Video training has become a really big business. I’m a classroom teacher myself, and teach the A+ certification and several others, so the question of whether video training can replace classroom time is pretty personal, and I come at it a little skeptically. I’ve endured some truly painful online and video training courses, and I’m betting my gentle reader has too. Do they have to be awful? Or can they truly be good enough to replace “live” teachers? And more important, are they a good bargain relative to live classes?
No, they don’t have to be awful. Some are definitely better than others. Twenty years ago the user interfaces were mish-mashes, a situation that has hugely improved. Today they’ve almost all settled toward uniform layouts, which honestly improves the user experience across the board. It’s great to have a course outline with links to lessons down one side of the workspace or the other, for instance. Live classes often have a separate area for text material and another column for chat. Sometimes there’s a panel for downloadable materials, and sometimes all of these are wrapped up in one tabbed column (my favorite). What really matters is, which of these elements are included in a given course? And far more critical, how good is the actual presentation material?
In this case the material is quite good. The video pane alternates between Powerpoint-like slides, detailed video close-ups of hardware and actual assembly, and the presenter (whom I presume is David Prowse himself) talking and using a white board. This last is kind of classroom-like, complete with quick-and-dirty sketches. David has a good physical presence and a good speaking voice, so it works well. The frequent change of visual layout keeps things interesting, which is critical for recorded trainings. And the level of detail is really quite good; at 20+ hours for the 901 video course and 40+ for both 901 and 902, it’s close to the number of hours most live classes will run. That’s a lot of material, but in small chunks running about five minutes each. This is a popular format length these days: most students like being able to “drop in” to the course when they have some free time without making an hour-long commitment. Plus, it’s not so painful if you have to repeat a lecture. Personally, I find myself reluctant to start hour-long lessons online, but I can devour a five-minute video almost any time.
Lessons consist of Learning Objectives, lectures, Performance Based Exercises (very much like the ones you’ll find on the actual test) and PC Build demonstrations. The Learning Objectives aren’t a boring list of topics; instead, David gives a brief but much more informative talk about the lesson. Some Performance Based Exercises are classic drag-and-drop matching tasks, but some require you to demonstrate actual familiarity with Windows by, for instance, setting a static IP address, which is a highly relevant skill. The overall high-quality video production really shines in the PC Build walkthroughs, though these may be most useful for less experienced students. Modules are collections of Lessons, and include Module Quizzes (again, very similar to actual test questions). Most textbooks in this area include at least a couple of sample tests, whether on CD or by download. With this package you get a series of Module Quizzes, which as I’ve mentioned are pretty good, but you don’t get formal timed sample exams.
Can really hi-res video of motherboards and RAM and video cards replace the hands-on, pass-it-around of a live class? Put simply, yes, provided you’re already familiar with these things. But no, not if you’ve never handled them. How should you hold a stick of RAM? What part(s) should you never touch? If you picked up a module in a job interview would you be comfortable holding it? If these questions just make you laugh, you’re a good candidate for this course.
There were a couple of things I missed in the user interface package. There are no Supplementary Materials, which is a pretty small issue in a really complete package like this one, though I’ve run into some really valuable supplementary handouts from time to time. But the lack of student-teacher interaction might be a more serious issue. This is obviously the primary benefit of a live classroom or online class: you can say, Wait, I’m stuck on this, or I can’t make that work, or Mine doesn’t look like that. I’ve seen the chat window fill with questions, and I’ve found some of the most valuable material there when an instructor is provoked to a deeper explanation.
Some of the online course platforms use a hybrid method, where the course is recorded but the chat function is always available (and teachers are expected to respond to inquiries, even months or years later). Given the model of this video courseware, that’s not practical here. But this lack does take the course another big step away from the live classroom.
What really matters here is, can you take this video course and pass the A+ exam? There’s never a certain answer to that, because so much depends on the experience you bring. Some people are really successful at passing certification tests simply by reading a book or two; those people usually are already familiar with the topic and have advanced study skills. Most of us need more. If you can’t take a classroom course where you live, a video course is a very good alternative, at least if the course itself is high-quality, though I’d recommend spending some serious hands-on time with real hardware. The past few years have seen courses like this one dramatically improve, and at this point they’re certainly a viable alternative, especially if you’re relatively disciplined about your study – and like learning from videos rather than books.
Now for brass tacks: you can take two live courses for the 901 and 902 tests, with textbooks and test vouchers included, for about $2000 depending on your area. These two video courses list as a $499 package as I write this, much more expensive than a textbook and not including the tests, which will run you another $450. You could buy a text and some sample tests and spend barely more than half the price of classroom courses. If you’ve already got some experience with PCs, this could be a real steal for you.
Pearson IT Certification CompTIA A+ 220-901 Complete Video Course – January 22, 2016
By David L. Prowse
ISBN-13: 978-0-13-449930-7 / ISBN-10: 0-13-449930-1
Pearson IT Certification’s CompTIA A+ 220-901 and 220-902 Complete Video Course Library – April 18, 2016