I decided to write a blog about this because it’s one of the most common misunderstandings I come across. Namely, that simulation is equivalent to real-life learning.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not knocking simulated learning. It can play an important role, as can other forms of online instruction. Blended learning – incorporating face-to-face interaction, audio, video, simulation, quizzes and the like – is invaluable, but as Richard Branson says: "The best way of learning about anything is by doing". IT training is no different. Learning is at its most effective when coupled with a practical, hands-on experience that reinforces and builds on the knowledge already gained.
Active learning within a practice lab environment literally brings simulations and other forms of online training to life. Step-by-step instructions can be accessed as an aide mémoire, but learners are also able to experiment with alternative strategies and approaches. Instead of being faced with pre-determined potential scenarios, learners get to create their own, allowing them to have a flexible, dynamic experience rather than one that’s restricted by the number of simulations available.
The value of being able to 'explore, fail, learn, repeat' in safety – working in a secure sandpit server that mirrors the hardware, software and configurations learners would find in the actual workplace – shouldn't be underestimated. It's experiential learning at the highest level, fusing concepts with real-life activity.
Simulations can never replicate, or even envisage, the type of challenges your systems at work might throw at the IT department! How much better to be able to mitigate and find solutions to those issues within in a safe sandpit environment? Learners can apply their creative and lateral thinking skills to a task and mess up countless times without any risk to their organisations' systems. The labs can be reset again and again, allowing learners to start afresh until they gain mastery – and equally importantly, confidence.
Enabling learner mastery and fostering confidence are the ultimate goals of any IT trainer. While simulated environments can help a learner achieve a level of understanding, the only way mastery can be achieved – and confidence gained – is through the successful application of that knowledge. Learners can do just that within a real-life lab environment, without compromising their organisation's systems, or their potential career progression!
Not just for rookies…
No matter how experienced you are as an IT engineer, you will inevitably be faced with constant security updates or 'the next new thing' a vendor is introducing to enhance some software. It's important to keep up with these changes, but it’s even more critical to ensure there's minimal business disruption when you come to deploy them.
Practice lab environments aren't just for new hires and trainee engineers. They can be used as testing grounds to check on software compatibility and identify issues that may arise.
"Naturally, many of our Practice Labs learners are keen to gain certification to qualify their skills and we support them on that journey by providing lessons and exam preps to help them achieve that. But our own internal measure of success isn’t how many certificates our learners gain, it’s how quickly they can start to make a positive impact in the workplace and become assets to their IT departments."
7 benefits of hands-on learning
A shared benefit of all online training is that learners can fit it in with existing work and lifestyle commitments. Access is unlimited and on-demand. Learners don’t need to be in a specific place at a stipulated time; the only requirements are a computer and an Internet connection.
However, hands-on training offers so much more. By working within a practice lab environment learners can:
- Familiarise themselves with the same hardware and software being used in their workplace, without the need to purchase dozens of different vendor licences.
- Gain competence within a risk-free environment.
- Prepare for vendor testing and certification.
- Build confidence by learning from their mistakes.
- Develop their lateral thinking and problem-solving skills.
- Review security updates prior to deployment in the workplace, and configure and test new software versions.
- Demonstrate their work-readiness.