Microsoft is to make sweeping changes to its education and certification programmes, following demands by customers for more flexible training. The company will also move away from using MSN for on-line training, while expanding its on-line training options. Microsoft Authorised Technical Education Centres (ATECs), of which there are 30 in the UK, will be asked to drop obligatory classroom lessons for a combination of self-study kits, on-line and classroom training. “Feedback from customers showed they wanted to make their own decisions about how they learned to use a product,” explained Debbie Walsh, Microsoft’s skills development manager. “So we’re dropping obligatory classes and courses and introducing a more flexible approach.” Previously, ATECs were required to have physical classrooms.

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Under the ATEC ’98 scheme, this will only be necessary for ATECs running public courses, in which anyone can enrol. ATECs will also have the option of using Microsoft Ceritified Professionals (MCP) instead of MCTs (Microsoft Certified Trainers) to teach private classes. Walsh added Microsoft was moving away from courses delivered over its own Internet network MSN, and encouraging on-line training providers to link up with ISPs. “When we launched on-line training two years ago, MSN was very limited,” Walsh admitted. “Since then we’ve realised that we needed to develop a new framework which ATECs can use to link with ISPs.

Consequently, Microsoft is developing a set of tools and technologies that work on top of BackOffice to enable trainers to develop and customise their own training platforms.” Don Taylor, MD at Oxford-based IT training company Prince, gave a cautious welcome to the new initiative. “The UK has a problem in that not enough getting people are getting skilled up fast enough, and (Microsoft’s) previous programme may have contributed to that,” he commented. “ATEC ’98 should enable more people to get trained, but it’s early days. It may also mean we have to charge more as private customers will be able to purchase private training for their employees to run their own courses.”