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on the value of "intense" training conferences

Dirk Schreckmann

Joined: Dec 10, 2001
Posts: 7023
I've met or read critiques from about a dozen people who have attended expensive training conferences from various organizations. Not one of them praised the conference.
These $2000 five day conferences promise to cover everything necessary for whatever certification or for mastering some technology. How much can you really learn in five days on such subjects? How much of that couldn't be learned from an $80 book and a week at the computer writing programs and jumping on the internet to ask questions?
[ September 28, 2002: Message edited by: Dirk Schreckmann ]

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John Mill

Joined: Feb 12, 2002
Posts: 11
I used to attend these on a semi-regular basis. Fantastic break and networking opportunity but virtually useless for learning. Haven't been to one in two years and I'm not missing them.
Dirk Schreckmann

Joined: Dec 10, 2001
Posts: 7023
Time's up!
Proponents of these overpriced training sessions have had over a month to explain their value, but have failed to do so. So, John Mill and I win the argument - "intense" training sessions at $1000+ each are useless for learning.
Ron Newman
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jun 06, 2002
Posts: 1056
Instead of one of these conference sessions, I decided to take this XML class at Harvard Extension School. It meets once a week from now to mid-January and costs $1425. I think I learn better at this slower pace, and I hope the class is worth the time and money.

Ron Newman - SCJP 1.2 (100%, 7 August 2002)
John Mill

Joined: Feb 12, 2002
Posts: 11
On a similar note: I recently sent two analysts away to follow Rational's Visual Modelling / Use Case training and they've come back with a very low opinion. Anybody, (excluding Rational employees), got good things to say about these courses?
Marcus Green
arch rival

Joined: Sep 14, 1999
Posts: 2813
I have to declare an interest in this, as you may have seen from the banners here at JavaRanch
I am running an intensive course. A few years ago I was studying for an exam and took the course that
was recommended by the people who set the exam. The course was OK as a general course but it did
not prepare me specifically for the exam. I was not pleased at all, that five days cost me the equivalent of over $US2,000
When you go for an intensive exam related course you want to find out about passing the exam. You have an entire career to learn the other stuff but if the hoop are jumping through is an exam, then you don't want anything else. The other thing about an intensive course is that you want the person delivering it to really, really know the topic and to be able to communicate. When I say know the topic I don't mean that they have read the course notes prepared by someone else, you want someone who knows it inside out and back to front.
The question was mooted in Dirks original post course that you cannot get from buying a bunch of books and going on the internet. Well I believe that once the objectives are known and there has been some feedback and you can get good materials that address the objectives it is possible to pass most exams without entering a classroom. Come to think of it you can learn most things without face to face contact with a teacher (though it must be hard to learn dance from a book)
However it can be mighty lonely to be sitting with a pile of text books and scanning a forum trying to work out why it is nobody has replied to your very reasonable question that other people must surely have been asking.
Two major benefits of a classroom course are that it concentrates the mind, ie you are away from other distractions for the duration and the knowledge of the teacher. For example, although the objectives for the JDK1.4 Java programmers exam mention certain Collection classes, how much depth do you need to know about each class. Another part of Dirks question was "How much can you really learn in five days". My way of addressing this is to offer what I call "Post course support" in the form of email and private web based discussion forum contact for a month after the course.

Interestingly I have had feedback from people for whom their employers would not book a course unless it was with a supplier/corporation they already know about (ie not Marcus Green). It seems to be a case of valuing the organisation over the individual which I guess is all part of branding. The price point is also an issue, I have had one person suggest that at the equivalent of US$1,000 some people in big corporations might consider it too affordable to be good. On the other hand some people have realised that for the price of an equivalent course in the US, they can fly from the East coast of the USA to London, stay in modest accomodation, eat out each night attend my course and fly back again. And they have places on the course

Excuse me weaving the virtues of my course in with my response but it is something I have thought a great deal about whilst planning it and talking to people who are coming on the course.
[ September 30, 2002: Message edited by: Marcus Green ]

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Dirk Schreckmann

Joined: Dec 10, 2001
Posts: 7023
Why did these analysts come back with low opinions?
Bruce Jin
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 20, 2001
Posts: 672
I think those seminars might be useful for managers to learn some general concepts of a particular technology.
I believe we human can only absorb knowledge a bit at a time. That is why all schools have to spread a class’s teaching into several months.
If 5-day class would work, all students can get a PhD in 6 months!

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Kathy Sierra
Cowgirl and Author

Joined: Oct 10, 2002
Posts: 1589
Thought I'd throw my hat in here. Until fairly recently, I was one of those teaching a (used to be $2800) 5-day intensive Java course for Sun. And sometimes a student would say, "Can't I just go across the street to Borders Books and save about $2750?" And it's pretty hard to argue with that. I put up signs in Sun's course development department that said, "Somebody just paid $3000 for this course... is it worth it?" to help motivate us to do some SERIOUS value-add as course developers and instructors.
So here's what I think:
* A five-day intensive is perhaps the worst way to learn Java (or most anything, for that matter). Although it *is* fully immersive, without any time to practice and process between classes, there's only so much a brain can handle. A good instructor can help compensate for the sub-optimal format, but the bottom line: a five-day intensive course does not support most people's brains, and no matter how fabulous the instructor is, the material just cannot be processed effectively (at least not enought to justify the high price).
* A spread-out twice-a-week course at a local college can be MUCH more effective, from a learning perspective. Although I never taught Java that way, I did teach programming, animation, all kinds of other stuff at UCLA extension, and over the course of several years I was doing BOTH the five-day intensives and the spread-out 6 or 12 week courses, and in almost every case, there was more success with the spread out courses (which were also less expensive).
* A good book plus a study guide or other learning plan can be nearly as (or sometimes MORE) effective than anything else. And gee, I'll be darned if I don't have two Java books coming out in the next three months ; )
Now, that all said, I recently did a five-day intensive Certification Preparation (for SCJP) on the JavaJam III Geek Cruise (Alaska), and all participants said it was worth every penny (and bout of seasickness). One of the students just took the exam, and not only passed, but aced it (90%) three weeks after the cruise (working full time during those intervening three weeks). And she didn't really know much Java before that. So, she swears it was completely worth it, and actually all the other attendees said the same thing (although they have yet to take the exam).
And I also used to teach a game-development intensive (7 days), and I had several success stories from that program that really amazed me. One student was the producer of the Rolling Stones CD-ROM game within 7 months, and on the cover of a magazine, and she barely even had computer skills when she came to the class! (But she was shockingly smart and extremely dedicated). And I've seen the names of other graduates from that course showing up in the credits of games.
But in general, I don't think a five-day is the way to go unless:
* It is the ONLY way you can attend a course (your employer won't let you off any other time, or there aren't any good college night courses nearby, etc.)
* You are one of the more rare people who can process and learn REALLY quickly, and can benefit from the five-day intensive format.
* You have no choice because you're on a deadline (like, you just found out you're taking an exam in 8 days).
* You are someone who simply can't learn from a book, regardless of how good it is, because you need the focus of being in a class, or you need the help of a "live" instructor, and a five-day is your only option.
*You have the opportunity to go on a Geek Cruise (take it! It is so worth it! Perhaps it's the combination of ocean air and the fact that the classroom day is broken up much more than in a normal five-day course, but it's just a fabulous experience).

So what about conferences vs. courses? You might or might not learn a ton from a conference, but the networking and food can be worth the price : )
Colorado Software Summit is legendary for the food and conversation, and some of the sessions are extremely informative and enlightening (and some are entertaining as well).
JavaOne I just love anyway, and I personally have found it to be worth the price for all four years I have attended. Before working for Sun, I had to pay my own way, and I never regretted it. I have come back from every single JavaOne with something I considered extremely valuable, and often a year before anyone else started hearing much about it. It has always given me a good direction for the next year. And some things, like Jini, you just don't get a chance in your daily life to meet many people who are involved with it, and this is a place to be able to do that. (Even as a Sun employee, I hardly ever bumped into people who knew much about Jini, other than Michael Ernest or Simon Roberts).
My bottom line: It is rarely worth it to take a five-day intensive, but sometimes it can be your best (or only) option. A good instructor can overcome some of the limitations of that format, but only so far.
OK, that's the cowgirl perspective on this whole thing.

Co-Author of Head First Design Patterns
Just a Jini girl living in a J2EE world.
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