Thanks for all your terrific input and responses to my recent columns. Not only is it wonderful to hear what your reactions are, but I frequently get great ideas for future columns from your feedback!

Case in point: Last week, Michael (on a Hotmail account) noted that we frequently use the terms "training" and "certification" together, as if they always go hand in hand. The email newsletter this column appears in, of course, is Training and Certification UPDATE, and http://www.microsoft.com/train_cert is the Microsoft Web site that I refer to most often. (Yes, I know—Microsoft has changed the name of its site to http://www.microsoft.com/trainingandservices. But the old name still works, and even with the new name, the first two links in the upper-left corner of the page are Training and Certification.)

Michael posed the questions, "What is the purpose of training? Is its sole purpose to prepare students to pass certification exams?" And a corollary question of mine is, "Is Microsoft training the only way to become certified?" I've discussed the last question several times, but most of the time, I've focused on alternatives to Microsoft training avenues for acquiring the skill set needed to pass certification exams. People don't often mention plain old real-world experience and years of hands-on product knowledge as a preparation technique. Nobody wants to hear about preparing for certification by working with the product for 3 years. In fact, people who work intensively with software for a long time frequently aren't doing it for certification purposes. They're doing it because it's their job or because they love working with the technology. Taking an exam about the technology is often an afterthought.

So, what is the purpose of training, especially an intensive instructor-led, 5-day class? Many trainers, including Michael, report that the majority of their students are in class primarily for certification. What should instructors do with a class that includes some people who simply want to pass an exam and others who really want to learn the core technology concepts and ways to use the product in a real-world environment? If the instructors start digressing from the actual course material to their own experiences, should they emphasize experiences troubleshooting the product on the job or experiences studying for and taking the exams?

As I've explained before, Microsoft insists that the exams aren't exams ON the classes, and that "there is no one-to-one correlation between Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) courses and Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) exams." To some people this disclaimer means simply that you can't learn everything to pass one exam from one course, but you should find, in one course or another, everything you need to pass the exam. The disclaimer is also a little hard to swallow for students pursuing SQL Server certification; the three exams have almost identical names to the three main courses. Although I, as a SQL Server trainer, can vouch for the fact that not everything an exam covers is also in the course of the same name, students coming into the courses are frequently confused and disappointed when I break this news to them.

Should Microsoft more clearly separate training information from certification information? Should instructors in classes emphasize topics that the exams emphasize, even if the topics aren't the ones the students are really going to need on the job? Should the Training and Certification UPDATE include a training column and a certification column? Again, I'd love to hear what you think. Post your thoughts as Reader Comments.