The long-awaited evolution of learning labs to meet a cloud-centric world (VB Live)


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Presented by Skillsoft

How do you ensure employees are skilled in a cloud-dominant world? In this VB Live event, learn about the challenge-centric learning mindset that helps you get more from learning programs across many tech stacks and scenarios – while staying under budget.

Register here for free.

The transition from on-prem to cloud and SaaS has decentralized IT in a substantial way. Where once every business unit turned to IT to install and maintain their technology, now every department has its own platforms to manage. It’s been a huge boon to efficiency and business intelligence, but now every team needs to be trained in the technology they need to do their job, especially as these platforms start scaling — in everything from security to governance to troubleshooting and building new solutions.

“There are a lot more people that might have some business acumen, but may not have the technical aptitude to do some of the things they need to do in the cloud,” says Frank Gartland, chief product officer at Skillable, the lab platform that drives cloud Challenge Labs from Skillsoft. “We and a lot of our partners are seeing a huge number of people that just need cloud training, beyond the basics — topics that get into pretty technical areas outside of the IT department.”

But skills training hasn’t evolved as quickly as the technology. The “expert instructor” model of learning, where teachers talk and students listen, is as popular as ever and now increasingly delivered as asynchronous videos, which are easy and inexpensive to produce.

“People want the responsibility for learning to be on the instructor, on the expert,” Gartland says. “What we’ve found is not only does that really not work, people are also starting to understand that you can’t figure out everything you need to know watching a video or watching a demo. You need to get your hands on the system and actually do the work.”

Multiple choice quizzes only judge the outcome, rather than a learner’s ability to get to the right answer on their own. And besides that primary issue, there’s also the fact that in every organization, there are undiscovered talents — employees who could upskill easily and become tremendously valuable in a new position, but might simply not test very well. But if you get them in front of a machine and give them a challenge, you may see them shine.

“I almost promise that if it’s a technology-based company, and they have things that run in Azure or AWS or on VMware or in a container, they will be blown away with just how much more they can provide their audiences from a learning standpoint and a skilling standpoint,” Gartland says.

Why learning labs need to level up

A learning lab has often been a stop-gap solution between listening to an instructor and being thrown into the mix. However, in most labs, an instructor takes learners step by step through completing a task, and then tries to connect the dots at the end for them. And in the end, the new learners have only really learned to follow a teacher’s instructions — they haven’t really learned what they’ve done.

“People have been focused on building labs that work instead of building labs that teach,” Gartland says. “No one’s even thought about getting to the labs that teach part.”

But a guided hands-on lab takes someone who’s just getting started in a particular technology and gives them a task — for instance, you’re on the second day of your job, and you have to set up a new user in another time zone. From there, the learner can experiment, figure out where the menus and settings they need are, and figure it out from there.

“Adult learners need that — they need to be able to figure it out,” he explains. “They need to fail fast. The more you explore, the more you figure out what’s not right, the next time you encounter a related issue, you’ll recognize it and know where to go.”

It’s the Robert and Elizabeth York notion of desirable difficulties, Gartland says. The Yorks’ study of adult learners found that to engage an adult, you need to thread the needle between giving them a lesson that’s so easy they check out, and challenging enough that they’re confident they can crack the case with a little bit of work.

How tech overcomes the obstacles to learning by doing

The challenge of learning by doing has always been scaling the hands-on learning environment, both in configuring the hardware and the cost of accessing the software. Labs are complex to set up and maintain for one learner, let alone setting up the lessons and sandbox that a whole class can use. That’s where cloud Challenge Labs with Skillsoft have been a huge win, because the tools are already built in, so even distributed workforces can access instructional labs and assessments anywhere in the world.

The best instructional labs teach as you go along, assessing the learner’s work and acknowledging successes as they perform each task correctly, or slowing down to offer guidance whenever they struggle, because validation is done. This is a critical distinction: not only does that learner get to do it, but they get the validation that they did it correctly.

“What I want to make sure is that when the security hack happens and there’s a penetration on the network, the team that’s responsible for identifying, isolating, and eliminating that breach, they’re not doing it for the first time — I don’t want them guessing,” Gartland explains. “I want them to be confident, and confidence comes through validation. That’s where I think doing a challenge-centric learning, hands-on experience, that’s scored and validated by the outcomes of what you do, that’s something that the world has been waiting for since technology started. It’s real now.”

To learn more about how virtual lab platforms like Skillable let companies design scalable hands-on learning frameworks for your teams, the growing benefits of upskilling and reskilling, and more, don’t miss this VB Live event!

Register here for free.

Attendees will learn:

  • Skilling plans: How to create learning journeys with scored hands-on experiences to ensure your team is gaining relevant skills
  • Validation: See how learners can prove their skills mastery – not just their course completion – with scenario-based labs
  • Reporting: Learn how you to develop validated skills map for your team members to see where people excel and where growth opportunities exist


  • Frank Gartland, Chief Product Officer, Skillable
  • Seth Colaner, Moderator, VentureBeat

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