In December 2009, thousands of IT students received a
nasty holiday surprise as leading IT certification
bootcamp providers ComputerTraining.edu and Vigilar's
Intense School suddenly announced they were going out of
business, effective immediately.
Online IT forums flooded with panicked posters
desperate to determine whether they would be able to
continue their coursework and obtain refunds for
training they'd never receive. Many posts took on a
tragic tone as concerned colleagues and other training
firms lamented the fate of the victims. "The worst are
the clients who have bought classes that will not be
delivered or clients who have bought a large quantity of
vouchers worth absolutely nothing, some of them losing
their yearly training budget. This is the tragedy in all
of this," stated Sondra J. Schneider, the founder and
CEO of Security University. It appears both training
firms may have fallen victim to the ongoing credit
Although the suddenness of the announcements came as
a shock, industry insiders were not surprised that
investors and banks abandoned training programs based on
antiquated business models. Many noted that although
expensive classroom instruction was once the primary
option for IT certification, elearning has replaced it
as firms focus on cost-efficiency and increased ROI. For
organizations struggling to do more with less for the
foreseeable future, e-learning advancements may even
represent the difference between potential growth and
Are Classroom Bootcamps Worth the Risk?
There's no denying the value classroom training
bootcamps have provided the IT industry. Courses are
usually led by highly qualified subject experts.
Students receive attention in small to moderate sized
groups. Ideally, their focus is not diverted from the
subject by outside distractions and competing job
duties. Although some executives continue to view
classroom training bootcamps favorably, the exorbitant
cost is unfortunately becoming a luxury few
organizations can now justify. Training firms that
continue to count on luxury spending in 2010 will
undoubtedly struggle and fail.
Although companies still rely on quality IT
certification training, only 48% of the IT certification
courses conducted in 2009 occurred via traditional
instructor-led classroom-based training. (1) In 1999,
that figure was 71%. In 2010, only the training firms
that offer a variety of affordable e-learning
alternatives can be expected to survive.
Vetting IT Certification Bootcamp Providers
In the wake of the closings of bootcamp providers
ComputerTraining.edu and Vigilar, IT bootcamps may pose
a significant investment risk. Since courses are often
paid for weeks or even months in advance, and the
training firm's financial records are not common
knowledge, there's no way to anticipate where the ax
could fall next. Even training institutions that appear
to be thriving could be in trouble.
For example, Vigilar's Intense School advertised a
95% pass rate on exams. The company's website continued
to post news of awards and achievements during the
months before the school's closing, including an
appearance by school representatives on the Today Show.
News that the school had been named a finalist in the
2010 SC Awards for outstanding achievement in IT
security came mere days before the Intense School closed
its doors for good.
Statistics like these prove that there is no
foolproof way to vet IT certification bootcamp providers
in today's economic climate. Unlike e-learning products
that can be provided immediately upon payment, bootcamp
courses are usually scheduled in advance, increasing the
risk of loss if the company's fortunes fade quickly. In
a statement posted on the company's website,
ComputerTraining.edu representatives claimed to have
been shut down by BB&T Bank "with no forewarning or
Several training providers have offered to provide
similar courses for free or at a reduced cost to Vigilar
and ComputerTraining.edu students. Clients can also
contact their state educational regulators to try to
recoup some of their lost investment. Many remain
hopeful, but these limited and often inconvenient
options just aren't good enough. IT executives are wary
of becoming overly dependent on training programs wedded
to outdated business models and fearful of bootcamp
failures derailing their own training objectives.
Relying on Bootcamp Guarantees?
Before bootcamps began closing, the principal risk
associated with purchasing the courses involved paying
significant upfront fees only to have poorly prepared
students later fail the exams. Of course, classroom
bootcamp vendors offer satisfaction guarantees to help
you mitigate your investment risk. But how often are
those guarantees actually implemented? Take this
example: Employee A fails to pass the PMPcertification
exam after you've paid $1900* (plus travel expenses) for
the 4-day classroom test prep course. You request a
refund from the vendor, but you are only eligible for an
initial refund of $275, and your employee must take the
exam again within the next 30 days to be eligible for
any additional funds.
In fact, IT training vendor PMStudy maintains a
refund policy that requires students to fail the PMP
exam three times before the company will refund the
entire course price - and that refund only applies if
the student took the first exam within 30 days after the
bootcamp and makes each subsequent attempt within the
next 30 days, and the next 30 days, and so on...
So although you could potentially recoup your entire
investment in this scenario, the process won't exactly
be painless. And, of course, you won't be able to recoup
lost travel fees, the price of accommodations, or the
employee's lost time away from work while he was
attending the bootcamp.
What's the E-Learning Cost Comparison?
Using our previous example, suppose that Employee A
decides to forego the $1900 bootcamp and instead selects
a comprehensive PMP exam prep package** from the same
vendor, only this time in an e-learning format. The cost
savings? At least $1500, and possibly more, since many
e-learning vendors provide a variety of packages that
allow employees to receive only the materials they
actually need. Add in fees for travel, accommodations,
and lost work hours, and the numbers can change from red
to black in a hurry.
How Much Time Can You Save with E-Learning?
Since e-learning programs allow students to study at
their own pace, employers control the amount of time
lost during the workweek. Some employees are permitted
to study solely during non-working hours, while others
enjoy study periods during any downtime that occurs
throughout the workday. Unlike classroom training,
e-learning is flexible, so employees and employers have
the power to determine when studying should occur.
Unfortunately, many employers are now short-staffed due
to the recession, so they can't often spare key
employees for offsite bootcamp courses.
E-learning affords businesses the opportunity to
enhance the skills of their core workforce without
sacrificing employee productivity. Contrary to popular
belief, computer-based training also actually requires
less time than instructor-led training. The time
required to complete an e-learning course ranges by an
average of 40-60%, with some students spending up to 80%
less time on coursework. (2)
How Easy Are E-Learning Courses to Use?
Many e-learning vendors provide courses that appeal
to several senses by integrating text, graphics, and
audio features. This inclusion is critical, since most
educators believe that students what they hear and see.
IT employees often prefer e-learning formats since
they allow them to experience course materials in the
format in which they are already most comfortable. Ask
any IT worker whether he'd prefer to sit in a classroom
with other students listening to a lecture or
participate in a self-paced computer-based course.
You probably won't be surprised by his answer.
What's the Value of a Self-Assessment?
Self-assessments are one of the most unique features
of any quality e-learning program. Students can take a
pre-test before they even begin studying in order to
gauge their strengths and weaknesses. This feature
enables students to proceed with a program customized to
meet their needs. Many are often surprised by the
results, unaware of how much or how little they actually
know about certain subject areas. By obtaining this
information ahead of time, the student can then tailor
his program to focus on the areas in which he needs the
most assistance instead of wasting it on areas he may
have already mastered. Self-assessments were created
specifically to address the frustration many students
experience by one-size-fits-all classroom or self-study
courses that give equal weight to all course material
regardless of the skill level or experience of the
How Does E-Learning Reduce Test Anxiety?
One of the most common obstacles experienced by
potential test-takers in any field is classic test
anxiety. Forcing an anxious employee to participate in a
classroom setting can only exacerbate this problem.
Allowing students to study alone and take practice
tests in the format they'll actually use for the
examination can go a long way toward reducing their
anxiety. Taking advantage of e-learning products that
offer self assessment features are also helpful, since
they give students immediate feedback on their progress.
Computer-based pre-tests can reassure students who
are unsure of their abilities. Many are pleasantly
surprised to learn they have already mastered certain
areas of the exam. Even providing guidance on the areas
in which they should focus can have a calming effect.
Most importantly, e-learning affords test anxiety
sufferers the comfort of studying and learning in
private, and based on their own schedule.
Using E-learning to Standardize Staff Skill Levels
One of the most popular features of e-learning is the
ability to use the medium across a large and diverse
group of employees. In the past, the prohibitive cost of
classroom bootcamps and accompanying travel requirements
often led employers to select only a few choice staff
members for IT certification training. Unfortunately,
those decisions also meant that large numbers of IT
staff remained uncertified and unfairly dependent on the
lucky few who had received formal training. Since
untrained staff members tend to underutilize existing
technology, additional technical resources were
routinely wasted, something no organization needs,
especially in the midst of a struggling
Industry studies show that Microsoft certified
teams are 28% more productive, and teams in which more
than half of the team members are Microsoft certified
demonstrate a 15-17% improvement in job capabilities.(3)
What Types of E-Learning Formats Are Available?
One of the strengths of the e-learning industry has
been its acknowledgment that no two students learn in
the same way. Elearning vendors know that Employee A
prefers CBT training, but Employee B learns best by
listening to audio courses during his commute, and
Employee C just wants to take as many practice tests as
humanly possible. Video, audio, and CBT options abound,
as do more traditional workbook and textbook
alternatives. Students can choose individual products or
select a combination of tools in order to maximize their
learning potential and improve their chances of passing
certification exams on the first attempt. Computer based
reporting features and constant feedback further
validate their progress.
The sudden insolvency of two reputable and respected
IT certification training firms has given the entire
industry a reason to re-evaluate its training methods.
As classroom bootcamp training becomes less of a
standard and more of a luxury, e-learning presents a
cost-effective alternative for organizations looking to
do less with more, and do it quickly. Utilizing
e-learning programs enables a global workforce to
enhance skill sets without expensive travel and
inconvenient scheduling headaches. Staff productivity
levels are preserved, and learning becomes more
individualized as students choose from a variety of
video, audio, and CBT learning formats. Employees prefer
the adaptability of e-learning. It reduces test anxiety
and provides invaluable and immediate, student-specific
feedback that can't often be duplicated in a classroom
setting. Paid certification opportunities can certainly
help you lure and retain the best and brightest
technical minds, but providing these benefits to your
workforce doesn't have to fracture your firm's bottom
line. Utilize e-learning alternatives to strengthen your
workforce while enjoying increased productivity and
elevated employee morale.
*Actual 12/09 online cost of PM Study's 4-day PMP
**Actual 12/09 online cost of PMP Training: 40 PMI
contact hours,* 4 Simulated Practice Tests,
Guides and Chapter Tests on all Knowledge Areas
(1) "Learning's Reinvention Jumpstarted by Tough
Economy," Catherine Upton, Group Publisher
of Elearning! and Government Elearning! magazines,
(2) Hall, B., Web-Based Training Cookbook
(3) "Value of Certification: Team Certification and
Organizational Performance," IDCWhite
Paper, November 2006.
Ben Ice is the Editor of The Cert Times and the
Marketing Manager for ExamForce, a division of
LearnForce Partners LLC.
For more information on ExamForce's IT certification
e-learning products, please visit
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