How to grow a business by simplifying learning

Students, as well as their training providers, need to validate skills quickly, simply and effectively. IT Pro Challenges are short, scenario-based, hands-on labs that enable them to do just that, as CEO Corey Hynes, explains

Lindsay James
Lindsay James
By Lindsay James on 12 July 2019
How to grow a business by simplifying learning

This article was originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox. 

Tell us about IT Pro Challenges – how do they work? 
IT Pro Challenges are short, scenario-based, hands-on labs that are available in three levels: Guided, Advanced and Expert. The 30-minute-long guided challenges are similar to a traditional lab, but step-by-step instructions are replaced with goals and objectives along with detailed hints, which allow students to check their work as they progress. The 45-minute-long advanced challenges, meanwhile, are based on a series of requirements built around an overall objective. They let students figure out if they know how to perform administrative tasks and help them learn new ones by using resource information. Finally, in the 60-minute-long expert challenges, students will complete a large configuration task to showcase their mastery of a topic, which could span multiple products, technologies, and platforms. They will not receive task guidance. An automated score, indicating a pass or fail, is given once the challenge is complete. 

What topics do the challenges cover? 
The challenges cover multivendor cloud-focused topics, including the Microsoft Azure. Hundreds of challenges are available, with more being added weekly. The challenges can be purchased individually, by topic (series), or as a library (all access pass). Students may take each challenge twice. 

How can IT Pro Challenges help grow a business? 
The challenges enable training providers to differentiate their offerings from their competitors. They can create blended learning by combining challenges with other learning activities, use challenges for pre- and post-training assessments plus the subscriptions are continually updated with new challenges which create ongoing engagement opportunities with students.

Why are they important to training providers and their students?
Challenges provide the additional hands-on practice students want and need. They can be used to assess students before and after training and they can help prepare students for the hands-on scenarios in many vendors’ performance­-based exams.

How have IT Pro Challenges been received so far? 
Feedback has been phenomenal. In fact, we recently had a 4.5/5 review from TechGenix, which is a gold star award. TechGenix said: “I absolutely love the IT Pro Challenges concept. The website provides a great way for IT pros to be able to go into a live environment and hone their skills, without the hassles of setting up their own virtual machines. I also found the site to have a good-sized library of challenges, and I like that new challenges are introduced so frequently. And you certainly can’t argue with the price. I also found that the challenges worked exactly the way that they were supposed to. I accessed the challenges from a Windows 10 PC using the Edge browser and experienced zero issues.” 

How is Microsoft technology utilised in IT Pro Challenges?
IT Pro Challenges rely on a combination of Azure Functions and Azure Container Service to score in real time, as users complete labs. For cloud slice labs, this scoring can be run in as little as a few seconds. For virtual machine-based labs, containers allow a local data centre instance of the scoring engine to be spun up when needed, conduct any scoring activities required, and shut down when completed. These technologies allow us to iterate quickly as we update the scoring engine to account for new technologies and techniques.

Can we expect further innovations from Learn on Demand Systems soon?
Yes, scoring a single learners lab is one thing. Scoring a team is another. We are working towards scenarios in which a group can participate in a shared experience, perhaps playing different roles, or performing parts of a larger goal, and providing environmental and role-specific scoring and evaluation. This would allow us to score how your team performed on a task, as well as your overall contribution to the task and your contribution to the team. We are also looking towards using the Microsoft Azure container service to provide increased scale and support for isolated execution environments for scoring, allowing different scoring tasks to be written in the preferred language of the author, and not dictated by the platform. 

Learn on Demand Systems will be attending Microsoft Inspire on 14-18 July. Find out more about the event

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