, many CBT materials (and they are good, even if I do say so myself), I strongly prefer traditional classroom settings in which I can read non-verbal cues from my students and alter my instruction accordingly.

Obviously you do not receive this kind of personalized attention when you are using computer-based learning products. On the other hand, CBT is great for self-directed people who feel that it would be unnecessary to devote five entire days to a training class when they could spend 10 hours or so reviewing the relevant technologies in a CBT self-study environment.

Not to be strong in speaking in generalities, but in my professional experience I can encapsulate the major pros and cons of ILT vs. CBT thusly:

ILT Pros:

  • Interactive contact with instructor and fellow students
  • Content can be made dynamic to suit individual needs of students
  • Most classes offer hands-on experience with the relevant technologies

ILT Cons:

  • Large time and monetary investment
  • You may have to sit through hours of lecture covering information you already know to get to "the good stuff"
  • Rambunctious student(s) can sometime hamper or derail instruction

CBT Pros:

  • You learn at your own pace, on your own time, and learn only the subjects that you want or need to learn
  • You can repeat an instructor's definition, demonstration, or the entire course over and over again (too bad you can't do that with a live instructor, right?)
  • The training is portable (desktop computer, laptop computer, iPod, etc.)

CBT Cons:

  • Lack of meaningful feedback from instructor (in other words, you could derive incorrect conclusions regarding concepts that you may have misheard or partially understood)
  • The "pick and choose" nature of the CBT may lead you to an incomplete understanding of the subject matter
  • In most cases, you cannot interact with the instructor

Of course, there is a middle ground between these extremes: distance-learning, or the so called Webinar. I will cover this instructional method in a future post.

I hope that you found this discussion helpful. If you can think of any additional pros and cons to ILT and CBT, then please feel free to leave them in the comments portion of this blog post.

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