IT training gets an extreme makeover

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 professionals 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.

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 monthlong, 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 WordPress 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 SharePoint 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."

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