When it comes to technology training, developers have a few choices. Classroom training is probably the best, as it's the most interactive, but it's also the most expensive and can be difficult to schedule. CD-ROM and online training options are often cheaper and provide some degree of interactivity. Cheapest and usually least interactive is video-based training.
AppDev is a training firm that specializes in developer training for Microsoft languages and tools. The company offers classroom, CD-ROM-based, and video training materials covering ASP.NET, C#, ASP, Visual Basic, SQL Server, and XML, among others. AppDev frequently offers multiple-course discounts and special package deals, so be sure to check its Training Suites page before ordering.
I recently took a look at a sample of AppDev's video-based C# training, which is currently available as an eight-video set for $795. AppDev says that the video format is representative of all its other formats in terms of the material covered. While I was favorably impressed with the quality of the training material itself, I have doubts that videotape is the best delivery method for that material.
Video-based boot camp
AppDev's video-based C# training is divided into two parts consisting of four videos averaging around 90 minutes each. Each individual tape constitutes a "session" that, in turn, consists of three to six lessons. Part one, "C# Fundamentals," walks you through the basics:
- The .NET Framework and some of its built-in classes, like collections
- C#'s basic structure, syntax, and operators
- The canonical "Hello, World!" first program
- Object-oriented fundamentals like classes, inheritance, and interfaces
Part two, "Developing Applications in C#," covers more advanced ground, introducing you to the tools you'll actually use to build real applications, such as:
- The Windows and Web forms libraries.
- Data access with ADO.NET.
- Attributes, multithreading, streams, and the COM Interop libraries.
Absolute beginners and those not already comfortable with C#'s syntax should start with part one. Those who already have a good grasp of C# and are looking to learn how to build some simple applications could safely skip to part two.
Your host, Jesse Liberty
The material is written and presented by Programming C# author Jesse Liberty, who is also a talented developer in his own right. His bio lists development experience with AT&T, Ziff-Davis, and PBS. Although he won't be nominated for an Oscar anytime soon, Mr. Liberty does an acceptable job of talking the viewer through technical topics and makes heavy use of example code to illustrate his points.
If Liberty has a fault, it's that he has an unfortunate tendency to repeatedly point out basic syntax elements. While watching the fourth video in the series, I lost count of the number of times he pointed out that I should use the using directive to avoid typing fully qualified names in my code—something I'd hoped would have been adequately covered earlier in the series.
The delivery just isn't right
As I alluded to earlier, the only real problem I found with AppDev's C# videos is the fact that…well, they are videos. While the production values aren't horrible, the tapes feel uncomfortably like the daytime GED programming you'd find on educational television, right down to synthesizer theme music. The only difference is the ability to rewind and see something you missed because a wild animal or small child wandered into the room.
Another problem with the video format is an almost complete lack of interactivity. AppDev apparently doesn't offer any online message boards or any other way to "interact" with the instructor or other students should you need help with the material. The video series is accompanied by a CD-ROM with all the source code used during the program and a printed courseware book. Neither item was included with our evaluation video, so I'm unable to comment on the quality of these items or on how well they solve this interactivity problem.
The bottom line: The content of the training is good, but I just can't recommend the video format the way it's implemented, especially since AppDev makes nearly identical training materials available on CD-ROM, currently with the same pricing as the video training.
What training works?
There are many ways to learn new stuff. What approach works best for you? What language training suggestions do you have? Send us an e-mail with your suggestions and experiences or post a comment below.