An Honest Comparison of the Microsoft IT Academy Program and Business&ITCenter21: Which is Better?

Here at Applied Educational Systems we speak with thousands of computer teachers and administrators across the United States. When an educator is interested in reviewing our computer applications curriculum, Business&ITCenter21, we are often asked questions like: “Isn’t this just like the Microsoft IT Academy Program?”

Though both of these options are digital curriculum, they serve different purposes in the classroom. So choosing one over the other depends on your goal as an educator. But how can you know which one is the right curriculum for your classroom? In this article, I will share an honest comparison of Business&ITCenter21 versus Microsoft IT Academy to help you decide. Before comparing these curriculum options on how they meet the needs of varying educators goals, I’ll give a quick overview of each.

What is Business&ITCenter21?

Business&ITCenter21 Computer Curriculum

Business&ITCenter21 is a subscription-based interactive e-learning curriculum with content for teaching computer applications, career readiness, and introductory business classes.

In the Learning Management System (LMS), teachers can set up customized courses by using any module from within the library of content. When the course is ready, students can enroll to do the interactive e-learning lessons that often include completing hands-on projects.

In addition to the digital lessons, students complete worksheets and assessments which are automatically graded for the instructor, and shown in the teacher’s grade dashboard. Teachers are also provided with lesson plans, presentations, and extra group activity and discussion documents to help reinforce topics that have been learned.

What is the Microsoft IT Academy Program?

[Author’s Note: The Microsoft IT Academy program was renamed to “Microsoft Imagine Academy” in 2016. From here forward I will be referring to the program by that name.]

Microsoft IT Academy Program

Microsoft Imagine Academy is a subscription-based digital curriculum that schools or districts can purchase to teach technology-focused courses and prepare students for certification.

In the online platform, teachers can set up customized “Learning Plans” that are assigned to students (called Users). These Learning Plans are created by choosing the course topics you want to teach in your class. Once the Learning Plan is ready, students can be enrolled to do the e-learning lessons.

In addition to the student content, there are other resources for teachers such as lesson plans, study guides, and automatically graded assessments. Teachers also have the option to take the Microsoft Office certification exams themselves, to get up to speed with the content they are teaching.

In these short overviews, Business&ITCenter21 and Imagine Academy are similar in some aspects, since both programs have interactive digital lessons where students do work. But how do they compare when meeting a teacher’s needs and goals in the classroom?

Helping Students Obtain Microsoft Office Specialist Certification

Some computer applications teachers expect students to become Microsoft Office certified at the end of the course. Becoming certified is a great benefit and stepping stone for your students, which is one reason some teachers focus on the certifications. So how do Business&ITCenter21 and Microsoft Imagine Academy prepare students for MOS Certification?

Microsoft Imagine Academy is a great program for teachers who are focused on students taking the Microsoft Office Certification exams. Because Microsoft writes the certification tests, the content in their program is specifically geared towards certification prep. On their website, Microsoft highlights these “paths to success” related to certification:

Microsoft IT Academy - Areas of Study

Productivity: This path is for the Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certifications and helps students learn to use the Microsoft Office suite productively.

Computer Science: This path is for the Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) and Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) certifications and prepares students for roles in software and app development.

IT Infrastructure: This path leads to the MTA and Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certifications and provides the learner with technical skills for roles in managing infrastructure for cloud, clients, devices databases, and Office 365.

Business&ITCenter21 is also being used by computer teachers to prepare students for Microsoft Office Specialist certifications. Here’s an example of one teacher in Georgia doing just that: MOS Certification Success with Business&ITCenter21

While teachers like that one are using Business&ITCenter21 for certification prep, at AES we are focused on more than getting your students certified. Because Business&ITCenter21 was created as a foundational piece of your curriculum, we don’t cover all of the Office Applications in as much detail needed for some parts of the certification exams.

Final Thoughts: In some classrooms, Business&ITCenter21 does help teachers prepare students for certification. However, if you are mostly focused on certifications and need content with the details to align with the exams, Imagine Academy is probably the better fit. An extra “plus” if you use Microsoft Imagine Academy, is that you receive discount pricing for students to take the exams.

Meeting Technology Curriculum Standards

For some teachers, their main goal is to find computer curriculum that meets the state or national standards required by their administration. Mastery of standards helps students build a foundational knowledge of computer-related topics, such as Google Applications, Microsoft Office, and Digital Literacy & Citizenship. Many computer teachers are also being required to include more generic “career readiness” skills in their classes. So how do these curriculum options help teachers meet standards?

As shown above, Microsoft Imagine Academy is heavily focused on preparing students for Microsoft Office certifications. In some cases, that type of content could align very well with your computer applications course standards. However, if your district is pushing to include more soft skills and career readiness topics as part of your computer curriculum, Imagine Academy could possibly fall short.

The Business&ITCenter21 content is developed based on common standards and requirements found across the United States. Part of our curriculum development process is to review standards and see where Business&ITCenter21 can be improved to better meet those standards for educators.

One example of this is the rise of Google Applications as a requirement in computer classes. Because Google Apps are being used in the workplace, it is trickling down to the classroom and becoming a required topic.

When the Product Team at AES saw this start to become a Business&ITCenter21 - Google Applications Curriculumrequirement, we began developing lessons for Google Applications along with the content on Microsoft Office. We did the same thing when computer course standards started adding “soft skills” like communication and career readiness requirements. When a teacher looks at the catalog, there is much more available than just computer applications curriculum.

Final Thoughts: Depending on what your specific standards require you to teach, Imagine Academy or Business&ITCenter21 could work for you. If your classes are strictly computer basics and Microsoft Office focused, you could get by with Imagine Academy. However, if your district requires you to cover topics like Google Applications and “career readiness” skills that aren’t solely computer focused, Business&ITCenter21 would be a better fit.

Which is Better for Your Computer Applications Classroom?

When comparing Business&ITCenter21 and Microsoft Imagine Academy, they are similar in how the curriculum and resources are provided. But which is better? It depends. When looking in more detail at what goal they are helping computer applications teachers reach, that’s where we see a difference. Business&ITCenter21 is developed as a foundational curriculum to help teachers meet standards and covers a wide array of topics, such as Microsoft Office, Google Applications, and Career Readiness. Imagine Academy is better for the teacher who is in need of preparing students for certification, especially at the higher levels of understanding the Office Suite.

Keep in mind: Very often one resource is not going to have everything you need to meet the needs of your students. Some teachers use Imagine Academy and Business&ITCenter21 together to provide a well-rounded education and help their students achieve certification. In these cases, the teachers knew what goals they had and found a way to reach them by blending the two together.

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November 10, 2016