ACI Learning is reinventing skills-based education to meet the needs of IT’s dizzying progression
It’s a training challenge that more and more enterprises are facing: spending of dollars on technology training for their teams only to find that their skills are beginning to atrophy in a matter of months due to constant leaps in technology, and associated training needs. The rapid advancement of the AI technologies that are revolutionizing business are also causing a fundamental shift in the education industry at a breakneck pace that’s about to become supersonic.
“We see training changing dramatically over the next five years because it's becoming a lot easier for companies, students – anybody – to produce content.” That bird’s-eye view comes courtesy of Tom Katsahnias, COO of ACI Learning, a leading certification prep and skills training provider in audit, cybersecurity, and IT. Designed for individuals and enterprises, ACI offers real-time virtual instructor-led courses, online on-demand videos, labs and practice tests, and in-person instructor-led training.
ACI provides audit, cybersecurity, and IT training for enterprises and professionals. Their curriculum is delivered to meet the needs of different learners – career starters, career advancers, and career-changers. A learner whose goal is to enter the IT profession tends to want a more traditional learning experience. ACI has a series of boot camps and instructor-led training where they can learn the basics. “We offer IT training programs in an all-inclusive package that has a lot of value,” he noted.
They also help enterprise organizations keep their tech leaders and professionals up to date on the latest technologies by enabling them to upskill, especially in the IT and cybersecurity realm. “As a leader, if you are not continuously providing your IT and cyber teams with upskilling opportunities, your team’s skills are going to rapidly become out of date,” Katsahnias said. The pace at which IT skills fall behind is the pace of which technology itself changes. “Everything that your tech team knew three years ago may no longer viable. We empower IT, cyber, and audit professionals to learn at their own pace, not just to gain knowledge, but to practice skills.”
ACI Learning produces its highly engaging video training content in their eight world-class recording studios from their Gainesville, Fla., office, but ACI avoids the traditional educational video route. Their approach pairs on-camera talent with little or no tech experience with subject matter experts (SMEs) who usually have never stepped in front of the camera. They approach each topic as a conversation, which delivers a naturally engaging approach to learning that is brief, topic-focused, and effective. “The SMEs have done this forever, but they may have not taught on camera. So the host has a really large personality and we’re able to pull information out of them in an engaging way.
“We find that formula works really well. We’ve combined that with studio setups that can be run by one person as opposed to five or six that most broadcast studios do so we can record in all eight studios at once with a very minimal crew.”
Typically, ACI records eight to 10 hours of content a day. Traditional eLearning content takes months of work to develop and can cost five or six figures. They connect an excellent AV team with on-air subject matter experts and charismatic on-air hosts. “We combine all three with technology. That's the secret sauce, and it's very hard to get all three at the same time. We like to think that we do a good job.” We think so, too.
ACI’s unique approach to skills-based lesson plans and assessments includes the requirement that learners demonstrate their proficiency. “Our skills-based lesson plans and assessments are a unique aspect to what we do,” he said. “Being able to demonstrate skills is just as important, if not more so than, ‘Hey, I know the answers on the certification test.’ Those are some of the problems that we help solve.
“We want to be part of the change in which not only can a learner derive value out of the content – content is important, it's always going to be part of the table stakes – they derive value from everything, including skills-based assessments where learners demonstrate what they know before taking the course.”
Tying skills-based assessments to learning and the ability to demonstrate results is becoming a necessity for employers, whether hiring entry-level people, those who are climbing the career ladder, or career-changers.
The cybersecurity skills gap has made it a critical priority for tech leaders to attract and retain talent in the field. To that end, ACI Learning’s Tech Academy answers the call as an instructor-led model designed specifically for career starters and career-changers, delivered in a boot camp style.
The company’s most popular course is the computer user support specialist program, which carries five different certifications and prepares people for their first job in technology. The instructor-led course can take up to 12 weeks. “It’s a very focused and very quick program. It's typically not for people that have zero technical skills, but for those that can pick things up really quickly and have a little bit of background.”
“We typically categorize veterans as career-changers,” he explained. ACI’s learning programs for veterans are a necessary bridge between different scopes and applications of knowledge. “I had to go through the same transition when I left the military. It's just different. You may have a lot of the same types of IT or cybersecurity skills because you learned on technology that may exist in the military but does not exist in the civilian world. The concepts are very similar, though, so veterans go through the same type of certification prep programs that we offer to the general public.”
ACI’s information security analyst program is composed of a number of more advanced courses that build on baseline technical expertise that allows students to take a deeper dive into cybersecurity. Learners aiming to become project managers can add a PMP course on top of their technical expertise. “Those are really good programs for those looking to get into the profession, if a learner already has a number of the necessary baseline skills” he said.
Among the key differentiators for the ACI Learning Tech Academy are their career services offerings. Tech Academy programs come with a week of career services support that includes job interviewing and resume writing prep. “In addition, we work with employers and identify jobs that our graduates would be a really good fit for, we provide this staffing model for free to employers,” he stressed.
“It's a win-win situation because we strive for good learner outcomes, and it's also a very good plus for employers because they're getting people trained essentially for free as opposed to having to hire staffing firms. They can work with us, and we can identify any number of students nationally to help fill their needs.”
Evolving faster than the speed of technology is a requirement for ACI Learning when it comes to user experience as well. To that end, ACI is undergoing a customer experience transformation effort in their Tech Academy and boot camp businesses that reimagines the document-heavy application process typical of accredited programs. The technology that revolutionized the mortgage industry by making the application process infinitely more accessible enables ACI’s students to experience a smoother, faster intake process.
Katsahnias is also working with a major SME to provide training in the government contracting sphere. The partnership enables them to build out a complete curriculum that provides a high-quality training experience at a significantly lower cost. “We build the training forum and white-label it for this SME, and he provides it to government workers who can watch their training and demonstrate the skills learned on their own time, thus allowing them to be much more productive,” he said.
With technological advancements showing no sign of slowing down, learner expectations pushing for modern solutions, and the continuing evolution of AI’s impact in the sector, the coming year is set to bring about transformation in the way tech professionals learn and teach. Katsahnias said ACI is positioning itself to serve as a sort of “Swiss-Army knife,” — a sharp, flexible learning tool that tech leaders will not just expect but rely on to navigate their business and employees into the future.
At ACI Learning, the products you love – ITProTV, AuditProTV, Learning Hubs and Practice Labs – are now training the modern workforce together. That means we’ve been working hard behind the scenes to bring these together in a powerful, life-changing way, for learners. Our training solutions in audit, cybersecurity and IT remain top tier for those looking for binge-worthy content delivered by passionate subject matter experts. Whether new to the IT field or a seasoned pro, learners love our online IT training courses, interactive IT virtual labs and IT certification practice tests. Gain unlimited access to training content, practice exams, virtual labs, help forums, and supplemental materials, and learn all the latest tech skills online, on-demand, on any device.
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