IT Certification and Training

April 7, 2010

Returning From an Extended Absence

Filed under: certification, education, Novell — Jim Henderson @ 20:34

As I indicated in my last post, I had been transitioned to be the testing program manager, with responsibility over Novell’s practicum exams.  In the time between the last post and this, we’ve released some new exams, created some new certification paths, and my role has started to again transform within the organization.

So what have I been up to the last 14 months?

Currently, I still am the testing program manager – or one of them.  The other is Randy Hugie, who has been handling exam content creation for our traditional exams, delivered through Pearson/VUE.  Randy also has responsibility as the certification program manager; the two of us work very closely together on both certification and testing at Novell, since I spent some time working within the certification team when I returned to the training organization about 4 years ago and started managing the instructor programs.

Up until February of 2010, all of my knowledge and experience in the world of testing was the result of direct, hands-on involvement in managing the day-to-day operations of the practicum exam systems and programs.  That took a fair amount of my time, and in that space of time I didn’t feel as though I had much to say on the subject (hence the unexpected extended absence) because I was in what I call “sponge” mode for the first 6-8 months of that time.

Which is to say that I was learning everything I could by doing the job and operating the business.

What have I learned?  That there is a lot more to the world of testing than meets the eye.  The ultimate goal is what I had indicated previously (measuring skills and knowledge) – but the process of developing exams, validating them, and publishing them is far more complex than I had imagined.

In some ways, it has been a journey not unlike my earlier technical journey in learning Novell’s eDirectory product (a journey that in some ways seems like a lifetime ago) – the more I learned, the more I discovered I didn’t know.  And so down the rabbit hole I went.

My journey could (in some ways) be said to have culminated in February of 2010, when I had the opportunity to attend the Association of Test Publisher’s conference (entitled “Innovations in Testing”) in Orlando, Florida.  This was the first non-technical (as in “non-IT”) conference I had ever been to, and it was like exploring an entirely new world.

I sat in on sessions on item analysis, forensic analysis of exam results, deep psychometric analysis (most of that went so far over my head as to make me remark to an old friend who was a fellow attendee that “the words are all English but it makes NO sense to me at all”), intellectual property protection, and many other interesting topics.

I also spent a fair amount of time talking to the different testing vendors who were exhibiting at the show; that also was an incredibly interesting experience, because – not knowing anyone but a few people from Pearson/VUE who I knew would be there (or so I thought, until I ran into the previously-mentioned old friend) – I opted to wear Novell-branded shirts while at the conference.  The reception was incredible, because many people who work for those vendors used to work for Novell or had at one time or another been involved in Novell’s early certification programs, either internally or externally, and there was significant interest in what Novell is doing today and where we’re headed in our training programs.

I should mention as well, probably, that along with testing, I also end up handling a fair number of customer questions, certification questions, and requests for information on data from our certification database (mostly customer updates or record merges – maintenance type tasks mostly).  So in some ways, I’ve become at least one of the “go-to” people about Novell’s training programs.

The reason this is significant plays into some shifts taking place in my role at the present.  I still will handle the practicum programs, but have become more and more involved in identifying and planning the direction of what we’re doing.  I had some successes with changes in the practicum exam infrastructure (for which I credit the team that did the actual work – I really handled project management more than anything else) and my management decided that I had demonstrated some really good project management skills and an ability to take a vision that I had developed and make it happen.

They want more of that from me – which brings me back to why I decided it was time to return here and start writing again.

What I see (and I know at least some of the people I work with see as well) is that there is a shift coming in how educational materials are consumed.  My generation (and it feels weird to say that) didn’t have the ubiquitous access to a resource like the Internet that is available now; as I have watched my stepson grow up, he has never known a world without the Internet, and this is true in a very large part of the world today (certainly in the parts where an IT vendor does business).  Social media has taken off in ways that nobody could have forseen; Facebook is reportedly one of the most popular (if not the most popular) website on the ‘net, which I think shows the popularity – if not the power – of the socially-aware Internet.

Learning is inherently a social activity.  My generation learned by going to a classroom and interacting with a teacher, other students, and course materials in a way that we never really even thought about; it’s just the way things worked.

For the next generation of IT workers, the things they take for granted as “just the way things worked” includes instant access to information because of the pervasive availability of the Internet and the (literally) trillions of pages of information (some good, some bad, some of unknown quality) out there, along with the ability to access it from pretty much anywhere – be it a PC, a netbook, mobile device, or whatever.

I’ll write more in another post about where I think this leads us, but let me explain the concept of “learner-centric learning” as a bit of a “teaser” for my next post.

The old paradigm of training was focused around a classroom as a social gathering point for students to gather with a common goal:  to learn some information or skill.  An instructor would stand at the head of the class and lead the class through a predetermined path that would present them with the information it was determined they needed to acquire the information or skill they were working towards.  This is often referred to as curriculum-centric learning because the emphasis is on what is being taught to the group, and that content is pushed to the student (for the most part).

A possible new paradigm of learning is focused not around the content, but rather around the student.  With the advent of Internet-based social media and technologies like Google Wave, Novell Pulse, Facebook, and search engines like Google, Bing, and WolframAlpha, the next evolution in knowledge transfer and skill acquisition becomes a pull of the information that the student self-selects as relevant to what they want/need to know in order to complete tasks that require a certain skill.  In this new paradigm, the content becomes secondary to the idea of putting tools in place that allow the learner to effectively find the information they need and use a variety of tools to determine if they understand the information they were seeking and how to apply it.

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