I do a LOT of labs. I think labs are critical for developing skills and help you learn ways to effectively execute proof of concept trials. Plus it’s the only way you can work on a lot of things without risking messing up something in production. I’m a big fan of building out home labs using virtual machines and cloud hosting, but sometimes pre-built labs are a better choice because of time or skill constraints to set everything up. I’ve been doing a bunch lately from Learn on Demand. So I wanted to share a few thoughts on the platform for those looking to develop training that will use labs. The info is good for students too, but the platform is really more for those developing training.
Sidenote: I’ve been doing these through Cybrary (where I’m a TA), so they haven’t been purchased through a class or other training.
I’ve found these labs to be well done with stable environments. I’ve had a few with issues, but for the most part the labs run smoothly. There are a lot of pre-built labs covering a lot of platforms. There are typical labs where you work through the tasks with instructions. There are also “IT Pro Challenges” where instead of the steps you get directions about what to do without the steps. The different levels of these vary with how much help you have available and seem appropriately challenging.
They also make a decent number of labs available to try for free. You have to enter contact enter to get a link, which I’m not thrilled about, but I understand. The free labs include options for AWS, Azure, and Linux. So you can get a really good idea of what the labs look like. From a student’s perspective, it gives you a chance to pick up some new skills for minimal/no cost.
There are lab offerings for several specific training courses, including Microsoft…but they aren’t really available for purchase as an individual.
Finding cost info for these labs is very difficult. I’ve yet to find a way without having to submit info. I don’t like that approach, but given the platform is more for instructors to offer labs to classes they are teaching than for students to purchase labs, I do understand it. Just not really a platform for students to pick up labs.
Occasionally I’ll run into issues with virtual environments taking a long time to load or not functioning properly. I’ve found the issues to be less common on this platform than others I’ve used. And I’ve found support to be very responsive when contacted. Even when things are a bit slow to load, the time allotted is usually more than enough. There is only 1 lab I can think of where I ran out of time because the lab architecture was being crabby.
Just like any lab with virtual machines, using keyboard commands can get interesting. Figuring out which CTRL key stays with the VM can make the labs an adventure, but I don’t often find this to be an issue. There have been a few times when entering a CTRL command resulted in my browser window closing. A little annoying, but I was able to relaunch and pick up where I left off.
Bottom line, I like when I am taking a training that uses Learn on Demand labs. I know the labs will be stable and well done. I would like for the platform to offer a way for students to easily access the labs without going through training, but I understand this isn’t the focus. There may be more options available if you go through contacting the sales, but I haven’t tried that since I have access through other means. I can see using the labs to verify skills when interviewing for positions or to assess where a new employee needs training. I really like the challenge approach to the labs. The different levels (Getting Started, Guided, Advanced, and Expert) build well and offer some clear learning pathways. I’ve found that by working through the Getting Started and Guided challenges on a topic I’m usually in really good shape for the Advanced and Expert labs.
Probably the best thing I can say about Learn on Demand is that I would consider their labs if I were developing training. Having taught online for a good while, I’m quite picky about the resources I use. I would have no problem using LOD as the platform for my labs, and the availability of pre-built labs makes it a great way to save a bit of time on class prep.