For decades, we have delivered IT training as live-instructor training events and programs that are structured and scheduled. Computer-based training (CBT) and e-learning had their place in the market, but the majority of training offerings were live, instructor-led events. IT professionals in the fields of networking, security, project management and telecommunications placed a high value on certifications and had the resources to invest a scheduled block of time dedicated each year to keeping their certifications current.
Historically, IT training events are scheduled to take place at a training center or a corporate training room for a full week, each day lasting around eight hours. Some certification courses have so much material to cover that bootcamps are scheduled for up to two weeks with extended hours. Students practice on lab equipment that is either physically at the training site or remotely, using virtual labs.
The Move From In-Person Training to Virtual Classrooms
As technology progressed, virtual training events gained popularity, because they eliminate travel costs while providing collaborative training tools that replicate the interactivity and communication of a physical class. Virtual class schedules often have many offerings and flexible schedules, since they don’t rely on a physical space and cost less. They can be scheduled like in-person events, or they can be offered in shorter durations over a longer time period. For example, a week-long physical classroom event can be broken into three-hour sessions offered twice a week over a month.
Many jobs still require certification courses, but technical topics like cloud computing, cybersecurity, big data, application and software development, and DevOps require successful IT departments to drive continuous skills improvement. Why? Because these technologies are changing so rapidly that IT professionals have to keep their skills up to date at a faster pace. As a result, digital learning has gained prominence.
The Emergence of Digital and Blended Learning
Students are taking digital courses and purchasing digital subscriptions that enable them to learn what they want to learn, when they need it. The move to digital learning also responds to the IT professional’s need for both broad and deep knowledge and the skills that require frequent updating. Simultaneously, production costs for video-based courses have steadily declined, which has led to the growth of digital-only training vendors.
Because of these shifts in the IT and training industries, offerings that blend live training with digital assets are growing in importance. The options for blending these modalities are seemingly endless in theory, but the most successful training options will combine to meet the needs of the IT student. Virtual live courses provide a space for deep focus, immersion and the expertise of an instructor, while digital solutions offer flexibility, timely updates and the opportunity to build real-world skills. Blended solutions should allow students to build core skills or deepen their expertise in a technology while providing flexibility and access to the latest information.
A Glimpse Into a Blended Learning World
Live events often contain an abundance of information the student must understand in a short span of focused class time. That is often the case with certification or advanced IT courses. Digital offerings can extend the learning past the live session by reinforcing the information through problem-solving challenges that emulate on-the-job situations. For example, a student takes a live training event to learn advanced concepts and prepare for a certification exam. After the class, she continues learning using digital courses focused on building skills, technology updates and extended practice time in a virtual lab environment.
Conversely, digital offerings can help students build prerequisite knowledge needed for an advanced class. Students who want to take an advanced-level course may not meet all of its prerequisites, because the technology is so new or has versioned quickly. Blended learning can meet this need by allowing students to schedule an advanced live course bundled with a digital offering beforehand to help them achieve base-level skills and knowledge.
Another opportunity for blended learning involves structuring live events and digital courses over a set period of time to build off of each other. The live events cover deep-dive information updates, discussions of emerging topics, or support for skill-building challenges or advanced-level lab work. The instructor for the live events provides added value to the digital content with real-world examples and insights and by answering questions and leading discussions. The digital components enable students to enhance their knowledge. The set period of time drives the student toward completing the digital course, while the interspersed live events provide the latest information and the benefits of learning and working in a group.
Technology Comes and Goes, but Learning Never Stops
As new technologies emerge, IT continues to evolve and change, and the IT training industry changes with it. Blended training offerings have the potential to grow in market popularity, because they have the flexibility and relevance to meet the training needs of IT professionals.