By Joseph Moran
August 12, 2003
As any IT person will tell you, education is a critical component of the field, and becoming intimately familiar with new technologies often consumes a substantial amount of the average techie’s (increasingly) waking hours.
Well, put a pot of coffee on–you’ve got some wireless LAN learnin’ to do. Your teacher will be “Wireless LAN Concepts”, a $159.95 computer based training (CBT) course from Ohio technology consulting firm Wireless-Nets, Ltd.
The benefits of a CBT course are known by those who have taken them, but they bear mentioning anyway. While the interactive and instructor-led nature of a classroom-based course is arguably ideal, the cost ($500-$2500) and length (3-5 days) of most technical courses often preclude attendance. This is especially true in today’s business environment, where both time and money are tighter than a rusty faucet.
Notwithstanding the lack of a live body to answer questions, computer-based training has become very popular over the last several years. This isn’t surprising given the considerable cost and time savings and the advantage of learning at one’s own pace.
But just like classroom training, CBT courses vary widely in their content and quality. As someone who has seen more examples of both than I care to recall, I can report that this particular course is among the better I’ve encountered. The goal of the course is to provide a comprehensive and solid overview of WLAN Concepts, and it does this without delving too deeply into technical minutiae.
The “computer-based” portion of the course consists of about 60 slides, divided into eight sections covering such broad topics as WLAN applications, underlying RF technologies, standards, and components. The slides manage to be informative without being busy. Their graphical elements are quite primitive– consisting primarily of basic geometric shapes, simple, clip art, and hand-drawn images–but this doesn’t really impede their illustrative effectiveness.
In the upper right corner of most slides is an accompanying talking-head video of instructor Jim Geier (a frequent contributor to this site with tutorials and reviews). Geier’s course narration is delivered in a pleasing, soft-spoken cadence, and rather than simply reading slide text he expands on and contextualizes the material.
The last few slides offer a video depicting the setup of a WLAN access point, including the Web-based configuration. Unfortunately, a corresponding look at the client side of the equation is omitted.
To supplement the top-level information presented in the slides, the course binder includes about 225 pages of fifty or so individual articles which explore the myriad various concepts introduced in considerably more detail. The vast majority of this supplemental material is current though certain parts are slightly dated, referring to standards that will be ratified “in late 2002 or early 2003” and referencing now archaic terms like WECA and Wi-Fi5.
Also, because the articles weren’t written at one time and as a single narrative — most are reprinted from Wi-Fi Planet, in fact, as Geier wrote them as tutorials for the site originally — they don’t always flow together cleanly and there is a degree of repetition in certain areas. This repetition does have the beneficial side effect of reinforcing certain information as you proceed through the course.
The articles do a good job of explaining a wide range of WLAN topics, ranging from a discussion of the different applications of a wireless network to the differences (and similarities) of the various flavors of 802.11 to an explanation of the function of various WLAN devices. There’s also mention of related wireless technologies like Bluetooth and potentially competitive standards like Europe’s HiperLAN.
Rather than simply spewing speeds and feeds and other esoteric technical information, the course background material also includes several useful anecdotes from site surveys performed at such diverse locations as the Miami International Airport and the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, CA.
Overall, the course content is fairly comprehensive, and will likely serve the educational needs of not only WLAN neophytes, but also those with more experience but are looking to fill gaps in their knowledge.
One element of the course which isn’t particularly useful is the exercise and study questions presented at the end of each section. The questions are certainly appropriate and germane to the material, but you only get a free-form text window in which to offer a response, with no ability to verify your answer. A quiz comprised of multiple-choice or fill questions would be more useful to help the student gauge their retention and understanding of the information presented.
In addition, the included glossary could be better fine-tuned to the course material. It lists scores of terms that are loosely or unrelated to WLANs like MIDI, SQL, and 10Base5, but yet doesn’t define some WLAN-specific terms–like multi-path propagation–that are referenced in the course.
Expect to spend about 6-8 hours with the Wireless LAN Concepts course, and because the material is so heavily reliant on reading, you may choose to do it in several sittings rather than all in one session. Of course, no technical training can take the place of real hands-on experience with product, but that along with an investment of $160 and eight hours of your time with Wireless LAN Concepts will certainly give you a solid WLAN foundation of knowledge to build upon.