Imagine a training tool that allows learners to connect to virtual machines in the cloud, interact with software without downloading it, and solve real-world problems in a protected and secure virtual environment. It’s not just an ideal to strive towards tomorrow, but a real technology that exists today.
Virtual Training Labs are a powerful learning tool, especially for technologically-based trainings. They are cloud-based virtual machine environments, which learners are able to access through standard web browsers. Learners log on through a secure URL to access one or more virtual machines. They can then work with the interface, just as it were a physical machine, under the guidance of an instructor.
So how do you effectively use these powerful cloud-based labs? Here are a few best practices we found from working with Virtual Training Labs.
Match Your Audience to Your Platform
Virtual training labs can exist independently in the cloud, accessed across the world by different learners simultaneously. This provides an extremely versatile platform that can be utilized in either a remote virtual classroom, physical computer classroom, or a hybrid environment.
Only you can determine the specific needs of your learners. Whether you decide that they should be present in a physical classroom for the added benefit of personal attention or if the travel costs associated with attending an event live means a remote learning experience is more practical, it’s up to you to determine the best practice for your own training. Consider each individually, then determine the best course of action for your unique learning experience.
Allow Learners Out of Class Time to Practice
Virtual Training Labs surpass the virtual capabilities of a physical computer lab in terms of their accessibility to participants. You have the ability to keep the lab open indefinitely with a virtual lab. Use this to allow learners the time they need to access the lab outside of scheduled class times.
About 20-30% of learners, when given the opportunity, will access the lab outside of class. These learners who need extra practice, want to experiment with the program or missed a portion of the lesson still have access to the lab after the scheduled hours of the class. This allows learners to go at their own pace and reinforce their own learning experience, leading to an improved training outcome.
Use Learner Experiences as Learning Tools
With a virtual lab, the instructor has the ability to see every learner’s screen, regardless of whether they are in the class or attending remotely. This is useful for spotting trends in the participants’ practices, seeing when someone needs help, and presenting to the rest of the class. For example, if a learner has mastered a skill, the instructor can share that learner’s screen with the rest of the class. In the same way, if a participant encounters an error that others may encounter, an instructor can present their screen.
This feature creates an interactive environment, where each learner has the potential to be a resource to the rest of the group.
Use Snapshots to Create a Dynamic Approach to Learning
One of the key features of Virtual Training Labs is the ability to create “snapshots” of the systems. This saves the state of the machine and allows you to quickly revert or move forward. If an instructor wants to bypass steps in the program that the learners already know, they can set up multiple snapshots at key points in the process, then skip from one to the other.
Snapshots also allow learners to see multiple paths from one starting point in the system, to show different ways to achieve the same result or show how one action in the machine can influence other points in the system. Snapshots, when fully utilized, can be one of the most powerful elements of the Virtual Training Labs.
Mind the Instructor-Learner Balance
Learning is best when it’s one-on-one and hands-on. Virtual training can open up learning to a larger group of learners, but it’s important to not dilute the experience while doing so. The golden rule for class sizes is no more than 20-25 learners per instructor.
If more learners need to be included, consider enlisting the help of a teaching assistant to allow every learner access to personal attention when needed. Training labs are designed to accommodate learning assistants in addition to instructors. Ensuring that each learner has access to the personalized attention will optimize their experience.
Get Creative with Virtual Possibilities
Cloud-based labs are powerful systems that can be used for much more than simply allowing access to programs and software. Using labs in a creative way can help provide a well-rounded learning experience.
Because the system can be set up in a variety of ways, there are dozens of examples of innovative uses for virtual lab technology. For example, companies focusing on network security can set up purposefully unsecure networks for participants to learn how to secure them. Instructors can purposefully break systems, to show how it might look like when broken, then show the process for fixing the machine. Every training holds the opportunity for creative demonstrations and scenarios to augment the experience.
Work With a Provider That Simplifies Labs
Before using a virtual lab, it’s important engage a provider who is an expert at deploying this technology. They can assist in developing a creative and unique learning experience for your instructor and learner, as well as handling the technical aspects that most people are unfamiliar with.
Virtual Training Labs are the future of the technical training industry. This powerful platform can allow learners real-world experience in a controlled environment. It is the computer classroom experience moved to a cloud-based virtual platform, where it can even be superior to a physical environment. Keep these best practices in mind as you plan your own virtual lab.
Do you have any additional best practices we didn’t cover or any questions about ours? Leave us a comment below.