Trends in the computer industry seem to be changing faster than ever before. Processors have gone from 32-bit to 64-bit and have transformed from single core to dual-core to quad-core. There’s a new release of the Windows Server OS right around the corner, and whether or not DBAs everywhere are ready, Microsoft plans to crank out a new SQL Server release every two years. In fact, SQL Server 2008 will be available in the first quarter of next year. As if that wasn’t enough, Visual Studio 2008 is bringing with it an all-new database-access development model called Language-Integrated Query (LINQ). For the most part, these changes are good, but trying to take in all these changes is a lot like trying to drink water from a fire hose. The best way to acclimate yourself to these changes is through continued training.

As technology is evolving at an incredible rate, training methods are also rapidly changing. The latest training method is exemplified in what Microsoft calls Microsoft Official Distance Learning (MODL). MODL combines tried-and-true instructor-led training scenarios and Web-based self-directed e-learning with the realism of modern virtual-reality programs such as Second Life.

Microsoft breaks down the MODL curriculum into four phases: gather, expand, apply, and receive. In the gather phase, students gather together in a virtual classroom setting that’s conducted online via Microsoft Office Live Meeting 2003. A Microsoft-certified trainer leads the virtual class, and students get the same one-on-one interaction with the instructor and other students that they’d get in a physical classroom but without the travel costs. One clear advantage that a virtual classroom setting provides is that students can easily review previously recorded sessions. In the expand phase, students work at their own pace through a variety of Web-based e-learning assignments. The most interesting aspect of the new MODL training is the apply phase, during which students work through practical real-world problems using the skills they learned in training and a Second Life–like virtual workspace. Here students get what Microsoft calls an “immersive hands-on experience.” Finally, in the receive phase, students get feedback and a detailed assessment from their instructor and peers.

In a lot of ways, this new training method makes perfect sense, because it combines the best of both worlds. Using the method, you can mix real-life scenarios with flexible computer-based training. As you go through the training models, your training character gets jobs to perform, phone requests for help, and needs to solve technical problems. It’s still too early to say that MODL is the way to go for all training but there’s no doubt that it’s the wave of the future and is an option you should check out your future training needs.

To find out more about MODL, see “Microsoft Official Distance Learning” at http://www.microsoft.com/learning/modl/default.mspx. Currently, most of the MODL courses cover Windows Server 2003 and Windows Vista. However, there are a couple of developer courses offered, including “Programming with the Microsoft .NET Framework and Microsoft Visual Studio 2005.”