LearnKey Wireless Networking CD-ROM Training Course

By Joseph Moran

November 29, 2004

Despite the various interface shortcomings, this computer-based course hits the mark both in the thoroughness of information and the presentation.

Price: $425
Pros: Detailed information and excellent presentation
Cons: Interface makes it hard to jump to specific areas

Anyone IT professional who has tried to learn a new technology or simply to keep his or her knowledge current on an existing one can appreciate the need for ongoing training. While formal training conducted by a live human being in a classroom environment has many advantages, the high costs combined with the substantial time requirements of such training often make computer-based training a more practical option.

Once the decision to go with computer-based training has been made, the hard part of choosing a course remains, considering that the quality and price of intruction varies so widely. Individuals looking to school themselves on wireless networking however, will likely find a great deal of value in the LearnKey Wireless Networking course.

The LearnKey Wireless Networking course is designed for those wishing to achieve the vendor-neutral Certified Wireless Networking Administrator (CWNA) designation. While the course assumes the student has little if any existing WLAN knowledge, it doesn't cover "Networking 101", and assumes a fair degree of wired networking know-how. In fact, it's recommended that students embarking on this course and the CWNA cert already possess standard IT certifications like the Cisco's CCNA, Microsoft's MCSE, and the Network+ from CompTIA.

The course, which is available on five CD-ROMs, contains roughly 15 hours of instruction. The content consists mostly of slick-looking (meant in a good way) slides and graphics and a relatively small amount of talking-head video combined with a liberal number of animations that help the student grasp hard-to-visualize concepts like VSWR (Voltage Standing Wave Ratio).

A big selling point of the LearnKey course is instructor Michael Storm. It's not uncommon in training materials to have narration or voice-overs provided in a droning monotone, often reflecting the arid subject matter. By contrast, Storm delivers information in an energetic and enthusiastic fashion. He speaks to the slides rather than simply reading them, and you never get the sense that he's simply regurgitating a script. Perhaps as important, Storm articulates points in a lucid manner making some difficult concepts easier to understand. About the only complaint is that he tends to speak a bit too quickly, which often makes it necessary to rewind parts of the video for a repeat performance.

Course Material

The course content is expansive, covering a lot of ground in both the theoretical and practical aspects of WLAN deployment. The course begins with a basic history of wireless communication and moves quickly to a thorough outline of RF technology and radio wave propagation. The course goes on to cover a fairly exhaustive list of WLAN concepts and technologies, including various antenna and device types, the different 802 WLAN standards, and methods of authentication and encryption. While the course does offer a lot of "speeds and feeds", it also provides a copious amount of real-world information, such as how to locate APs and position antennas to meet specific requirements.

The information provided is also quite current— at least at the time of this writing. I didn't find any instance of out of date information. There are no workgroups or other printed materials included with the course, but you don't really miss them because the information presented in the video is so thorough. The software does let you print a study guide to accompany each chapter.

Supplemental Content

While progressing through the course content, you can click an omnipresent "reference" button, but it's of limited use. Instead of providing links to various Web-based sources of more detailed information, it simply consists of a link to LearnKey's Web site. After going through the passive video content for each session, you also have the option of doing a number of "labs" which are really more akin to questions that aren't in a multiple choice format— they require you to match definitions or identify items from the material based on a list or diagram.

Each session offers two forms of testing, a pre-test and a post-test. The former is not timed and lets the user reveal the aforementioned references to relevant areas of the course material, while the latter is timed and offers no such assistance.

Quirky Interface

The LearnKey course's UI exhibits several relatively minor but yet somewhat vexing idiosyncrasies. For example, the video control panel provides buttons to express to the beginning or end of a segment, but if you want to rewind or fast forward the content by small increments you need to use an austere slider bar which gives absolutely no indication of how far you've traveled.

The course interface displays a session index which lists the topics discussed, but it's not comprehensive, covering only the ones in the currently loaded CD. Therefore, in the case of the CD-ROM-based version, you need to consult a PDF version of the course outline contained on each disc or check the individual CD jewel case inserts to determine which one addresses a particular topic. Also, the session index doesn't let you drill down very far— it lists only broad categories and subcategories, which makes it difficult to quickly find and jump to a specific item. In some categories there are several separate videos, which you may have to identify and forward through manually to reach the one you want.

Finally, while the software tracks which topics you've completed, if you close the application and return to it later it defaults to the beginning of that session rather than returning you to the point you left off.

If you would rather learn on a couch than at a desk, there is a $245 DVD version of the course which includes all of the video material but not any of the supplemental material like labs, tests, etc.

Despite the various interface shortcomings, the LearnKey Wireless Networking Course hits the mark both in the thoroughness of information provided and how it is presented. Prospective WLAN mavens could do a lot worse than the Learnkey course as they seek to advance their knowledge.

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