Many of the students I teach are changing careers or trying to upgrade skills in particular areas. The general approach to all this is “attend these courses, understand these exam objectives, then pass this test.” But what do you really need to accomplish your goals?
You need a learning plan, that’s what.
1. What, exactly, is your goal? Which Microsoft certification are you going for? Which CompTIA certifications do you want to earn? Do you want to pursue Linux certifications? Exactly which job skills do you need to brush up on so you can ask for that raise?
Document these. Use the vendor site to understand which exams you must pass in order to achieve the desired certification. In Covey’s words: “Begin with the end in mind.”
2. What training and experience do you need to take in order to master the exam objectives? When are those courses offered? When will funding be available for them? Are there books and online labs available for self-study?
3. Create a schedule based on when the courses are offered, when your employer can make time available, and when your personal life allows your attention to be focused. Make certain your schedule is realistic. Remember there are lots of training modalities (ways of taking classes): online courses, pre-recorded classes, self-paced, etc.
4. Be aware that it’s not enough to attend a class or read a book, then take a test. You need to dedicate time to memorizing terms, understanding concepts, actually making the specific hands-on configurations and researching anything you don’t understand. With so many of today’s certification exams being performance based, it is important to ensure you have experience.
5. Organize your resources – courseware, study guide books, vendor websites, blogs, Quizlet and ways of getting hands-on experience. I recommend a 3-5 subject spiral notebook dedicated to your particular goal. I currently have several of these going – one for Linux topics, one for Windows Server 2016, one for AWS and one for adult learning / instructional design. A notebook gives you a place to centralize your materials, notes, resources, etc. I’m old-fashioned so I use pen-and-paper methods, but other folks will prefer some sort of digital method. As long as it works for you it’s a good system!
5. Break your learning plan down into manageable chunks so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Set up a daily or weekly routine. Adults have productive times of the day – use those. For me, it’s early mornings (in my 20s it was late nights). So get up early every Saturday morning, for example, and dedicate 2-3 hours to your studies. Make it a routine and make sure you’re family knows this is your time.
6. Schedule your exams. Nothing motivates like spending money! Sign up for the exam on a particular date. Now you’re accountable and you better be ready by that date. This is a great motivator.
7. No one expects you to know this process. Create a plan based on the above steps, then ask a friend, colleague or someone in the IT field to review your plan and offer suggestions. Heck, you can message me through this site and I’ll do what I can to help you!
It is important to learn how to learn, especially if you’ve been out of school for a while. A learning plan can be a significant contributor to your overall success. Give it a try!
I welcome comments below.