I've done part of the ECDL, and it is the most painful, pointless computer course I've done since I typed, 'A SAD LAD ASKS DAD FLASK' 20 times in Keyboarding I.

The reason for this venom and contempt is the hopeless, parroting method in which the course is taught. Now, I am a mostly self-taught computer expert (and, as you can tell, extremely modest), but having trained people in IT I can say that a monkey could pass the ECDL if he didn't die of boredom first.

BIG DISCLAIMER: I don't guarantee that your ECDL course is presented in the same way as mine, but it is very likely.

The ECDL is taught exclusively with barely-interactive images. Thousands upon thousands of images, screenshots of Windows and numerous applications in action. You are given a task, such as 'open a document', 'change the page size', or 'resize the window'. You are to perform this task by using the mouse on the screen, just as you would in the field.

However, as it's all based on a few scripts and static images, it's impossible to screw up, as you cannot click on or affect anything except what you're meant to, which, in case you somehow miss the verbal and printed instructions, will often be indicated by a giant arrow and highlight. If you're told to close a window, that's all you can do, nothing else works. Click on that little 'X' button, and the next image loads to show you a new screenshot of what a real copy of Windows would then show you.

The same applies for text entry - type however you like, and that includes using your feet, face, breasts, or palm of your hand - you can *only* type in the correct characters, and exactly as they appear (so, if the file name has uppercase letters, you need to type them as uppercase!)

You can probably imagine how worthless a training tool the ECDL program is when you cannot make a single mistake. There is absolutely no challenge, and you do not really use your knowledge so much as blindly follow instructions.

I won't deny, there is very slight merit in the ECDL in that it does communicate concepts that inexperienced users need to know about the basic workings of Windows. However, it is fundamentally flawed on numerous levels.

  • as it's all image based, it is worthless over a 56k or slow broadband connection. I was accessing it over an office LAN and was still suffering upwards of 30 second waits for some images to load - lessons can be scores of images.
  • experienced PC users cannot skip the tedious, drawn-out introductory lessons
  • tasks are often performed in a needlessly inefficient manner
  • entire steps can be skipped by clickly wildly all over a loading image until you hit the 'sweet spot' to trigger the next image

I spoke to an office temp while I was working as a trainer, who was doing the ECDL at night in her local college. Our experiences and opinions were nearly identical - the program was too slow, too basic, and required little more than clicking where you were told. When I left my post she was considering giving up the course as she felt there was little it could teach her.

If you're considering the ECDL, think long and hard about it. I've yet to come across any job advertisement that specifically asks for or even mentions it, three years on from DrT's wu. While in theory it is a good idea, you'll learn far more buying one of the many 'Windows for Cretins' books and sitting yourself down in front of a PC.