Self-paced v instructor led: What's right for you?

Gaining a professional qualification from a recognised industry body is one of the best ways to enhance your cyber security skills and increase your appeal to employers, whether you're looking for a new position or hoping to advance up the ladder within your current organisation.

However, if you're searching for cyber security certifications online, you'll no doubt notice there are a range of ways you can go about this.

Some of the most popular and in-demand professional certifications offer you the choice between a self-paced course and a fixed-length option that is led by a qualified instructor. For example, (ISC)2's CCSP and CISSP courses, which are some of the most popular certifications for cyber security professionals, offer options for both self-paced and instructor-led learning.

Both ultimately lead to the same qualification, but the route you take to get there is up to you. So what should you think about when deciding which path is right for you?

The advantages of self-led learning

One of the biggest benefits of a self-paced approach is that it's easier to fit into your existing work-life balance. An intensive instructor-led course will need you to be available for several hours a day - or maybe even require a full-time commitment for a week, especially if you choose an in-person classroom-based course. 

This isn't always possible in today's high-pressure IT environments, especially given the staffing shortages many firms have. Sometimes, taking a block of time off to further your personal development may be hard for an employer to agree to, even if they'll ultimately benefit from the end result.

With self-paced learning, you can start a course whenever you want and work through the material at your own speed. If there's a particular element that's unclear to you, for example, there's no pressure to get it right quickly before the course moves on, so you can take all the time you need to make sure you understand, and repeat any exercises you'd like any clarity on. 

Depending on the course, you may have access to a range of multimedia teaching materials, such as videos, so you won't be restricted to just reading from textbooks. However, for some people, a lack of direct feedback can be a challenge, as it may mean you're uncertain about how well you're actually progressing.

Should you consider an instructor-led approach?

By contrast, instructor-led courses are naturally much more structured, enabling you to focus closely on the material and progress in a clear, logical manner.

A key advantage of this is direct tuition from an experienced professional. This means if there is anything you're unsure of, or you'd like more detail on a specific topic, all you have to do is ask. You also get the chance to interact directly with fellow students, so you can work together on the material.

In addition to this, you'll get direct, personal feedback on any assignments or other exercises, which can be hugely helpful in understanding where any gaps in your knowledge lie, which is something that may not always be the case with self-led options.

An instructor-led course does mean that there may be less choice about when you can start the programmes or how long they last. They'll often be highly intensive courses that can feel a little overwhelming if you're used to a more relaxed, methodical way of learning.

Which cyber security training option is best?

There's no right answer as to whether self-paced or instructor-led courses will be better in every circumstance. This is especially true for courses where you have the option of either, where both deal with the same material, as you'll get the same certification at the end. But depending on your preferred way of learning or your personal situation, you may find one much easier to follow than the other. 

You can find a wide range of both self-paced and instructor-led courses at