With the weak economy and everyone feeling like their job, if they still have one, is in peril, people are trying to add to their skill set and make themselves a more productive and valuable employee. They’re augmenting themselves, not their résumé . If you’re one of these people, you’ve probably considered taking some courses or preparing for exams so you can get additional certifications. If you’ve done a little bit of research about self-paced computer training software packages, you’ve probably come to the same conclusion as I did – there are two very separate and specific “types” of self-paced learning packages and each one is designed to fulfill a very different need.
I separate the world of computer training software packages into two camps:
- Basic Skills Learning: Basics skills learning refers to educational software packages that teach you how to do “basic” skills that are applicable to almost any role you may have. The prime example is Video Professor, which is good at teaching the basic computer skills like how to use Excel and Word and Quickbooks.
- Domain-specific Skills Learning: Domain-specific skills learning refers to educational software packages that teach you a specific skill with the goal of passing a certification or exam, such as the 642-901 Cisco BSCI exam or the Microsoft 70-640 Exam (TS: Windows Server 2008 Active Directory).
Depending on your role in your organization, one type is better for you than another. If you’re an IT professional looking to add to your list of certifications, TrainSignal is a better option because the courses will give you the knowledge you need to pass certification exams. If you’re an accountant who works with but is unfamiliar with Quickbooks, the Video Professor course is going to be better for you because it’ll walk you through Quickbooks at a higher level. There are domain-specific skills learning products in topics such as Microsoft Excel and Word, but they may be too detailed and too comprehensive for you. You have to be the final judge of what’s right for you.
TrainSignal  is a company that offers nearly fifty different computer learning packages, from Cisco to CompTIA to Microsoft to VMware. If you think getting the 640-801 CCNA (Certified Network Associate Routing & Switching) certification would help your career, they have a 2-CD, 13 hour course for the Cisco 640-801 CCNA course  for that, which includes a Transcender  practice exam (normally $159 from Transcender). The course is less than $300, a fraction of the cost of classroom instruction, and you get the 13 hours as videos (including an iPod video version), audio, and PDF instructor notes so you can “train” it anywhere.
When I went to San Francisco last month, I met Scott Skinger, founder and one of the instructors at TrainSignal. He is a really friendly guy and I was glad to have met him because it put a face to what I thought was an already impressive company. What I didn’t know was the depth of his technical expertise, which is one of the most credible things about TrainSignal. If you look at Trainsignal’s instructors , they’re all domain practitioners. They have the certifications they’re teaching and real life experience in the industry.
Finally, they offer an amazingly long 90-day guarantee on their products (not a 30 day or a 60 day, a 90 day guarantee). That’s enough time for you to watch the videos a dozen times. I believe that any information product you buy online must come with a guarantee.
Video Professor  is a company you’ve probably seen advertising a lot on television and elsewhere. They offer basic skills training packages that teach you how to use products like Microsoft Excel or Word or give you an overview of certain concepts like how to use eBay and navigating the Internet. There’s not much more to their programs to be honest, it’s just basic computer skills type of stuff. One warning, need to be careful about the “free” products they send. Their model is based on offering you a free product and then signing you up to a subscription of future learning software packages. You are certainly welcome to cancel after you receive the lessons, you just need to call them and then send back one of the CDs, but I’ve never used them so I can’t vouch for how easy that is..
As you can see, the two different companies cater to two totally different types of person. The domain-specific skills learning software product is meant for someone seeking to pass a certification or, at a minimum, add to their skill set as it pertains to a very specific function. The basic skills learning products are more for casual persons who are looking to augment some basic skills they already have.
Have you taken courses by either TrainSignal or Video Professor? I’d love to hear what you thought about them.
(Photo: extraketchup )