By Jason Deign
September 29, 2008
For the past year, learning about IT has been a voyage of Discovery. Or Exploration. CCNA Discovery and CCNA Exploration were the names given to two new versions of the Cisco Networking Academy CCNA curricula in June 2007.
And they seem to be living up to their names. So far more than 170,000 people worldwide have enrolled in a CCNA Discovery or CCNA Exploration course.
"To address evolving market needs, we recognized that 'one size does not fit all' and took a segmented approach in tailoring our CCNA curricula to reflect differences in student capabilities and goals," says Laura Quintana, director of product management, Cisco Networking Academy.
"We also recognized the importance of addressing 21st century pedagogy and skills. To better engage students, we have integrated e-doing into our curriculum; providing fun and engaging ways to enrich the learning experience through Flash-based interactive activities, games, and powerful simulation software. We help students build problem solving and soft skills by including practice scenarios and troubleshooting exercises, as well as addressing the importance of communication and teamwork."
"Splitting this version into CCNA Discovery and CCNA Exploration has enabled us to reach a much wider range of learners."
The new curricula were developed through a collaborative process that incorporated a variety of expert views and perspectives. "Feedback from our global instructor community was instrumental in the development of the CCNA Discovery and CCNA Exploration curricula," says Quintana, "and we are pleased with the reception that the courses have received."
Peter George, who teaches the CCNA Discovery course to jobseekers at the Net Resources Academy in Edinburgh, Scotland, says: "I think it is excellent. The previous curriculum was already very good, and splitting this version into CCNA Discovery and CCNA Exploration has enabled us to reach a much wider range of learners.
"We are particularly excited by CCNA Discovery because of its emphasis on the early practical application of newly-learned skills and the fact that learners do not necessarily need advanced analytical skills in order to take the course," adds George.
Other instructors are equally impressed. Bogdan Poilinca, a technology instructor teaching CCNA Exploration at Credis Academy in Bucharest, Romania, says: "CCNA Exploration will help you become valuable in an economy that depends more and more on networks. TCP/IP, DNS, DHCP, FTP, SNMP, BGP and EIGRP are all words from a new language, the language of the future, and CCNA Exploration is the best dictionary.
"If you want to know what happens behind your Web browser when you type 'www' and press Enter, CCNA Exploration will make it clear to you in a simple manner," says Poilinca. "CCNA Exploration is a great way to get from 'what is the Internet?' to 'I think I will use MPLS in this situation'."
Lewis Lightner, networking technology chairperson and instructor at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in North Carolina, United States, adds: "The new courses are valuable because they teach lots of soft skills such as communication and how to work with people, along with practical skills such as troubleshooting."
Packet Tracer, the Networking Academy's comprehensive networking technology teaching and learning software, has also been a hit with the students.
Packet Tracer activities are included in both the CCNA Discovery and CCNA Exploration curricula, and the software can be launched directly from the courses.
"Students love it," says Anne-Mette Tønnesen, an instructor teaching the CCNA Exploration course to computer science students and IT professionals at Erhvervsakademi Vest business academy in Esbjerg, Denmark. "They take it home and do exercises in router and switch configurations. They do not need to have the hardware themselves."
Juan Carlos Spichiger a secondary school instructor at Fundación Red de Academias Digitales in Chile, adds: "Packet Tracer is an outstanding tool since it can work from very simple to complex scenarios. I encourage my students to use it a lot."
The latest release of Packet Tracer, version 5.0, offers a unique combination of realistic simulation and visualization experiences, complex assessment and activity-authoring capabilities, and opportunities for multi-user collaboration and competition (see In Praise of Packet Tracer). It is available as a free download for all Networking Academy instructors, students and alumni.
Mike Fuszner, an instructor at St. Charles Community College in Missouri, United States, says: "Packet Tracer 5.0 brought a lot of new functionality and command support to the product. In overall quality and functionality it surpasses all the other products on the market, which sell for hundreds of dollars."
"Packet Tracer has been invaluable in our blended distance learning classes as a way for students to gain additional practice outside of the classroom," notes Fuszner.
The CCNA curricula form the core of the Networking Academy portfolio of course offerings, sitting between the entry-level IT Essentials PC Hardware and Software course and the more advanced CCNP curriculum, which covers the advanced skills required to manage end-to-end converged network infrastructures.
Creating CCNA Discovery and CCNA Exploration was part of the biggest revision the curricula portfolio had seen in the Networking Academy's 10-year history.
"Teams from around the world contributed to the development of the new curricula," explains Dr. John Behrens, director of learning systems development, Cisco Networking Academy. "When we designed the courses, we focused on the knowledge that students need globally to be successful in pursuing IT education and networking careers."
"We relied on a lot of research about where the industry is going and we provided a lot of supplemental information that students can use," says Behrens. "Studies around the world show a growing demand for IT professionals and a critical shortage of qualified candidates to fill the positions. Our new curricula help address this shortage by ensuring that students gain the skills needed to succeed in a wide range of networking careers, today and in the future."
The major changes introduced in CCNA Discovery and CCNA Exploration seem like they will keep instructors happy for some time.
Andrew Smith, formerly an instructor teaching CCNA Exploration at Barnfield College in Luton, England, and now a lecturer in Cisco Networking at the Open University, says: "I like it. I love it. It is easier to access, there is much better integration with practical exercises and it is easier to search. I believe it is easier to teach. It suits many people at many levels of ability. And from the students' point of view, the language and presentation style of the courses is more accessible."
And students, without doubt the most important user group for the new curricula, are equally delighted.
"I am a very hands-on learner, so the interactive activities helped me to practice what I was reading and provided explanations when I was doing something wrong," says Zach Thomas, a former CCNA Discovery student at the Applied Technology Center in South Carolina, United States.
"The structure of the course, the visual layout and the navigation made it easy and fun to learn about building networks and to understand how everything works together."
Thomas is now in college and already an entrepreneur. He runs his own networking and computer services business that he started while still completing CCNA courses in high school.
"CCNA Discovery was very helpful in building my small business. It not only gave me the networking knowledge I needed, but also the communication and troubleshooting skills I use on a daily basis," says Thomas.
"I'd hire someone who has taken the CCNA courses before anyone else," he adds.
Jason Deign is a freelance journalist located in Barcelona, Spain.