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.

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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 Lou Wagner of CHiPs and Raising Hope 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.

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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