Around two months ago, I noticed a status change on the profile of a friend telling that he achieved a brown belt at BlackBeltFactory.com. I was interested and found out that BlackBeltFactory is the successor of the JavaBlackBelt. The site has been relaunched with many new offers. Let me introduce the site and tell why I liked it so much.

The main idea of the BlackBeltFactory is to create an e-learning platform around computer engineering skills. The site provides so-called courses and workshops: real educational content to different subjects. In order to access the course material, you not only need the account at the site, but should also have a coach, helping you to consume the material. If you get one (I’ll tell you later how this works), you can study the content and solve excersises. On any questions you can contact the coach who is intended to help you, usually via skype or email.

Once you are done with studying – you should test yourself by registering to an exam. An exam is a set of online multiple-choice questions. In order to pass exams, you also require some contribution points. You get contribution points for any kind of community activity: connect you status update with twitter, edit questions, post comments, translate course materials – everything you do for the site and community gives you contribution points. In addition, you can create groups and invite people into them.

Every passed exam gives you some knowlegde points. For a number of knowlegde points earned, you get a belt. Belts have different colors: white, yellow, orange, green, blue, brown and finally black. For the black belt you not only need enough knowlegde points, but also have to be a successful coach for two other students, which means that they have to pass the exams and give you feedback.

After you get a blackbelt, you may offer coaching for money. You give 20$ + 15% of the coaching proce to BlackBeltFactory, but I suppose this is fair enough. The site gives you a possibility to create coaching offers (free or paid) and manage the students, who are looking for the coaches – a real e-learning marketplace.

I had an idea to get the black belt by passing exams of subject I think I’m expert in, without taking all the courses. It turned out, that the exam questions are pretty good – you easily pass the subject you are good in, but you ultimatively fail in subjects where you have knowledge gaps. Another problem you face is the lack of contribution points. For this purpose, there exist a so-called belt track, a series of exams in which passing an exam enables the next one without spending contribution points. The exams are predefined but cover basic Java, OO, XML and Web technolgoies, so I could use the track to achieve the blackbelt quickly.

I like the site because I have the possibility to test my knowledge. The tests are not trivial, but reveales subjects you should deepen. On the other hand the site lives from the contributions. You can do anything – from commenting bad exam question to designing new questions, exams, courses – whatever. I also liked the education part, where you have to teach a Java fundamental course for free. That’s not trivial if a person you teach really starts from scratch, but very interesting and challenging. I also like the fact that you can do a lot without paying money – very good business model.

Sometimes, the site shows strange behaviour, but you can ever finish your work. At some places the site seems to be not following its own styleguide and look&feel, but these are details. I’m a big fan of BlackBeltFactory.

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