A Guide on How to Get Started with Hands-on Learning and Virtual IT Labs

An introduction to virtual training labs for companies looking to adopt outcome-based learning into their employee, customer and partner training programs.

The half-life of a skill is shorter than ever: five years for general skills and a measly two-and-a-half years for technology-related skills.¹ This means the longer it takes you to teach, develop, validate and then apply skills to the job, the less return you will make on your training investments.

To bring skills to market faster, “show and tell” simply isn’t enough anymore; neither are the rote “type this, click that” activities. The learning industry needs to set a new benchmark for what constitutes “hands-on learning.” It includes evolving to providing immersive, interactive and engaging environments that validate a learner’s skills through hands-on experiences with the desired outcome to be job ready.

The intent of this guide is to help lay the foundation for what is needed to get started with experiential learning labs.

It's for professionals who are responsible for the skill development of internal and external audiences, specifically those who:

Oversee and/or work in workforce upskilling, training and education programs (e.g., Instructional Designer, corporate trainer, learning architect, curriculum development, learning & development)

over-the-shoulder instructor monitoring

Develop and manage customer education and partner enablement programs (e.g., Customer experience/education, customer success, partner enablement, technical training)

Create and manage certification and Performance Testing (PBT) initiatives and programs.(e.g., Head of Certification, Training and Certification

Virtual labs have many use cases, but it’s important to start with one.

Chart a path and take an incremental approach to creating a “learn by doing” ecosystem. This helps you build a program unique to your organization’s requirements.

Confident woman with skill validation
You’re not alone in this. If you need a sounding board or want to partner with an expert to get started, grab 30 minutes with a Skillable account executive to talk it out. We’ve helped organizations around the world strategize, author, build and launch more than 35,000,000 labs in our 20+ year history.
We have the expertise and empathy to meet you where ever you are in your virtual lab maturity.
 

What are Virtual Training Labs?

Virtual training labs, also called virtual labs, virtual IT labs or hands-on labs, are cloud-based non- production environments that provide learners hands-on, interactive learning experiences. These learning environments immerse users in your technology, software or tool by giving them hands-on access to “learn by doing.” This increases skill retention rates and drives faster adoption. Labs are designed to build user competency by providing outcome-based scenarios based on real-world tasks that simultaneously teach and validate skills.

Because virtual labs are hosted in the cloud, users can access them anytime, anywhere. Eliminating barriers to learning resources provides users with more consistent and accessible education which improves the overall training experience and increases user satisfaction.

For live events such as Instructor-led classes, Instructors can proactively monitor learners’ progress and offer feedback and guidance as needed. Coupled with hands-on practice and Instructor feedback, the solution allows for maximum learning and caters to the needs of modern learners. A study from the Research Institute of America found virtual training increases learning retention rates by 25-60%.²

In an ideal world, learning would transfer perfectly into practice and then to on-the-job application. Unfortunately, the reality is that it seldom does. Users are highly likely to make mistakes during the training. It’s only when users are on the job and the risks higher that mistakes are revealed. Skills-validating practice helps both users and Instructors recognize and correct mistakes during the learning process, reducing the chances of errors reoccurring while on the job.

Virtual training labs put users in remote live, non-production environments where skills can be assessed, developed, applied and then validated in a meaningful way.

What are the different types of virtual training labs?

Simulation

This is not a real environment, but rather an imitation of one.

Sandbox

Acts as a safe, secure and isolated testing environment in which users can experiment.

Step-by-step

Most common training industry lab type and includes “read ‘n click” or “read ‘n type” labs.

Scored labs

Labs with assessment questions that are then scored by Instructors.

Automated scored labs

Assessments that use advanced scripts to objectively validate training outcomes automatically once a learner has completed an activity.

Collaborative labs

These are multi-person, “assembly line” or “shared labs” where multiple users are completing tasks simultaneously.

Attack/Defend

Simulated attacks that mimic likely attack paths and techniques used by cyber criminals. Designed to teach users how to properly defend against them.

Red vs. Blue team

Users assume the role of either hacker or defender. Hackers attempt to break into environments while defenders try to protect it in real-time (commonly referred to as “red vs blue team” exercises).

What’s the difference between simulations and virtual IT training labs?

Virtual training labs are designed to mimic real-world software or platforms where users can freely experiment and practice completing real-world scenarios. Simulated environments are more restrictive as users can only understand how a software or tool behaves under certain conditions.

Virtual labs provide:

  • Freedom to explore in a live, non-production environment
  • Flexibility to work towards specific outcomes that may have multiple solution paths
  • Ability to easily manage and update the environment when software changes
 

Training simulations are:

  • Non-live environments specifically built to mimic a specific use case of existing software or technology
  • Reliant on prescriptive instructions which limit what a user can and can’t do
  • Harder to manage and update when software changes

How virtual labs work.

Labs provide users access to a copy of the software or tool. In technical terms, users access an instance (copy) of the software or tool image (image is a copy of the software used for the lab). They are hosted in secure, non- production environments either on-premises or in a datacenter (aka the cloud).

Virtual labs enable organizations to create labs and courses for their own software or topics such as:

  • Coding and software development
  • Cloud technologies
  • Data and analytics Cybersecurity
  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Network administration System administration
  • Database administration

Organizations can customize labs with specific learning objectives and then either connect labs directly to their existing LMS or launch from a lab provider.

For example, Skillable’s virtual training platform enables you to create hands-on labs that meet the unique needs of your learner audiences, whether that’s a step-by-step, guided experience or a more complex scored lab that uses automatic scoring to give users instant feedback and track how your learners are progressing. When it comes to delivering the labs to your learners, you seamlessly integrate your organization’s LMS by using our fully-documented API or access content through our training management system (TMS).

The highly flexible and customizable nature of labs enables you to use them in a variety of settings such as training, Performance Testing (PBT), technical sales demos and events.

What are common use cases for virtual labs?

Training and skills development.

Virtual labs are designed to teach and reinforce what users learn in a classroom, on- demand course or event by enabling them to apply their knowledge, skills and abilities.

For example, you could task users on how to access valuable customer data inside an organization’s CRM system or how to troubleshoot and resolve a security issue. We call this “skilling” because this approach is designed to deliver outcomes by building and proving skills development; “training” has a passive, attendance-based connotation.

For example, Comtech, a telecommunications company, wanted to improve the agility of its cybersecurity training and build an adaptive learning program based on a knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) format. By providing employees with hands-on cybersecurity labs that are easy to update, they’re able to keep pace with fast-moving best practices and high stakes threats.

Erik Wallace, Director of Sales and Business Development at Comtech, said: “Performance-based assessments are an important initiative for us. We want performance-based labs that tie back to a KSA format so that if a learner is weak in a certain area that we can recommend content that aligns with skilling needs, whether that’s lab training, a wiki, videos, courseware or a Challenge Lab.”

Thanks to their partnership with Skillable, 90 to 95% of Comtech’s learners show real-world, job-ready proficiency after course completion.

Read the Comtech case study.

Certification exams and Performance Testing (PBT).

“Hope” is a powerful thing—except when it comes to skills development and training program effectiveness. Organizations that hope their customers, partners and/or employees have the necessary skills are exposing themselves to financial, operational and security risks. You need to validate that your users “get it.” With scored virtual labs that’s now possible.

Organizations looking to build certification and testing programs can leverage Performance Testing (PBT) scripts and scoring so they can go beyond “pass/fail” grading.

Read more about Performance Testing (PBT) with Skillable.

Technical sales and partner enablement.

“Practice makes perfect,” especially when you’re giving a sales presentation. If you’re following a product-led growth strategy, your demo must be flawless.

This is a challenge if your technical sales and partner teams aren’t provided appropriate access to what they’re selling. With a lab solution, you can change that.

Increase sales productivity by providing your account managers, solution engineers, technical account managers and channel partners the opportunities to learn and experiment with the software and tools they’re selling. The hands-on practice coupled with Instructor-led or peer-to-peer discussions will create sellers who know the ins and outs of your solution. As a result, sellers will be better prepared and confident, leading to improved conversions rates and, ultimately, increased revenue.

Build more compelling POCs, sales demos and enablement with virtual labs.

Events.

Eighty-two percent of potential buyers want to test products prior to purchasing.³ Meet your prospects’ preferences by showcasing your products or services at events (both in-person and virtual).

This enables your team to have customer conversations in real-time as well as more readily identify interested buyers earlier in their buying cycle so you can help shape requirements.

Talent management.

Continuously assess and develop both current and potential team members’ skills by having them complete hands-on labs. For example, you can identify the best talent for specific roles by validating candidates’ skills with scored labs. From here, you can continue to retain and develop learners’ skills with custom hands-on labs.

Customer support.

When issues arise, seconds feel like hours and tempers can flare. This makes having a well-trained help desk paramount. Virtual labs can be created and customized to replicate a customer’s specific environment, enabling the support agent to troubleshoot and resolve issues within the lab. This helps agents increase first-call resolution rates, answer time-sensitive email/chat support faster and easily transfer to next tier support, if necessary. As a result, overall resolution time is decreased, customer satisfaction is improved and issues that could potentially damage your credibility are extinguished.

Virtual training labs can present a large amount of content in an easy-to-digest way, ensuring agents have thorough knowledge of the platform they’re supporting.

Learn more about how labs can improve your software or platform help desk support.

Training content management.

Tired of managing training documentation via screen shots in Word or PowerPoint? If you sell software with aggressive release schedules, your team is trapped in the nightmare that is maintaining up-to-date training materials. Virtual labs can wake you from this by minimizing the burden of constantly updating screen shots in Word or PowerPoint presentations.

Learn how our agile platform makes managing employee and customer education training materials easier.

What you’ll find on the best virtual training platforms.

Virtual lab providers can provide a myriad of features and capabilities intended to improve learning and skill development. But not all lab providers are the same. Features, ease of use, robustness and scalability will vary. We highlight some key features below.

Lab reporting and analytics.

Reporting and analytics enable L&D leaders, Instructors and other business leaders to evaluate the success of courses and individual labs. The data and reports provided by the platform can provide insight into individual user activity or course success, allowing leaders to see how well learners are progressing or if adjustments are needed.

 

Instructor feedback.

The best platforms equip your Instructor with tools and resources to increase their effectiveness and classroom management. Tools such as over-the-shoulder monitoring enable Instructors to track classroom lab progress and jump into a specific student’s lab to provide one-on-one instruction.

 

Third-party integration capabilities.

If you have an existing LMS or CRM platform, look for a lab vendor who provides seamless integrations with these tools. These integrations yield many benefits, including an enhanced user experience, deeper lab insights and faster issue resolution.

Building and delivering labs.

Pay attention to the lab development tools vendors provide and understand how different technical roles will interact with them. You should also see how the vendor is focused on helping you build better labs through training, automated checks and issue identification

maintain multiple versions of software

Lab provisioning.

With learners accessing labs from around the world, you’ll want to ensure vendors can easily provision labs without sacrificing performance or speed. The number of datacenters a vendor has is typically a good indicator of what you can expect in terms of performance and latency. For example, if a vendor only has two to three datacenters. It’s likely that learners who are geographically far from the datacenter will experience latency or performance issues.

How the right provider can help you increase Instructor effectiveness.

Your Instructors have a lot of face time with learners, even if the class is virtual. They can make or break the learning experience.

When it comes to classes or events with virtual labs, equip your Instructors with better classroom control and management. This experience starts with having earlier access to class materials for preparation and extends to providing capabilities such as over-the-shoulder monitoring for Instructors, enabling them to log into a learner’s lab instance and provide one-on-one support. It also includes providing Instructors with a dashboard of all active labs so instead of disrupting the class asking about lab progress they can see exactly where users are so they can better manage time.

How to get started with virtual lab hands-on learning experiences.

Whether you want to foster a culture of continuous hands-on learning or boost success of training activities, incorporating virtual labs into learning may not be as significant an effort as you think.

Here’s a high-level overview of the technology, employee skills and cost associated with virtual IT labs.

What technology do you need in your tech stack?

If you outsource to a virtual lab provider all you need is a secure internet connection and a current web browser. You don’t even need an LMS as enterprise- grade providers offer an LMS platform in addition to a lab development studio and management tools. If you have an LMS or other training platform, you can leverage their APIs to build connections.

If you build an in-house, homegrown virtual lab environment you would need the following equipment:

  • Server(s)
  • Switch(es)
  • Router(s)
  • Rack equipment
  • Network cables

Essentially, you would need to build and deploy your own infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) platform or datacenter. This means you would need a physical location in which to set up, store and maintain servers (this may mean purchasing and setting up equipment for climate control) as well as implementing proper security measures.

Select your lab environment.

If you already have a subscription to a public cloud such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Google Cloud Platform or you want to use your own cloud, you could build your lab environment here. You’ll want to ensure you have the right personnel and resources in place to set up and maintain the environment.

Lab UI integrator.

Next, you’ll need to implement a UI integrator. This acts as the interface on which you’ll build labs and is what users will interact with directly. Finally, you’ll need a delivery mechanism to bolt all the pieces of the lab together (UI, cloud computing platform, tools, etc.). Skillable Studio, for example, would be considered a delivery mechanism as it binds together the UI, lab environment and tools in a single environment.

It’s important to note that building and deploying your own homegrown lab environment is entirely possible, though it does require significant time, effort and money to accomplish. If you’re looking to spin up and deploy labs quickly, you should to consider going with a third-party lab provider such as Skillable.

What employee skills are needed?

From an end-user perspective, learners do not need significant technical skill. Users simply login to the platform to follow instructions and perform tasks.

From a strategic development and management perspective, the skills you need depend on your use cases. At a high level, you need people who understand the technology enough to write training materials, build and test the labs and then manage the learning content. Some organizations have dedicated headcount for each role. Others have one or two people that do it all.

If you’re looking to build performance-based tests (PBT) for a high-stakes skill validation use cases as such certification exams, you’ll need someone who is versed in how to measure people’s knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs), such as a psychometrician.

How much do virtual labs cost?

Investing in virtual training depends on a number of factors, including:

  • Vendor
  • Use case
  • Lab functionality and lab size
  • RAM usage
  • Number of concurrent users/concurrency
  • Datacenter location(s)
  • Cloud subscriptions
 

Below are the most common pricing models for virtual lab platforms:

Pay-as-you-go: Vendors charge customers based on the number of user hours.

Subscription: Prices vary depending on the provider, though most charge a certain rate per user per month or per year.

License: Customers are charged a flat rate for a specific time period such as 6 or 12 months.

Exact quotes can be obtained by contacting vendors directly.

Is the solution worth the investment?

According to a recent Gallup report, 85% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged at work. To combat this, L&D leaders need to create engaging training and learning experiences that develop skills faster and make it easier for learners to apply what they’ve learned.4

Build in-house or outsource to a third-party provider: Which is better for virtual labs?

Organizations looking to implement virtual labs need to first evaluate this initiative against their core competencies. This is a critical step in assessing whether to build, host and manage labs in-house or with a third-party provider. Do you want to invest time and money into hosting and maintenance or do you want to invest in developing lab experiences that accelerate skills development?

From there, you need to define your organization’s requirements, technical acumen, headcount, budgets, timelines and gauge your appetite for learning curves and hard lessons learned.

Building a home-grown in-house lab solution.

With on-premises hosting, you are responsible for developing, maintaining, securing, upgrading and troubleshooting your environment. You need to determine if you want to dedicate employee time to these tasks, especially if your software has an aggressive release schedule. You will have complete control over the lab authoring, development, publishing, auditing and cost control tools. While organizations can save money utilizing equipment and software currently in-place, it’s important to evaluate the total cost of ownership (TCO).

Partnering with a third-party lab vendor.

Working with a dedicated lab vendor provides agility, scalability and other benefits such as:

All-in-one access: Because virtual labs are hosted in the cloud, admins, Instructors, employees, customers and partners can access the platform directly from a web browser. This ensures training resources are always available, allowing users to complete training or learn new skills on their own time.

Less maintenance: Well-rounded third party providers can handle as little or as much of the development and maintenance of the labs and platform as needed.

Cohesive experience: Users enjoy a more seamless, cohesive experience as providers have APIs that help different systems connect seamlessly.

More flexibility: The cloud provides organizations with more flexibility than local servers both in terms of cost and maintenance. Because outside companies are handling IT hosting and other infrastructure needs for virtual labs, IT workloads are lightened, which may help to reduce costs. Organizations can also spend more time on training and learning rather than on time-consuming lab maintenance tasks.

Access to lab insights and analytics: Lab providers can include powerful reporting and analytics that offer quantitative insights into lab and learner performance. While reports can be generated for in-house labs, they may require organizations build them themselves which can get overwhelming and complicated.

Be mindful of the “IKEA Effect” with your home-grown sandboxes and training labs.

The IKEA Effect5 is when you place additional value on self-made products and view them at the same level of quality as if an expert built it. It is similar to the Endowment Effect.6 We’ve come across our fair share of organizations whose virtual lab environments started out as side projects or homegrown projects. They were serviceable and the employees who built them took a lot of pride in them, and they should. Building lab environments from scratch takes time and skill. However, it’s a risk to your agility. Customers who have migrated from homegrown systems to Skillable say they spent way too much time, money and resources reinventing the wheel on a competency not core to their business.

So, which path should you choose?

Every organization has their own way of operating. Some must attempt and fail to build something internally before they can look at external vendors. Others remain keenly focused on their core competencies and bring in partners to support their initiatives. Technology leaders such as AWS, Microsoft, CompTIA and others trust Skillable to support many of their hands-on programs.

Leading organizations focus on their core competencies and partner with proven experts to help them succeed. That’s how you increase agility.

That’s how you deliver on your business goals.

How to integrate virtual labs into an LMS.

Organizations looking to enhance the performance of virtual labs can do so by integrating them into their LMS. The integration provides organizations with additional data insights such as the effectiveness of training programs, employee performance, user activity and more.

Furthermore, learners gain fast, easy access to learning resources on a single platform. For example, users can access Instructor videos or notes on a particular subject and immediately put the knowledge to use by following the objectives outlined in the virtual lab. Configuring the integration between the two platforms is relatively straightforward. To demonstrate, we’ll look at how Skillable’s virtual labs integrate with an LMS.

Learning tools interoperability (LTI) integration: Once connected via LTI, Skillable’s virtual labs are launched through their LMS without any additional development. Once launched, users can immediately begin navigating through the lab and completing objectives. When finished, labs can be marked as complete, graded as pass/fail and manually or automatically scored.

API integration: While this integration requires additional development, it provides teams with significantly more functionality than LTI integration. Once connected, the integration enables users to launch, complete and score labs just as the LTI integration allows. However, the API connection provides admins with additional functionality, including:

  • Update lab instructions
  • Add labs to a course via real-time query
  • Provide more granular scoring results
  • Send notifications to users
  • Monitor users in real-time
  • Receive user-submitted evaluation data
  • Receive lab metadata
  • Retrieve all lab and class data available

Regardless of the integration, the connection enables L&D and other business leaders to elevate the effectiveness of training. Users can seamlessly transition from learning material to hands-on practice without switching platforms. Additionally, Skillable’s multiple API opportunities allow for additional customization and functionality, enabling L&D teams to create training that meets specific business needs.

Best practices for virtual training labs.

To avoid reinventing the wheel and learning lessons the hard way, here are some best practices to jump start the creation, launch and maintenance of a lab program:
1. Create a framework for sustainable labs

Regardless of class size, material, use case or audience, labs will be the most successful when they’re created with specific goals already identified. Lab Authors should create project plans for each lab to ensure all learning objectives and goals are captured and that specific business goals are being met.

Additional factors to include in the project plan are:

    • Architectural design
    • Software used
    • Software versions
    • Background information on the lab build
    • Potential pitfalls or project issues and their solutions
    • Test results and subsequent changes

 

Remember, you’re in the beginning stages of lab development. Your plans do not need to be overly complex or sophisticated. Keep it simple. Considering each of these factors leads to sustainable labs that further business growth.

Read more about how to create a sustainable lab framework.

2. Adopt the scenario-based, challenge-centric learning approach.

Learning experiences that prescriptively tell users where to click and what to do are not suitable for maximum learning or skills retention. This rote learning approach is essentially memorization through repetition. While it may be useful in providing users with base knowledge and context, the method denies users the opportunity to think through problems and resolve them.

For training labs to have maximum effect, they should utilize challenge-centric learning. In this approach, users are encouraged to explore the interface or tool, experiment, make and correct mistakes and ultimately accomplish a series of tasks. The ‘learning by doing’ approach is a more effective teaching approach as it challenges learners to critically think through available options and choose the appropriate action.

Read more about challenge-centric learning in our “A Case for Challenge-Centric Learning” white paper.

3. Choose the right lab technology.

The underlying technology that drives your virtual lab environment requires careful planning as this is what users will interact with. Skillable understands the importance of a purpose-built infrastructure and supports a variety of lab technologies to meet your business needs.

For example, users who work in Azure can use Skillable’s virtualization fabric to ensure all users get the same Azure training experience.

Read our virtualization lab fabrics 101 for additional information.

4. Backup lab data.

Data loss is disruptive and costly part of digitalization. Even small data loss instances (around 100 records) can cost organizations between $18,000 to $35,000, depending on company size and data value.7 Because virtual labs contain thousands of pieces of valuable data (lab preferences, user information and progress, course attendance, etc.), it’s crucial to regularly back up to a secure location, preferably the cloud.

5. Maintain lab storage and organization.

Labs that are not properly stored and organized risk becoming lost as organizations scale. To avoid admins or Instructors being unable to find materials, all labs should:

    • Follow a detailed storage map that includes instructions for naming and organizing folders.
    • Follow a consistent organization method that has been communicated to all Lab Authors and Lab Developers.
    • Be regularly updated and organized to ensure consistency.
    • Regularly review labs and courses to ensure content is still relevant and up to date.

Common concerns about starting with virtual labs.

As with any transformative technology, questions around whether it is right for your organization and your learners are common. The top two concerns we hear most often are around limited resources and security. Let’s put those concerns to rest.

Limited headcount or technology resources.

Organizations with small training teams or a limited budget may worry that they’ll have to handle the setup, maintenance and troubleshooting of labs singlehandedly. Teams may also be wary of moving away from existing processes or training methods.

Luckily, small teams (and even individuals) can set up and maintain labs. Established lab providers will provide you with the tools to create, deploy and manage your labs.

If you’re not to that level yet, you can also use a lab provider’s professional services team to manage this for you. You will have 24/7/365 technical support as well.

Established lab providers also often have ready-built hands-on content available via subscription, enabling your team to offer skilling without having to create your own content. For example, Skillable offers more than 1,000 ready-built labs across topics and technologies, such as Cybersecurity, AWS, Azure, IT Operations, Programming and Data Science. Learn more about Skillable Challenges.

With Skillable, you can enhance your training program by optimizing existing resources and budget via our comprehensive platform and services team.

Security.

Eighty-three percent of organizations are concerned about security,8 specifically, protecting data and networks from threat actors. While security is everyone’s responsibility, security teams are responsible for reducing vulnerabilities by minimizing their organization’s ever-evolving risks through external partner networks. They rarely have enough resources to do their job, so make it as easy as possible for them to help you by being proactive.

Look for providers that prove they take security seriously and practice good cyber hygiene. For example, Skillable is SOC2 and ISO-27001:2013 certified. The SOC 2 (Service Organization Control 2) certification is a voluntary compliance standard on how organizations manage customer data. The ISO-27001:2013 certification signifies an organization has been extensively audited on how they manage the security of assets such as financial information, intellectual property, employee details or information entrusted by third parties.

Read more about Skillable’s security practices.

How to avoid common virtual lab development mistakes

To drive maximum value from your training time, labs need to perform and augment the learning experience, not drive the learner into a state of frustration. We’ve helped our customer base launch over 35 million labs, which has provided us significant insight into common mistakes Instructional Designers, Lab Authors and Lab Developers make.

Here are quick tips to help you sidestep common mistakes:

1. Ensure labs promote active learning.

To be serious about building real competencies, you need to exit the rote “click this, click that” lab approach—they do little to promote active learning, build learner confidence and provide data around skilling intelligence. In these cases, users are watching or reading material, answering multiple-choice questions and moving on.

Labs should be created with a ‘learn by doing’ mentality where users must use critical thinking to solve problems and learn skills. This results in more skills retention and more confident users.

2. Provide clear instructions.

A training lab should contain clear, detailed instructions on the lab objectives and desired outcomes. This enables users to see the relevancy of the skills being taught and helps them understand how the skill will be useful in the future.

For example, instructions that simply read “Give Janet access to the database” are unclear and do not provide the same type of context as instructions like “Give Janet appropriate access to the Sales Orders database so she can run revenue reports.”

3. Include support based on the use case.

Users must be able to easily connect with the appropriate support channel whenever needed—preferably at the click of a button. For example, users who are completing time-limited certifications or Performance Testing (PBT) should be able to contact technical personnel to help troubleshoot issues or resolve questions immediately.

Labs that are used for events or live training should include support access as well as direct links to documentation or resources on specific topics. Access to the right support channels and personnel help to ensure a seamless experience and more satisfied users.

Avoiding these common virtual lab mistakes ensures business teams create a truly immersive training experience that yields incredible results and benefits employees.

How to build virtual IT labs faster.

Leverage Skillable’s template gallery to streamline the time and effort it takes to develop labs at scale.

The template gallery allows Lab Developers to search for and choose pre-built templates to use as the base for a new lab. Each template includes information about specific components (whether virtual or cloud) featured in the environment as well as instructions on how to further modify the template.

Skillable’s templates have been organized into topic areas that are available as filters. Each one defines the best use case, the technology it’s designed to support, the necessary configurations and tools needed to begin building content. This allows Lab Developers to quickly search for and find necessary information needed to build labs.

Skillable currently has topic-focused templates in the following areas:

  • Coding/software development
  • Cybersecurity
  • Data and analytics
  • Database administration
  • DevOps/cloud technologies
  • End-user productivity
  • Machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • Network administration
  • Systems administration
 

Once new labs have been created, users can save them as an organization-specific template which is only available and accessible to the organization’s Lab Developers.

With labs readily available, and Lab Developers only needing to customize certain fields (such as name, series and organization), teams are able to quickly deploy labs and spend more time accomplishing learning objectives than on lab development.

Here are some free Skillable resources to help you build effective, high-performance labs:
 
 

How to evaluate virtual training lab platforms and virtual IT lab providers.

The software industry is changing—fast. Organizations are constantly searching for new and emerging solutions that will help them achieve their goals faster, improve business performance and boost
user engagement.

Virtual training labs are an ideal solution for organizations serious about modernizing their skills development programs and promoting a culture of continuous learning. However, as more virtual IT lab providers enter the market, it’s critical to filter out the noise and select the provider that meets your specific needs.

Here are the top characteristics to look for in virtual lab providers:

Hands-on capabilities.

Virtual labs are designed to provide users with hands-on practice. Vendors who don’t promote this functionality and instead offer click-through or check box labs are not an ideal solution.

Instead, organizations should look for lab vendors that clearly emphasize hands-on capabilities. This could include functionalities such as providing feedback to users or validating actions as this ensures vendors are providing a ‘learning by doing’ approach.

Easy lab set up.

Organizations should not need to spend excessive amounts of time learning a platform to become competent on it. Instead, they should be able to integrate with the provider’s ecosystem and soon after begin developing and deploying labs. Organizations should look for vendors that provide lab templates and a user-friendly interface.

Comprehensive feedback system.

Vendors who feature a built-in feedback system provide organizations with a direct way to collect and gather user feedback. Organizations should look for providers who offer both qualitative and quantitative feedback as both methods will provide more in-depth explanations on how to drive improvement and enhance lab performance.

Reporting and analytics.

In addition to feedback systems, organizations should be able to track multiple aspects of labs. Vendors who provide reporting and analytics that delve deep into lab performance provide teams with valuable information needed to make improvements.

Scalability and stability.

Whether teams are looking to train a handful of employees or tens of thousands, virtual labs should scale with ease without sacrificing performance. Typically, cloud-based platforms ensure reliable, high performance on a global level.

Ultimately, because a virtual training platform is a long-term strategic investment, you will want to carefully evaluate vendors, not only for today’s needs, but for where you’re headed too. Select a provider that emphasizes hands-on experiences that are high-performing, intelligent and stable. This allows organizations to enhance their training strategy and successfully train and prepare learners.

Book a live demo of Skillable’s lab platform.

See how you can modernize hands-on upskilling and aceelerate job readiness for customers, partners and employees.

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The most common reaction when somebody sees a Skillable demo is “I didn’t know you can do that!”

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