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Cisco Networking Academy: Curriculum Evolves to Address Changing Industry, Student Needs


At tenth anniversary, improved core curriculum opens students’ minds wide to exciting IT careers.

The Cisco Networking Academy is a comprehensive educational program that combines e-learning and in-class interaction to provide students with the essential Internet technology skills for today’s global economy. And because this global economy and the skill set needed to succeed in it changes rapidly, the Networking Academy must also evolve.

Cisco announced today an evolution of its core Networking Academy curriculum - to keep pace with market and technology developments and continue creating an educated information technology (IT) workforce in every part of the world.

The Networking Academy is also celebrating its tenth anniversary later this year. Over the past decade, 2 million Networking Academy students across 165 countries have developed IT skills that have opened doors for them into rewarding and exciting careers in industries as diverse as medicine, entertainment and aerospace.

Amy Christen, vice president Cisco Networking Academy and corporate affairs operations, recently spoke to News@Cisco about the new curriculum - and its importance for the students, teachers and employers of today and tomorrow.

Why is the Cisco Networking Academy making changes to its curriculum?

Amy Christen: We’re making these changes to help ensure that the Networking Academy continues to meet our students’ needs effectively. To sustain the success of the Networking Academy, we must adapt to changes both in technology and in market trends.

These new products are the direct result of the Networking Academy’s increased focus on providing students the skills they need to pursue rewarding IT careers in business-critical positions and industries ranging from technology and finance to medicine and entertainment.

Further, we recognized that we could make improvements not only to what students are learning but to how they learn. For example, specifically in our CCNA® curriculum, we found that given we work with such a wide range of students from high school to community colleges to universities around the world, a “one size fits all” approach was no longer the best way to go.

Technology has become more complex, maturing from basic routing and switching to today’s converged networks. At the same time, employers’ needs for individuals with IT skills have grown exponentially. Our curriculum has evolved to address this new environment.

Can you summarize the most significant changes?

Amy Christen: The most significant improvement, which addresses evolving market needs, is our new segmented approach. The CCNA curricula now offers two tracks - CCNA Discovery and CCNA Exploration - that teach the same applied skills but present the information in different ways, to appeal to different students.

Simply put, CCNA Discovery teaches networking based on application, starting with the home office, and CCNA Exploration teaches it based on the technology and protocols of switching and routing. We’ve also updated the IT Essentials PC Hardware and Software course which teaches basic entry level PC skills.

We’ve instituted changes to the CCNP® curriculum, as well. CCNP focuses on the advanced skills needed to manage an end-to-end network infrastructure.

Finally, we are also addressing the fact that students learn more by doing - so the updated curriculum includes many more opportunities for interactive, computer-based activities and hands-on work.

It sounds like you are not only updating the curriculum, you’re presenting it in new ways. Can you tell us more about that?

Amy Christen: First, both of the new CCNA tracks prepare students for certification and professional degrees, and both heavily emphasize hands on experience with equipment and learning in groups, in instructor-led classrooms.

CCNA Discovery requires no particular technical knowledge beyond basic PC usage skills, while prerequisites for CCNA Exploration include advanced problem solving and analytical skills. By offering targeted programs that are designed for students with different educational backgrounds and interests, we can help students be more successful in achieving their goals.

We have incorporated “e-doing,” a design philosophy based on the principle that people learn best with many opportunities for practice and feedback. The Networking Academy has always emphasized the hands-on, practical aspects of learning; now, e-doing will bring that same practicality to the computer experience by promoting exploration and experimentation with electronic tools and network simulation.

We have embedded Packet Tracer software, which allows students to simulate real networks, as well as flash-based activities that help them develop a greater understanding of networking technologies.

Finally, we have introduced a new graphical user interface that students and instructors find much more engaging.

What’s the vision behind these improvements?

Amy Christen: Our vision is very simple: to help our students complete their course work successfully so they can achieve their goals - whether they want to find a job or continue their education.

Networking and IT skills are so important in business management and leadership today that they will serve the students well no matter what fields they ultimately work in.

These curriculum improvements coincide with your tenth anniversary. Do they signify a new phase for the Networking Academy?

Amy Christen: The anniversary is an important milestone, and we’re very proud of it. It happened that this was the right time to revamp the curriculum, also - and I think it does represent an important step toward the next ten successful years and beyond.

In our first ten years, we concentrated strongly on growth - and we’ve succeeded beyond our wildest dreams, with more than 500,000 students a year attending academies throughout the world today.

In this next phase, we plan to focus even more than before on student outcomes. For example, using different teaching methodologies for different students will help ensure their success in understanding and applying the content.

At the end of the day, it’s about students achieving their personal goals and increasing the pipeline of IT trained individuals.

What’s in store for the Networking Academy’s next ten years?

Amy Christen: We’ll continue to focus on student outcomes - and we’re going to continue to drive innovation in our learning-based products. This market continues to change, demand for skilled IT employees continues to grow, and the Networking Academy will evolve with students’ and industry needs.

The Cisco Networking Academy is a public-private partnership, and we will continue to work closely with the many partners that have helped make these first ten years so successful while reaching out to develop new relationships. We could never have succeeded without the help of all the educational institutions who have hosted academies. And we have worked closely with many other groups - such as the Cisco Learning Institute (a non profit organization that is independent of Cisco) and others to develop instructor training materials, curriculum and more.

We partner with international organizations such as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), International Telecommunications Union (ITU), US Agency for International Development (USAID) and United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to provide access to IT educations for students in least developed and developing countries around the world. We also work with others in the private sector such as Panduit Corp. to create a consortium of companies that share a common vision with Cisco to make a positive, sustainable difference, not just by ourselves, but far more powerfully in union with others.

What is the role of the Networking Academy in the Human Network?

Amy Christen: I believe it is a great example of the Human Network in action. Academies are independent institutions, but the Networking Academy umbrella brings them together as a community. Further, we equip our students with skills so they can become the future architects of the networked economy, not only for their own benefit but for that of their families and communities - anywhere around the world.

Recently, we launched Academy NetSpace, a special interactive Website for academy students, alumni and instructors (but open to everyone) to showcase achievements during the past decade. As the site develops, students and instructors past and present will be able to create a profile and attach themselves to a particular academy and to others’ profiles, enhancing the community - and the Human Network - even further.


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