How do you judge the quality of a computer training center?
Just as all colleges aren't created equal, the quality of computer training centers can vary. As of 2008, the Census Bureau reported that 1,824 companies offered technology training in the United States. Even though an IT professional may be looking to earn a certification and not a degree, vetting any educational institution is critical.
Rating the quality of computer training centers
Unlike undergraduate and graduate computer science degree programs, computer training centers aren't ranked by U.S. News and World Report. Computer professionals looking for additional training will need to consider their personal priorities and career goals as they gather information and ask targeted questions about a training center:
- Is the location of the training center convenient for the student?
- Is it important that the training center be located within a vocational school, college or university for the purpose of exploring federal financial aid options?
- What is the average class size? What is the student-to-instructor ratio?
- How is the instruction delivered? Will the student get one-on-one help? Are training courses offered online?
- Does the center offer a sufficient number of courses for the student's professional goals?
- What are the hardware specs of the computer lab and what version of software is being used?
- What accreditation and certifications does the training center have? Academic accreditation may be from an organization such as the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET) or from a professional industry organization such as the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants (EC-Council).
- Which industry standards, such as those from the National Institute of Standards for Technology, does the center follow that may be important to the student's career and industry of employment?
- What type of trainer certification does the center's instructors have?
- For which vendors can the center provide authorized certification training?
The varying expertise of "expert" instructors
Some vendors, such as Microsoft, have strict requirements for instructors, regardless of where those instructors are employed. Only instructors with Microsoft Certified Trainer certification are authorized to teach Microsoft certification classes, so students enrolled at any facility can rest assured that teachers meet Microsoft's criteria for professional certification in the product they teach, experience and presentation skills. Microsoft makes sure that new instructors maintain high scores on student satisfaction surveys and conducts audits throughout the year to make sure the quality of the training isn't compromised by an unqualified instructor.
The training center may require additional technical trainer certification, such as the International Association of Information Technology Trainers (ITrain), that isn't associated with any particular vendor. ITrain describes this independent certification as a benefit to technical trainers, but it also benefits anyone seeking technical training: "The 'jargon' and technical issues involved in selecting a trainer or training company confuse many consumers, and 'fly by night' training providers often compromise quality to provide low prices. The certification criteria offer a concrete standard for certified technical trainers and every trainer or training company is reevaluated annually to ensure standards are continually upheld."
Vendor certification from the source
If a student is taking a course that leads to a specific vendor certification, it's likely that the computer training center has a partnership with the vendor. The partnership authorizes a center to offer that training and typically means the center meets the other requirements, which may include employing a number of certified personnel or meeting a vendor-specific revenue goal on an annual basis.
Because the certification is standardized, the curriculum in authorized certification courses is the same, regardless of the training location. When shopping for classes at any location, students should ask about the instructor's qualifications, how frequently an instructor teaches a course and how the instructor receives the latest information and news updates from vendors, as those considerations may make a difference in a student's classroom experience.
The final measure of quality: Reputation
When shopping for a training company or school, the opinions and successes of previous students and employers are very valuable. In addition to asking the training center for testimonials or referrals, social media websites can be a powerful tool to gather the final bit of information needed to measure the quality of a computer training center.