Train Signal CCNP training package review

By stretch | Monday, January 12, 2009 at 12:00 a.m. UTC

Video-based training seems to be getting more popular over the years, largely due to the more mature material being developed by training vendors. One such vendor is Train Signal, whose CCNP video set I'll be reviewing in this post.

Train Signal's CCNP training package is comprised of a two- or three-DVD set for each of the four CCNP exams (BSCI, BCMSN, ISCW, and ONT). At the core of each set, of course, are the instruction videos produced by Chris Bryant, who apparently never smiles when having his picture taken. That doesn't mean he's not a great instructor though.

First Impressions

Each DVD launches a Flash-based menu on auto-run for aesthetic access to the content contained therein, but the intuitive organization of content on each disk makes navigation with a browser just as easy.

flash_intro.jpg

From the Flash menu, the videos are launched embedded in web pages, which render without issue using Firefox on Windows.

video_firefox.jpg

The one snag I did encounter with the videos resulted from Windows Media Player failing to automatically download the Camtasia video codec (not unusual for WMP). This wasn't much of an issue though as the codec is freely available from TechSmith.

On the Linux side, I was pleased to find Train Signal hadn't pulled any DRM shenanigans. I couldn't quite get the web-embedded videos working (an issue unrelated to the Train Signal product), but mplayer was able to play the videos directly with no problem.

video_mplayer.jpg

What's nice about having all the material packaged on DVDs versus CDs is the depth of space available for high quality video. Each video is a clear screencast recorded at 800x600 with crisp audio.

Content

One of the biggest hindrances to video instruction is its unidirectional nature; there is no way for the instructor to read and react to feedback from his audience. Fortunately, Bryant is an excellent speaker able to maintain a steady tempo in his speech without overwhelming the listener. There is very little dead air in the presentations, which makes for very efficient use of one's time.

The videos are presented in a logical order but built independent of one another, which allows the viewer to skip around and revisit content at his leisure. As expected, each video begins with a concise outline of its topics, but oddly many lack a closing review which would help seal in what information the viewer had absorbed.

Often the notes on the whiteboard are read nearly verbatim, which has always been a peeve of mine (similar to people who cut and paste full paragraphs of text into a single bullet point on PowerPoint slides, but we won't get into that here). Of course, the dictation is necessary for people only listening to the audio. Fortunately Bryant does so in a manner which sounds very natural, and the prepared text is interweaved with a good amount of free language and side notes.

While the videos are excellent, they are only the core of the training package. Each exam set has a second (or third) DVD dedicated for extra content, some of which is impressively handy:

  • Course outline in PDF
  • Lower quality, easily portable copies of each video in both WMV and M4V (iPod) format
  • Course audio in MP3 format
  • Lab books (some courses)

Finally, each package also includes a free Transcender exam. Interestingly the Transcender software isn't included on the DVDs, but given that statically distributed software is inevitably out of date anyway, that makes sense. There is, however, a custom produced instruction video for registering with the Transcender site. How appropriate.

Conclusion

Video instruction (or personal instruction, for that matter) will never be a replacement for hands-on lab experience, regardless of who created it or the material being tested. That said, videos like these make superb supplementary instruction material. Overall the Train Signal videos have a very polished look and feel, and the quality of the instruction is excellent. The entire CCNP set is available for $997 at the time of this writing, which might seem expensive until you consider the cost of a dedicated class, even for a single CCNP-level exam. Train Signal also offers a similar CCNA video package (not reviewed) for $397.

About the Author

Jeremy Stretch is a network engineer living in the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina area. He is known for his blog and cheat sheets here at Packet Life. You can reach him by email or follow him on Twitter.

Posted in Reviews

Comments


Jeremy L. Gaddis (guest)
January 12, 2009 at 12:55 a.m. UTC

Hey Jeremy,

It sounds like the TrainSignal CCNP product is advancing. I received the CCNP package several months ago and it obviously has been "upgraded" since then.

I had several complaints about the version I received, mostly centering around the videos not being playable on Linux or OS X but it sounds like they addressed that. They weren't "portable" either, in that I couldn't throw the audio onto an MP3 player and listen to it on the go.

Like you, I get extremely annoyed (not sure why) when someone "reads the screen" verbatim.

Is Chris still monotone in the latest videos? When I was having trouble sleeping, I used to put the laptop next to the bed, fire up a BGP video, and drift right off to sleep. =)

Best of luck with your continued employment search, and thanks again for the awesome content.

-Jeremy


Itinerant Networker (guest)
January 12, 2009 at 1:31 a.m. UTC

I think you hit the nail on the head when you said nothing will ever rival a real lab environment. I hope someone gets down to creating a great live lab system soon that's fresh and supports a variety of different learning styles, technologies, and vendors soon.


Leonardo (guest)
January 12, 2009 at 2:15 p.m. UTC

Train Signal is good, but i like CBT Nuggets better, i use them for most of my cisco and microsoft exams but you are right a real lab is the best, but the CBTs do help, alot...


Winol (guest)
January 12, 2009 at 2:36 p.m. UTC

I've took Trainsignal for my CCENT few months ago ... and i think it is so ... Boring . Mr Bryant's knowledge is Awesome but his voice is so .. I don't know , maybe he wants us to sleep :)

Jeremy Cioara CBT Nuggets Videos are AWESOME , this man is the man . His knowledge is awesome and he is so entertaining !!
He speaks slowly and uses simple words (important for foreign people like me)

That's my 2cents !

Win


Eric (guest)
January 12, 2009 at 3:22 p.m. UTC

One thing I have noticed is there are way too many people out there who take boot camp classes and they think that’s all they need to do. And then a whole other group of people who buy CBT training but never use it or never set a timeline for their goals.

Be it instructor led training, or computer based training, both are just supplements. Motivation and determination are the keys to getting certified.


Jeff (guest)
January 12, 2009 at 4:33 p.m. UTC

@Winol

Jeremy Cioara's CBT nuggets for the CCNA are awesome. His CCNP videos aren't quite as good. Don't get me wrong, they are still great and he's an excellent instructor (he makes it even more fun than it already is), but he skips a lot of detail in the CCNP series that I wish he'd at least mention. I have the Cisco Press books too though so the two go nicely together.


Snarkout (guest)
January 12, 2009 at 4:48 p.m. UTC

Ouch! While there does seem to have been a significant upgrade done recently, I think this is a very bad time to increase the price of training packages nearly 33% (the whole shebang package used to be ~$600-650). The move to transcender from the unusable garbage that came with the videos in the past is a ++ move, but it is also probably where the majority of the price bump comes from.

That said, I like the way Chris does his videos for the most part. Yes, he is somewhat monotone, but he's also all business (except in the few cases where he burns 18+ min of the video getting you ready for how great the video is going to be). Good stuff.


skinnypete (guest)
January 12, 2009 at 7:48 p.m. UTC

@Jeremy L. Gaddis

I thought I was the only one who used Cisco training videos to go to sleep. I fired up the Firewall mentor this weekend and was sleeping in 10 min!


Winol (guest)
January 12, 2009 at 8:16 p.m. UTC

@Jeff

Thanks for the advice mate .
I hope i'll be a CCNA by the end of the month , and i'll continue my cisco path with the CCNP .
What would be your choice if you have to buy a CBT ?

Thanks for the help :) Much appreciated


GM (guest)
January 12, 2009 at 8:39 p.m. UTC

Hum.. If video training don't have the most updated materials for CCNP. What do you guys recommend? Does anyone use the Boson netsim for CCNP ?


Eric (guest)
January 12, 2009 at 11:47 p.m. UTC

@GM

I have the Boson netsim for CCNP and was completely unimpressed. If you want a whole bunch of somewhat basic labs that you could rebuild in dynamips for practice then get it. Thats pretty much what I have done with it.

Other may have a better review of it, I dont. I wouldnt consider it a primary source of study, more of a supliment to some other primary source.


Brian Clarke (guest)
January 13, 2009 at 4:12 a.m. UTC

Bryant is a more polished instructor, but a bit dry. This isn't a deciding factor, but the Train Signal videos are simply too "safe", and teach directly towards the exams. I reviewed the CCNP series about six months ago, and found them largely a waste of time.

Ciora isn't as "polished", but is far more engaging (which again isn't a deciding factor). In comparison, I reviewed the CCNP CBT Nuggets 4-5 months ago, and found them to be a FAR more worthwhile investment - exam-relevant, but not as exam-focused, and I picked up tidbits here and there myself.

I've been a professional tech instructor for 20 years now, and teaching Cisco material for the past 10. For the $ and the overall depth of the experience, I would strongly recommend CBT Nuggets over Train Signal.

b


Snarkout (guest)
January 13, 2009 at 3:43 p.m. UTC

@Brian Clarke

Could you explain what you mean by "waste of time?" You indicate that the videos are directly aimed at the exams - do the videos not address the exams well enough, or is it your view that exam-centric teaching is a WoT?


Brian Clarke (guest)
January 13, 2009 at 9:42 p.m. UTC

I realize that was unfair - yes, the Train Signal videos address the exam content well enough. I guess I was looking for a bit more "painting outside the lines" in the presentation (which the CBT Nuggets deliver).

Please feel free to delete my original comment - at least the WoT comment. :) If someone is looking for a CCNP-prep tool, the Train Signal stuff is good enough. I'd still recommend Ciora's over them, though.


Snarkout (guest)
January 14, 2009 at 3:42 p.m. UTC

Cool - thanks for the reply! That was a genuine question BTW, not a jibe. I'm looking for additional CCNP training material and was wondering whether Chris' stuff just wasn't up to snuff or not. I had enjoyed his direct exam-based approach on the ICND videos (and let's face it, I'm studying specifically for an exam, otherwise I'd be using the technology specific cisco press books) and was hoping the CCNP ones were the same. Unless I can find a way to get them at the old price, though, I doubt I'll be entertaining the idea in any event. I can't see dropping a kilobuck on them even if they do come with the transcender tests.


Jay Johnson (guest)
January 23, 2009 at 12:33 a.m. UTC

I've viewed both the CBT Nuggets and the train signal CCNP courseware. Yes, while Jeremy is the great at keeping your attention, the detail on intricate subject matter goes to Chris Bryant. Not only do you get the videos, there is also the transcenders that come with the package, along with the capability to print out the labs. I watched all of Jeremy's videos for the BCMSN and then just happened to go through a few of Chris's BCMSN series and "immediately" noticed how much more detailed he (Chris) was in his approach. As a result, I'm now going through the train signal BCMSN videos before testing.

Again, Jeremy is good, but the detailed approach goes to Chris...

Jay


maskmit (guest)
January 25, 2009 at 10:42 a.m. UTC

no doubt, jeremy cioara is best.


sannitig (guest)
January 26, 2009 at 7:05 a.m. UTC

Chris has a more in deplth approach to the content (CCNA) but I can barely listen to him. If only Jeremy from CBT nuggets would use Chris' material....I'd pay anything for those vids!!!


emaddie (guest)
April 11, 2009 at 4:49 a.m. UTC

Have both. Jeremy's videos are great, but are more of an introduction to the material, he explains things better, but doesn't cover everything he should. Chris goes far more into depth, covers everything, but sounds like the teacher from the wonder years sometimes. Try cranking up the play speed in media player, (ctrl-shift-g) works like a champ.


Gerren Murphy (guest)
July 1, 2009 at 4:20 p.m. UTC

I've used both, and like most people have said, CBT Nuggets is a good "intro" to the material, but definitely doesn't cover enough to pass the exam (imho). That said, I like his presentation style much more. He's a little more upbeat than Chris.

Chris however, does cover the material pretty thoroughly. He may be a bit dry at times, but then again, so is the material he's lecturing on. I think he does a nice job of explaining some of the more difficult concepts that I've encountered and usually provides good configuration examples.

I have the BSCI, BSMSN, and ISCW out of the way so far, and my standard approach for each exam has been to read the OECG, watch the Train Signal video on the topic(s), and then run through the testing software. Transcender is by far the best and the software that comes with the OECG's is somewhat...meh.


Lloyd (guest)
July 16, 2009 at 5:54 p.m. UTC

I'm researching CBT's at the moment and was wondering if anyone has any comments on RouterSim.com's products? Or for that matter Keystone, K Alliance or Element K?


fortyplus
November 9, 2009 at 6:58 a.m. UTC

Just wondering can anyone tell me if you have CBT's, do you need to read the text books for the exan. G,etting ready for my CCNA and have the Sybex text but because of work find it hard to read that much text, video work better for my work schedule.

Thanks


mrMike (guest)
December 15, 2011 at 9:28 p.m. UTC

nice review, jeremy!
i've used trainsignal before (nuggets, too). both are OK i think... but WAY too expensive. i recommend my students to www.bosscbt.tv. they have very detailed video tutorials (202 of them for ccna) from great instructors. what's best is their videos are offered at a fraction of the cost. they're also streamed anywhere you go, so you don't have to lug around potentially outdated dvd's.

i think if you want the best video instruction without paying through the nose for it, then you should definitely check out bosscbt.tv.

good luck everyone!

mr. mike

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