Global Knowledge offers a wide variety of IT training options, in terms of both subject matter and course delivery methods. Courses include areas such as networking, programming, information security, Windows 2000, and Linux/UNIX. In addition to traditional instructor-led classroom sessions and self-paced courses, Global Knowledge offers instructor-led virtual e-learning classes. This arrangement gives you the benefits of a live instructor but allows you to take the course from the comfort of your own office or cubicle.

I recently completed three weeklong Global Knowledge virtual e-learning courses:

  • Understanding Networking Fundamentals
  • Internetworking with TCP/IP
  • Network Security and Firewall Administration

Although the results were not always perfect, the overall experience shows that Global Knowledge can effectively deliver solid training content via the virtual classroom format. Global Knowledge represents a viable training alternative that can pay dividends for IT professionals. Let’s take a closer look at the Global Knowledge e-learning process.

Preparing for e-class
Before the start of the class, Global Knowledge sends out a confirmation e-mail that explains how to get ready for class. The letter contains information you need to log in and attend class, including your username and password. You will also need the invoice or order number if you plan to complete the exam that accompanies each course.

Global Knowledge delivers its online courses via the Interwise Communications Platform, which offers five communication modes, so you have to download the Interwise client before you can begin attending a course. The link for downloading the necessary software is included in the confirmation e-mail.

Your system must also meet the following minimum specifications for you to run the virtual classroom e-learning environment, or VCeL, as Global Knowledge calls it:

  • Windows 9x, Me, NT 4, or 2000
  • 166-MHz processor
  • IE browser version 4.01 or higher
  • Standard sound card with a microphone (or headset)
  • 64 MB of RAM
  • 7 MB of disk space for the student installation
  • 100 MB of disk space available for learning slides
  • Monitor with 800 x 600 resolution and 16-bit color display
  • TCP/IP or modem Internet access with a connection of >36K with Port 80 or 443 available

The Interwise client minimizes to your system tray icon and will download and install updates as needed.

The week before my class began, I received a package from Global Knowledge containing the course textbook, a lab workbook, a headset with a microphone, a copy of the confirmation letter, and instructions for preparing for class.

I was ready at this point for the live check-in, which allows you to sign in with your username and password and verify that everything is functioning properly. The biggest issues the live check-in identifies are problems with audio. A number of other students attending the live check-in with me were unable to send audio messages, so technical support representatives were on hand to try to resolve the problems.

During the live check-in, a Global Knowledge representative signed in and spoke with us about the course. She gave each of us a turn on the microphone to verify that we could send and receive audio messages. Those who had problems were put in contact with Global Knowledge technical support.

The representative also gave us a brief overview of the interface, which consists of a presentation window, a list of class attendees, and various buttons that attendees use to communicate with the instructor and other members of the class.

Interface particulars
The main window of the class interface is the presentation window where slides are displayed. The instructor can also use this window to draw diagrams as needed or write notes on slides to clarify meaning. The classroom delivery is very much like a PowerPoint presentation (see Figure A).

Figure A
VCeL interface

As you can see in Figure B, a smaller window to the right of the main window displays a list of the students signed in to the class. Students can send messages to one another by right-clicking on the person’s name in the list. It’s the virtual equivalent of passing notes in class. This comes in handy during lab work, when two people are partnered for activities.

Figure B
You can see a list of the students in your class and communicate with them.

The buttons on the interface give students a variety of communication options. When students want to speak, they can click a button to virtually raise their hands. The instructor then hands over the mike, and the student can speak and be heard by other participants.

Another button lets students send text messages to the instructor or any participant in the class. Buttons with traffic-light icons send signals to the instructor that the pacing is too fast or too slow, and Y and N buttons let students respond with simple yes or no answers to instructor questions.

The Labs button opens a window for connecting remotely to networked computers set up in the Global Knowledge lab for the purpose of practice and experimentation. The two remaining buttons are for ordering the course exam and for completing the course evaluation.

In the three courses I attended, the instructors steered students away from using the traffic-light buttons, stating they preferred that students simply raise a virtual hand to speak whenever they had questions about the content or problems with the pacing. They seemed to prefer more human communication over the chat-roomlike devices the interface offered.

Instructors and content
The instructors teaching the courses I attended were all very knowledgeable about the subject matter. Two out of the three actually wrote the textbooks we used for the respective courses.

Instructors are typically consultants who Global Knowledge contracts to teach particular subjects. The instructors who taught the three courses I attended had extensive experience in the field and also held a number of IT certifications.

Since many of the courses are targeted at providing training toward various certs, the content must be tailored to provide the information students need to pass the certification exams. Each text includes a list of the Global Knowledge courses you should take to work toward a particular certification.

The Global Knowledge course materials were well organized and designed to step students from general concepts to progressively more specific and advanced principles. Each chapter includes a set of overview questions that not only quiz students on their knowledge of the material covered but also reinforce the information and highlight key points.

Some instructors also used a pop-up interface to quiz students on the chapter review questions, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C
Pop-quiz interface

Making students respond like this seemed to keep them on their toes a bit more and also gave the instructor feedback about which topics needed to be covered in more detail. I thought that the quiz pop-ups provided an excellent tool for reviewing chapter content.

Also, when students seemed to have trouble grasping difficult concepts, the instructors were quick to use the main window to draw diagrams to help clarify the subject matter, which was helpful.

Lab work
The courses weren’t all presentation and lecture. Labs played an important role in each of the courses I attended. Although the VCeL environment does not provide for a perfect hands-on experience, the labs greatly enhanced the course material and gave students a chance to learn how to use some of the software involved in maintaining and troubleshooting a network.

The labs typically were an outgrowth of content covered in the chapters, so after each chapter, we would connect to the virtual lab and practice what we’d learned. Each student was assigned a particular computer set up in the Global Knowledge lab (in North Carolina) and connected remotely to it in a separate browser window. Once logged in on the virtual lab machine, students could telnet into routers to examine and change settings, ping different machines on the network, and even monitor network traffic with NetXray.

In the network security course, we used the virtual connection to perform various attacks on lab systems, including DoS attacks such as SYN floods, and then configured firewalls to prevent such attacks (Figure D). We worked together on some assignments and were able to test our configurations by attempting to perform operations such as telneting into machines where that service was blocked.

Figure D
Firewall administration via remote connection

The viability of the VCeL experience
The VCeL classes I attended were interesting and well presented, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Technical problems occasionally interrupted classes and compressed our timelines a bit. In one class, for example, the instructor had connection problems and was frequently disconnected from the session. Also, students would sometimes suffer technical problems, such as loss of audio and slides that would not refresh. The typical fix for most problems seemed to be exiting the classroom interface and reloading it.

These technical issues did not detract much from the overall experience, although labs in one class seemed a bit rushed because technical problems put us off schedule.

The styles of the instructors also varied somewhat from class to class. I found that the most effective instructors were those who engaged the students by asking questions and by calling on particular students to answer. This kept us alert and made us participate, which in the long run improved the educational experience and gave us a vested interest in what happened in the virtual classroom.

In spite of the minor issues I encountered, Global Knowledge’s VCeL training delivery system looks like a viable alternative to the physical classroom environment. Global Knowledge has made it easy and convenient to receive training in a particular subject by bringing course content right to your desktop.

Certification preparation
Another benefit of Global Knowledge is that many of its courses are aimed at providing the knowledge base necessary for obtaining various IT certifications, yet they aren’t simply exam cram sessions. Global Knowledge has laid out clear course paths you can follow to prepare for specific certifications while gaining the practical knowledge you need to become a successful IT pro. For example, if you are working toward Network+ certification, Global Knowledge has two courses designed to provide the necessary training to pass the Network+ exam:

  • Understanding Networking Fundamentals
  • Internetworking with TCP/IP

If you are working toward ICCP network management certification, Global Knowledge has set up a certification track with the following courses:

  • Internetworking with TCP/IP
  • Network Management Essentials
  • Network Performance Management and Optimization

The certification tracks are clearly laid out and easy to follow. For detailed information on all the certification tracks available, visit Global Knowledge’s certification page.

Final analysis
The Global Knowledge e-learning courses can save you considerable time and money since they remove travel from the training equation. In addition, e-learning courses are generally less expensive than classroom courses. For example, my e-learning security course was $1,195, whereas Global Knowledge’s classroom version of the same course costs $1,695.

The courses are also practical in terms of scheduling. All three of the courses I took were five-day courses that ran from 1 to 5 P.M. each day. Many IT pros will find this easier to schedule than leaving the office to go to a local training center or, worse, having to travel to another city for a week to take a course.

Although the e-classroom technology wasn’t without occasional glitches, the material and instruction were solid and the convenience outweighed the shortcomings. Whether you’re working toward an IT certification, expanding your IT skills through continuing education, or trying to pick up a course for college credit, the Global Knowledge offerings may be right up your alley.