Sizing up non-traditional forms of cybersecurity education

 

It’s a given that your higher education program should help shape you for your chosen career. But what if that career is cybersecurity, where best practices and threat landscapes aren’t evolving by the semester, but by the hour or day?

Indeed, it can be a challenge for the average four-year college program to be as flexible and responsive as it needs to be in order to prepare students for cybersecurity jobs. That’s why cybersecurity is increasingly the seedbed for new and non-traditional forms of education. These new programs are alternatives to the typical university-track degrees that can struggle to keep up with industry developments, not to mention enrollment demand.

Let’s take a closer look at this changing education landscape and how best to navigate all the new options.

Evolving learning models for an evolving industry

The sources, methods and motivations behind cyber attacks are ever-changing, and keeping up with these changes is a constant struggle in the industry. Breaches are becoming more common, and the increasingly diverse nature of attack vectors and targets is forcing professionals to quickly evolve their strategies and tactics.

Against this backdrop, the traditional curriculum of a formal college degree track in cybersecurity can be relatively static and outdated. While there’s no denying the value of core skills these programs teach in order to prepare students for careers as security engineers, technical analysts, penetration testers and other roles—it’s possible to get such skills from much more nimble education models.

The range of options spans from trade school approaches and boot camps, to emerging models that combine theory, practice, internships, mentorship, job placements and other educational components in new ways. What they all have in common is a commitment to augment core foundational skills, like networking and programming, with ever-changing curricular components that feature up-to-the-minute analysis of real-time trends, threats and industry priorities.

Navigating the options

Non-traditional approaches are finding acceptance from increasingly cyber-focused companies looking for specific and up-to-date skills. They’re also attractive in an industry that’s now mature enough to have many mid-career cyber-professionals seeking limited, targeted curricula and new options around in-person and online attendance. Choosing the right program involves finding one that aligns best with your circumstances and goals.

For instance, boot camps might be the answer for students hoping to learn in a few months what typically takes years at the university; instructors normally have industry experience and teach intensive coursework in small classroom settings. However, boot camps typically are held several days a week, with mandatory attendance—making it a potential challenge for anyone hoping to learn without disrupting current job duties.

Other students gravitate toward on-demand videos and other web-based collateral. Unfortunately, such approaches may have little to no instructor interaction. In addition, labs and curriculum may go long periods without being updated. Just because education is convenient, in other words, doesn’t mean it’s current.

Conclusion

Non-traditional cybersecurity education programs are disruptive—meaning they bring both opportunities and challenges. The discerning student should be prepared to gauge the options based on a program’s curriculum choices, the relevant certifications it supports and whether graduates are actually getting jobs.

Ultimately, the most successful models are the ones that combine the convenience of online and other access modes, with the rigor and timeliness of curriculum that comes from an active community of cybersecurity professionals and students.

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