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JDMurray's Blog at www.TechExams.Net

TrainSignal IT Certification Materials Now Online!

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by , 05-27-2013 at 07:25 PM (72491 Views)
TrainSignal, a premier IT certification study mateirals provider, has recently ditched the pay-for-only-the-CDs-you-want model of content delivery and is now entirely online with a pay-for-everything-as-you-go subscription model. Always being in the hunt for more IT certifications for myself, I decided to give TrainSignal’s new subscription format and training materials a try and let my fellow cert hounds know what I thought.


Yes, It's Now All Online!

Remember those TrainSignal CDs in the black, plastic cases? Well, save those for a museum because you won’t be seeing them again anytime soon. TrainSignal has moved all of its training materials to a subscription-based service in The Cloud (wherever that is), where it is accessible both online and offline (more on that later).

With the CD-based training, you had access only to the specific training titles that you bought and paid for. With TrainSignal’s online subscription model, you have access to TrainSignal’s entire catalog of IT certification training. Once I had all of the certification training titles on demand at my fingertips, I became a “kid in a candy store” and began to explore IT knowledge and learning that I never previously considered.

Training for Apple, Cisco, Citrix, CompTIA, ITIL, Microsoft, and VMware certifications is all there and available to be browsed and studied anytime you wish. Many of the most well-known IT certifications are covered too, including CompTIA A+, Linux+, and Security+, Cisco CCNA and CCNP, Microsoft MCSA and MCITP, and VMware VCP 4 and 5. You will also find training for lesser known certifications, such as Citrix and ITIL. TrainSignal’s training for Microsoft Office (Access, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Visio, and Word) seems like an added bonus of useful information that I needed too.

Visit TrainSignal.com for the latest subscription pricing and you’ll find it’s cheaper per month than many of those back-breaking certification study guides and breakable plastic training courses you’ve been buying for years. There is also a referral program where subscribers earn credits for every friend who signs up for a 3-day free trial or becomes a subscriber.

Training Videos? Yeah, I’ve Seen Some For Free On YouTube

Yes, there are a lot of technology training videos available for free at sites like YouTube and SecurityTube. You’ve no doubt noticed that the quality of free videos and the training they contain varies greatly, as does the reputation of the presenters. After spending some of your precious free time watching the free stuff, it can leave you wondering how accurate the information is and if the presenters really know what they are talking about.

The real quality of the TrainSignal’s training materials is the collection of knowledgeable and experienced instructors who deliver what they know in ways that capture the viewer's interest. If you have used TrainSignal products before you will recognize some of your favorite instructors, such as Ed Liberman, David Davis, and Scott D. Lowe. They are some of the most industry-recognized subject matter experts who write the TrainSignal course material and present the detailed information you need to know for your cert exams in an informative and entertaining way.

The TrainSignal training materials are organized by courses, with each course containing multiple lessons. When viewed in a Web browser, lessons are displayed in a Flash window and can be started, paused, and bookmarked for later reference. Most of the training is the format of the instructor's voice over animated slides with an occasional appearance by the instructor him/herself. To illustrate concepts, there are pictures, diagrams, and animations as needed. For the practical learning, there are demonstrations, such as using the command line, operating Web and applications GUIs, and how to handle hardware.

Note: TrainSignal does not make available written transcripts of their courses at this time.

While watching the TrainSignal training videos, I felt strongly that the information was quite good and what was needed to pass the specific certification exams. I also felt that I was receiving value-added information and practical experience from the instructor that I could take with me to work and use in an IT workplace.

After watching quite a few of TrainSignal’s training videos for this review, I found the level of detail of the training to be overwhelming at times. While learning about an unfamiliar concepts from a friendly, fast-talking instructor, I needed to frequently back up and rewatch the material, especially because I was (slowly) typing notes. This was especially true while watching the training demos. Changing the speed of the presentation is not (yet) possible in the online interface. However, repetition is the key to learning, so I just need to find the free time to rewind, watch, and learn.

The Dashboard is Hardly Slapdash

TrainSignal’s subscription Web site is built on the dashboard model for content management. On the TrainSignal.com’s Dashboard you will find quick access to course listings, certification practice exams, and your progress in each course. Almost feature you will need is accessible from a single Web page.

The Courses tab shows the complete TrainSignal catalog of training courses you may view. You search for courses by certification vendor or by keyword. New, popular, and updated courses are clearly labeled.

The Course Progress button shows all of the training courses you have started and your current level of progress This is also where you start playing your courses too. All of the courses you have started are listed as is your completion percentage. Also shown are the newest course releases, and the courses most popular with other TrainSignal subscribers.

The Certification Practice Exams tab provides an identical interface to search and select TrainSignal’s collection of certification practice exams. The Exam Progress tab shows all of the practice exams you have taken. You retry or resume the ones you have yet to finish from here too.

Bookmarks allow you to mark individual lessons to find them easily later to replay, download them to the offline player, and allow you to pick up from where you left off.

Overall the TrainSignal Dashboard is a very clean piece of virtual real estate that is as functional as it is obvious to use. A big organizational problem exam candidates face is in keeping track of where they are in their certification studies, what they have studies, and what they have remaining to cover. TrainSignal’s Dashboard organization now makes keeping track of your study progress a bit easier.

It sure would be great if TrainSignal had a certification project management feature that showed subscribers the significant topical areas they needed to study for a particular certification exam and allowed them to chart their study progress. Managing your study program for a certification exam could be as easy as logging into the TrainSignal Web site and checking what you had on schedule to study for that day. (Somebody should request that feature!)

No Internet? No Problem!

If you need to access certification training materials while disconnected from the Internet TrainSignal can help you there too. TrainSignal’s Offline Player allows you to view Silverlight-based TrainSignal content on Windows and Mac OS X systems anytime you like. The offline player is available for you to download as soon as your TrainSignal subscription is active.

The offline player is so simple that no Options or Settings panel is needed. Log in to the player using your TrainSignal Website credentials. From the Player window you can add to the download queue the courses you would like to view, download the course content, and start viewing lessons as soon as they have downloaded. (Yes, you will need to have Internet access initially to download the TrainSignal courses and the offline player itself, but it’s a fully Cloud-independent operation from then on.) Lesson downloading is automatic and can be paused/resumed/cancelled as needed.

Use the Add Content tab to select individual lessons, or an entire course, to add to the download queue. As a convenience, courses and lessons that you have bookmarked in the TrainSignal Web site show up there too. Multiple courses may be added up to a limit of 5GB of content, which appears to be the maximum size of the Silverlight application storage cache. Removing a lesson or course to free up space is as easy as clicking an X.

The offline player supports the usual media player features, such as volume/mute, pause/resume, full screen, time bar, 1x/1.5x playback speed, and full screen mode. You can also rewind 30 seconds by clicking a button, restart the lesson, and bump ahead to the next lesson. It would be nice to have a variable playback speed selection in the offline player, and to have the option to automatically jump to the next lesson without clicking a button.

When you do hook back up to cyberspace, your course progress is automatically uploaded and reflected on the Dashboard. You can also click the Sync Course Progress button to manually force a sync operation. This allows you to keep you place in your training as you move between the online and offline TrainSignal experience.

Now, if you are asking yourself, “What about offline training materials for Linux and Android and iOS?” For the moment, TrainSignal has a lower-tech solution for you. On the Dashboard each lesson allows the downloading a ZIP file containing the slides (PDF) and audio (MP3) of the lesson material. Listening to MP3’s while scrolling through a PDF may seem a bit low-tech compared to the Flash and Silverlight experience, but it is the same course materials (minus the video demos), and there are no license key or DRM hassles to deal with.

You Want Practice Exams Too?

Members of TechExams are always looking for more and more certification practice exams. Well, TrainSignal has ‘em. As of this writing, the Dashboard provides access to practice exams for CompTIA (including A+, Security+, Linux+, CASP), Microsoft (Windows 7, Server 2008, SQL Server), Cisco (ICND1 & 2, ROUTE, SWITCH), VMware (VCP-410 and -510), and ITIL Foundation v3 certifications.

These exams appear to be well-written and are more for teaching and testing the exam contents rather than being a simulation of the actual certification exams. There are typically three or four practice exams for each certification with each exam containing 40-100 questions. For example, there are three, 100-question practice exams for Security+, three 48-question exams for WIndows Server 2008 Enterprise Admin, and four, 40-question ITIL Foundations exams. One notable exception are three, 250-question exams for the CISSP certification. I’m guessing the practice exams preceded the release of the course materials.

Depending on the exam, there are four or more answer options for each exam item with single or multiple answer choices. Some exam items may contain an exhibit (think Cisco exams). The explanations provided with each exam item are very generous in detail and do explain why each answer option is correct or incorrect, so you will know why you got an exam item wrong, although you don’t have to agree with it.

Your exams are stored with your personal TrainSignal account and you can start, stop, and review your exam results, and retake any exam at any time. You can score your answers as you take the exam, or wait until the end of the exam to check how you did. There is no exam timer (clock) and no option to show your present score as you take an exam (a la GIAC exams).

The practice exams run in your Web browser, so you can walk away in the middle of an exam and come back hours or days later and your exam will still be there without the need to pause or save/resume the test engine. Very handy for those of us who are fond of suspending our computers.

One caveat I found is that there is no way to report a problem or issue with an exam item from within the exam itself. The ability for a user to give feedback while taking a practice would help to spot problems and improve the quality of the exams.

Request a Feature


TrainSignal’s site contains a Request a Feature microblog, allowing subscribers to suggest, compliment, and complain about the functionality of TrainSignal’s Web site, offline player, and training materials. Browse the Digg-like interface to check what features other subscribes have already requested. If you find a feature there you want too, vote for it; if the feature you want is not there, add it!

Currently, the top requests include virtual lab exercise capability, iPad and Android Web playback and offline player support. Those are some heavy-duty requests, but they aren’t all big ones either. Some people ask for the ability to speed up or slow down the online video play speed (*ahem*), a summary of the total time spent in each course, and printable certificates of course completion. You get the idea.

The Request a Feature feature appears to be so well used by customers, and well regarded by the TrainSignal staff, that I hesitated to write complaints about anything that is insubstantial or missing from the TrainSignal site or offline player. Any omissions or misgivings I feel may be added or improved by the time I post this article!

Request a Training Course Too!

Do you have an idea for a certification training course that TrainSignal doesn’t currently produce? Tell ‘em about it! TrainSignal’s Request a Training Course microblog allows subscribers to suggest courses for certifications that subscribers want to take, and also see what new courses other subscribers want too. Also using a simple, Digg-like interface, you can post comments or simply vote for what someone else has already suggested.

I made some comments and cast a few votes for certification training courses I thought TrainSignal would do well to produce. I was rather gratified a few weeks later when I received an automated email from TrainSignal stating that they had begun development of a training course for the Wireshark certification as I (and many others) had suggested. I also saw that a training course for the (ISC)2 SSCP certification is newly in the works too. I wouldn’t mind seeing the CEHv8 cert represented one day as well. (Based on a job opening I see posted by TrainSignal, I’m not to be disappointed!)

The Hidden TrainSignal Blogs

Earlier in this article I said that almost all of the features you could want are available through the Dashboard. The one feature whose link is not in the Dashboard is TrainSignal’s own blogs. A very odd omission for such a nice resource indeed.

TrainSignal maintains a set of blogs that contains thousands of articles on IT certifications, training, tech tips and tutorials, IT career help, news, and free webinars. These blogs are authored by a wide variety knowledgeable and accredited technology gurus. For example, in the IT Certification blog you can find 75 video blog articles on Certified Ethical Hacking free for the viewing. There are also article with information on which IT certifications to pursue for your career (as if there’s not enough of that advice at www.TechExams.Net).

After you’ve finished reading through all of TrainSignal’s blogs (yeah, in about a year), then have a look at the nearly 600 videos on TrainSignal’s YouTube channel. You can always find out the latest news from TrainSignal by reading TrainSignal on Twitter.

In Summary

After researching and writing this review, TrainSignal jumped to the top of my recommended list for online, instructor-led training for the certification exams TrainSignal supports. I enjoy the video instruction, the certification practice exams, and watching new and update course material appear in the Dashboard every few weeks. Seeing what features and new training other subscribers are requesting is both interesting and entertaining. Oh, and did I mention TrainSignal’s really super and useful blogs?

The major issue you will face as a potential TrainSignal subscriber is wanting to study for a certification exam that TrainSignal does not currently have training materials for. As an Information Security professional, I see the current lack of material for the CISSP, SSCP, and CEHv8 exams as the biggest omissions in TrainSignal’s catalog. As as software developer, the absence of any programming language certifications, such as Java and Microsoft .NET, is a would-be deal-breaker for me too. Because TrainSignal is constantly developing new training content, and is always open to suggestions from the IT certification community, I don’t expect these omissions to be present for very long.

Another reality to strongly consider is neither Android nor Apple iOS is currently supported for viewing TrainSignal’s Flash-based content. As the owner of an Android cell phone and tablet, I was really looking forward to spending long hours at coffee houses watching TrainSignal's videos and taking notes on my little green robot devices. I’ve tried using Flash-enabled Web browsers for Android, but the ones I’ve found provided a less than satisfactory experience with TrainSignal’s content. Once again, I get the impression that TrainSignal is hard at work on a solution, so I may be making some significant updates to this article come next year.Added

Updated 05-28-2013 at 07:35 PM by JDMurray

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  1. lisagarychrist's Avatar
    Good to hear this one

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