TL/DR – Canned labs never work for me.
Training for me has always been hit or miss. I have had better luck with in person classes than online training. I realize that everyone learns differently, so I suppose you pick the model that works best for you and hope you get your money’s worth out of it.
Back in June, I had the pleasure of attending the ClearPass Advanced Labs course at the Aruba headquarters out in Sunnyvale, CA. This was not a typical “class”. In fact, every time I referred to it as a “class”, I was reminded by the instructor that it was more of a workshop. The instructor was not there to teach you everything about ClearPass. Their job is to simply function as a proctor and help out when you got stuck on a particular issue. Yes, there was a slide deck, but it was VERY brief and just covered the goals of the day’s activities.
What Made It Different?
In short, the lack of step by step instructions. Many of the training classes I have attended consist of the following:
1. Death by Powerpoint
2. Canned labs
There’s no need to elaborate on the first point since we are probably all familiar with that portion of instruction. It is the second point that I feel the need to expound on.
You’ve probably seen these. The product covered is beat into your head via numerous slides and then you get to apply what you just learned by doing a lab exercise. The problem I run into is that the exercises are given along with every single click of the mouse and every keystroke. It becomes more of an exercise of: “Can you follow instructions?” I seldom learn from these to the point in which what I am doing actually makes perfect sense. I get no sense of depth in the product and just suffer through each lab exercise until I am done for the day and can go find somewhere to eat my next meal. Sure, I can poke around the product and flip a few knobs here and there, but you basically just wander around aimlessly.
Back To ClearPass
Canned labs do not exist in the Aruba ClearPass Advanced Labs course. There are very minimal instructions given. A few sentences with what needs to be accomplished and that is it. It is up to you and your lab partner to figure out how to accomplish the task. I should point out that you were expected to have some experience with ClearPass prior to attending the course, but the prerequisites could be accomplished without ever having touched ClearPass in a production environment.
To better illustrate the minimal information given, here is a picture of the guidebook for the Aruba ClearPass Essentials course in orange along with the Aruba ClearPass Advanced Labs course in black on top.
Was It Better With Less Information?
Yes! I found myself struggling in certain areas, but was able to work through them with occasional help from the instructor. The benefit was that after a brief period of time, it started to make sense. ClearPass was no longer as daunting as it initially seemed. Don’t get me wrong. It is a VERY deep product with a variety of different ways to accomplish a given task, but as a whole the main pieces began to make a lot more sense. I would not have gotten to that point had every step been written out for me to follow.
If you have ever taken a math class*, you are probably familiar with something along the lines of:
3 + 2x = 15
The astute reader already knows that x=6, but that is because they know how to solve the problem.
(15 – 3)/2 = x
*Note – I was never good at math. It just doesn’t interest me. Please forgive any incorrect logic on my part.
Imagine if you didn’t know that instinctively. You would have had to reason it out. Through enough trial and error, you would eventually reach 6. In that process, you would have figured out exactly how to derive “x” from the given information. You could use the same method in the future and solve the problem much faster. You would have LEARNED, which should be the overall goal of any sort of education.
I realize that developing any sort of training content is not an easy job. Technical content development is even harder. However, by simply running people through a set list of commands to type, I think the student gets the short end of the stick. They are deprived of the opportunity to explore different approaches to solving a problem. While this doesn’t extend to every aspect of learning(e.g. Landing an airplane has a very specific set of steps that need to be followed in order to avoid crashing.), I think it covers a fair amount of IT work in general.
The ClearPass Advanced Labs course from Aruba was without a doubt the best technical class I have ever taken. In 5 short days, I learned more about that product simply because I was not given all the answers up front. That doesn’t mean I am an expert, or even highly competent with ClearPass. That comes with more experience and exposure to different problems that need solving in that given product. What it does mean is that I returned home knowing a lot more about how it works and the various methods I could use to solve a given problem.
Consider something like BGP. There are generally multiple ways to influence path selection. While I may use some methods more than others(e.g. prepending, local preference), I am aware of other ways to accomplish the same thing. That didn’t come about because I sat through a bunch of canned labs on BGP and gained immediate insight into how the protocol works. It came about because over the years I have tried various methods and failed. I would have to reassess how to solve the problem another way and try again until I got it right.
Raising kids has taught me that the best way to ensure their success is to let them fail. The exception being safety issues where they could get physically hurt beyond a simple bruise or scrape. If I hold their hand until they are old enough to venture out on their own, they will be woefully unprepared for the world that awaits them.
Your IT staff is no different than my kids, except that they have credit cards and a driver’s license. Don’t hold their hand. Make them work for it. They’ll be better technologists and you as the employer will benefit from their increased knowledge.
If you are involved with ClearPass as an end user, Aruba employee, or Aruba partner, I HIGHLY recommend you send your people to this course. In addition to the massive amount of learning that takes place, if you attend the class at Aruba’s headquarters, they have a really nice cafeteria with a plethora of yummy food. I wish I could eat lunch there every day! That may be due to my love of Asian food though. It is hard to get that out here in Tennessee.
As always, I am interested in your comments. What has been your experience with training classes?