CompTIA’s CertMaster is an advanced way of helping those studying for certifications to have more confidence in what they’re learning

For years CIOs and IT managers have complained about skills shortages in their staff, a situtation acerbated by the seeming never-ending  change in information technology.

But next month the CompTIA IT education trade association will start selling an online series of courses it hopes will help make it easier for data centre workers to pass its certification tests to learn new skills and possibly shift into new careers.

Called CertMaster, it will be launched June 1, Terry Erdle, executive president of skills certification for CompTIA, to the iTech conference in Toronto on Thursday.

Officials from a wide range of IT companies including Microsoft, BlackBerry, IBM,  and others gave presentations at the one-day show.

Erdle hopes CertMaster will “squish the skills gap. Because it is a much more engaging platform it increases especially young people’s interest in IT” but also be used for older IT professionals to upgrade their skills.

Initially, CertMaster will not be as detailed course as CompTIA’s A+ and other offerings . Rather uses what Erdle says is gamification, brain science,research in neurobiology and cognitive psychology to help students learn better, and retain it longer.

While it seems like a multiple choice test, Erdle says it’s much more: Students are given several choices to answer a question, including the option to chose more than one answer and the to check “I don’t know yet.”

He calls it akin to a homework tool to guage a student’s mastery of the subject.

The engine behind CertMaster can take the answers and calculate whether the student is confident in understanding the concept or not; if not the platform goes back over the concept before allowing the student to move on. Within the modules are links that go to the Internet for information on various IT topics to help the student learn.

For years CompTIA has offered non-vendor specific IT courses to organizations and individuals with titles like Strata (for fundamentals of IT), A+ (broad course on networks, security, cloud computing, PC config), Network+ and others.

Organizations buy bundles of courses for staff and send them for tests. “What CertMaster does is get that person to the level of mastery so their confidence level is very high they’re going to pass that test,” Erdle said in an interview after his presentation.

He said CompTIA has licenced the engine behind CertMaster for IT learning from a company that has worked on the approach for some 15 years. CompTIA itself has put five years worth of work honing it. CertMaster courses will cost US$140 each.

Studies of users of the platform in other sectors need 50 to 75 per cent  less training that other methods, Erdle said, and retain 80 per cent  of information after one year.

Ideally, CertMaster would replace CompTIA’s exams and be accepted for course certifications by bodies like the ISO and ANSI, Erdle said. However, before that happens there will have to be a way to verify that the person taking the course is the real person behind the keyboard, and there isn’t someone leaning over their shoulder helping with answers.

In the short term that will probably mean CertMaster would be used by IT certification and training companies like Pearson Education. But Erdle is confident the user authentication problem will be solved.

According to federal statistics, some 250,000 ICT jobs openings will need to be filed in Canada by 2016, Erdle said. Meanwhile, for various reasons organizations have been cutting their budgets for staff training. He hopes CertMaster will help persuade them its worth it.

Initially CertMaster will be sold only to organizations, who can buy it with training and exam voucher bundles for their staff.

It will at the start be available for CompTIA Strata (for fundamentals of IT), A+ (broad course on networks, security, cloud computing, PC configuration), and Network+  certifications.  Soon it will be available for the mobility and Cloud+ and security essentials courses.

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