CBT Nuggets appears to have taken a lesson from the fast food industry. You don’t need an MBA or masters degree in culinary arts to know that bite-size chicken snacks haven’t skyrocketed in popularity due to their taste. Convenience is the major selling point.

Following that lead, CBT Nuggets built one of the most popular lines of training aids by breaking IT instruction into readily manageable chunks. The nuggets are concise, easily absorbed training videos. Rather than force you to sit through long instructional modules, these short presentations make it easier to master complicated topics. The video snippets also make it possible to take advantage of idle half-hours here and there by squeezing in study time whenever possible. Longer training sessions just won’t fit into such breaks.

A variety of flavors with some spice for good measure
CBT Nuggets offers training programs for Cisco, CompTIA, and Microsoft certifications. The company also offers instructional Linux videos on CD.

Recently, I sat down with the company’s Cisco CCNA Certification Package, which sells for $299 and prepares candidates for Cisco’s 640-607 exam. The pack includes four CDs that collect a total of 40 lessons, each approximately a half-hour in length.

Don’t expect dry, bland sessions. The CCNA kit’s instructor is well qualified, having begun a networking career in 1989 with the U.S. Air Force. He also holds numerous certifications, but that doesn’t mean he’s dry or boring. Instruction is conversational and good-humored.

Even the company’s advertising is fortified with personality. CBT Nuggets’ promotional copy boasts, “To say that this series is merely a test prep tool is like calling the Mona Lisa ‘merely a painting of a girl.'”

Nutritional content
Essentially, the tutorials walk viewers through subjects that must be mastered for an exam. However, the presentations are cataloged well, making it easy to use them for regular training and troubleshooting, too. For example, if an IT department found itself experiencing trouble with a VLAN, the organization’s network administrators could sit down with the third CCNA CD and review the 27th lesson, which reviews VLAN configuration.

When CDs are loaded, a menu appears listing all of its tutorials. Click on one, and the video begins playing.

The CBT Nuggets’ CDs feature onscreen displays of actual Cisco IOS command-line interfaces, as well as a pretty cool and versatile whiteboard, shown in Figure A. As the instructor reviews various topics, diagrams and notes simultaneously appear on the whiteboard. Occasionally, the video program will pull away from those tools to display the instructor or to show specific models of Cisco equipment. All told, CBT Nuggets makes excellent use of the video-on-CD medium.

Figure A
CBT Nuggets uses a versatile whiteboard for diagramming network configurations and presenting notes.

The company has made it exceptionally easy to try CBT Nuggets’ training approach before committing to it. Visitors to its Web site can download numerous samples and request a free CD-ROM. If the CD-ROM option is selected, CBT Nuggets will even pick up the shipping costs.

Unlike many other training vendors, CBT Nuggets does not offer a money-back guarantee. But don’t let that be a deal-killer. As CBT Nuggets explains on its site, that’s just one way the company works to keep the price of its video programs competitive.

Eckel’s take
CBT Nuggets offers trainer-led instruction without the classroom price. The company’s approach offers a nice compromise between self-paced study and formal training. An instructor leads each tutorial, so there’s a clear structure to the training. But you can still go back and review the tutorials as often as necessary.

Before trying an exam, you should always make a test run with simulation software. Unfortunately, CBT Nuggets provides only the actual video training sessions; no practice test or review software is included. However, CBT Nuggets’ pricing should leave plenty of funds available for purchasing practice tests.