We all know the training catch-22: Developers need to keep current with emerging technologies and new methodologies, but few of us have either the time to be away from the office or the training budgets for formalized training. As a result, we wind up looking for book recommendations or scrounging the Web for freebies.

Two training companies, Global Knowledge, a self-described “independent IT education integrator,” and Tomorrow’s Learning, have teamed up to offer periodic free instructional seminars on topics ranging from “XML Support in ADO.NET” and “Introducing Web Services in .NET” to more general technical topics like “Sharing ADSL Connections.”

The fact that these seminars are free is, of course, a plus, but how good are they? Are they worth the two-hour investment of your time? I sat in on the Working with XML in .NET seminar held on July 20 to determine just that.

Live, in Technicolor…
The seminars are entirely Web-based, complete with live streaming audio of the presenter’s voice as he or she speaks. The presenter displays PowerPoint-style and can even draw freehand to illustrate a point. The seminar client applet allows attendees to answer yes or no to questions asked by the presenter and to electronically raise their hands if they have a question. A separate chat applet is provided so that attendees can talk among themselves or get help if they have a technical problem with the client. The UI of the client applet appears in Figure A.

Figure A
Seminar client applet

The “Working with XML in .NET” seminar provided a good introduction to many of .NET’s XML features, providing sample C# and VB.NET code, where appropriate. The seminar covered several topics, including:

  • The System.XML assembly and its constituent classes.
  • How MSXML3 and SAX are supported in .NET.
  • The differences between push and pull parsers.
  • How to use XMLTextReader for quick, forward-only parsing.
  • Using XMLTextWriter to update an XML document.
  • A simple example: creating dynamic, XML-driven menus.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch
Although these seminars are free, you still have to pay by allowing the presenter, in this case, author and Tomorrow’s Learning founder Dan Wahlin, to hawk some goods or services along the way. Dan mentioned his new book, XML for ASP.NET Developers, several times throughout his presentation, but it didn’t negatively affect the seminar.

Overall, I found the “Working with XML in .NET” Web seminar to be no more or less useful than attending one in person. While much helpful information was presented, the breadth of the topic really deserved a longer session. Luckily, seminar attendees have access to the slides used in the seminar by returning to the seminar login page after the seminar has concluded. The next “Working with XML in .NET” seminar hits the airwaves on Sept. 19. You can sign up on Global Knowledge’s Web site.

What has your experience been with free training?

Have you been successful finding training on the cheap? What suggestions do you have for members looking for free or inexpensive training? Send us an e-mail with your experiences and suggestions or post a comment below.