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Real Live (Virtually) Learning

The ultimate way to become proficient with a product or environment is direct, hands-on interaction, but that's not always practical or safe. Simulations and remote labs are an attractive alternative.

Most certification students and their managers will agree that the ultimate way to become proficient with a product or environment is direct, hands-on interaction, preferably on a regular basis. But for many certification candidates that interaction is either not available, or not desirable. Not available, because their workplace or home doesnt have an array of routers; not desirable because a mistake while experimenting with the companys live Windows 2000 network could bring catastrophic results. Then not only wont you be certified, youll likely be out of a job. Enter the simulation and the remote lab.

By mimicking an actual computing environment, simulations allow you to practice skills and tasks in a risk-free, affordable setting that facilitates learning. Although simulations are nothing new, their use as a certification training tool is just now becoming widespread. Sure, certification exam simulation software has been available and popular for years, but reproducing a substantial part of an actual operating system or application is a tougher and more expensive undertaking. Fortunately, the technology to build, maintain, and run these sorts of applications has matured enough that we can expect them to become an increasingly routine part of certification preparation. And its a welcome addition to the training arsenal.

Theres another good reason to jump on the simulation bandwagon simulations are already appearing in certification exams, and you can expect their presence to grow. The traditional multiple-choice certification exam isnt in immediate danger of extinction, but simulations and remote environments will become a routine part of certification assessments. Novell has already made the leap, with its remotely based hands-on practicum exam (see sidebar).

Faking It

Simulation software is typically purchased on a CD-ROM or downloaded from the Internet and installed on the users personal computer. Often, but not always, its incorporated into a CBT learning package. In this case, a particular lesson will walk you through a specific task, such as assigning file or directory permissions, and then present a simulation of the live environment and ask you to complete the task on with little or no additional guidance. The better simulation products will allow you to make wrong choices instead of only allowing the correct ones, and provide feedback on your performance.