Published: May 16th, 2014

For years CIOs and IT managers have complained about skills shortages in their staff, a situation acerbated by the seeming never-ending change in information technology.

But next month the CompTIA IT education trade association will start selling an online series of courses it hopes will help make it easier for data centre workers to pass its certification tests to learn new skills and possibly shift into new careers.

Called CertMaster, it will be launched June 1, Terry Erdle, executive president of skills certification for CompTIA, to the iTech conference in Toronto on Thursday.

Officials from a wide range of IT companies including Microsoft, BlackBerry, IBM, and others gave presentations at the one-day show.

Erdle hopes CertMaster will “squish the skills gap. Because it is a much more engaging platform it increases especially young people’s interest in IT” but also be used for older IT professionals to upgrade their skills.

Initially, CertMaster will not be as detailed course as CompTIA’s A+ and other offerings. Rather uses what Erdle says is gamification, brain science research in neurobiology and cognitive psychology to help students learn better, and retain it longer.

While it seems like a multiple choice test, Erdle says it’s much more: Students are given several choices to answer a question, including the option to choose more than one answer and to check “I don’t know yet.”

He calls it akin to a homework tool to gauge a student’s mastery of the subject.

The engine behind CertMaster can take the answers and calculate whether the student is confident in understanding the concept or not; if not the platform goes back over the concept before allowing the student to move on. Within the modules are links that go to the Internet for information on various IT topics to help the student learn.

For years CompTIA has offered non-vendor specific IT courses to organizations and individuals with titles like Strata (for fundamentals of IT), A+ (broad course on networks, security, cloud computing, PC config), Network+ and others.

Organizations buy bundles of courses for staff and send them for tests. “What CertMaster does is get that person to the level of mastery so their confidence level is very high they’re going to pass that test,” Erdle said in an interview after his presentation.

He said CompTIA has licenced the engine behind CertMaster for IT learning from a company that has worked on the approach for some 15 years. CompTIA itself has put five years’ worth of work honing it. CertMaster courses will cost US$140 each.

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