Course Review: Data Access with Entity Framework 5: Up & Running
Recently I've been contacted by campusMVP.NET to review their new Entity Framework 5 online course. Their approach to online training intrigued me and I agreed to take a closer look at it. This is my opinion after having full access to the course materials for a couple of days.
Entity Framework has changed quite a lot since its beginnings and this can be confusing for someone who is just starting to learn it. It now includes multiple different development models which overlap in functionality and this is the first course or book I've come across that does a complete overview of all of them. It also requires almost no previous knowledge which makes it really suitable for beginners - even a chapter on LINQ is included. There's not much emphasis on theory. Only enough of it is included to understand the basics, the rest is focused on solving practical tasks. This way you can quickly learn enough to start using the technology productively, but for in depth knowledge you'll have to look elsewhere. This course is meant only as the first step in the path to mastering Entity Framework. Don't count on being able to pass a Microsoft exam after you're done with it.
Even more interesting than the course syllabus is the way the materials are presented. This is where their offering really differentiates itself from the other online trainings I've seen until now. The materials consist of three main parts:
- Theory and basic concepts are explained in text.
- Videos are used for the more practical aspects - all of them are screencasts with detailed commentary.
- Accompanying examples can be used to check out the code at your own pace and to use them as a basis for your own exercises.
In my opinion the combination works together quite well. Not everything is perfect, though. The production quality could be higher (variable audio quality, occasional short breaks in the video playback), also the video player would benefit from some additional features (bookmarks to a specific timestamp, variable playback speed, manual jumping to a spot in the video that hasn't been downloaded yet), since individual videos are quite long (about 15 minutes on average).
There's more material included: links to external resources with in depth information, bibliography with suggested reading to learn more and a list of frequently asked questions with details not included in the core materials. At the end of the training you have to pass the final exam. It's not overly difficult or long but you definitely need some knowledge of the subject to pass it. As a reward you get two personalized PDF documents: a course certificate and an offline reference book with all the text materials from the course which will remain yours even after you loose access to it online.
I've left a very important part of the package for the end. During the whole period of 3 months that you have access to the course, the author is available to you as a mentor. I didn't have the opportunity to try that out, but I have no reason to doubt the claims that he will answer any questions you might have while studying. As an alternative to this private conversation there are also public forums which are still empty, probably because the course has just been released.
All of this makes the course as close to the experience of studying the topic at a university as possible, hence the name of the company. In spite of the above mentioned shortcomings I can sincerely recommend the course to anyone who needs to learn the basics of Entity Framework from scratch. You'll definitely get your money's worth.