We, at Linux Academy and Cloud Assessments, believe in hands-on training — it is part of our DNA because that is one of the principles that we were built on. 

Because there wasn’t anything like it out there, we had to build our very own hands-on lab platform to support our hundreds of thousands of students and the technical concepts that you need to learn. 

Once we built the platform, we ran into a challenge marketing our hands-on labs. The reason is because others in the industry use the term hands-on labs to mean something entirely different. They mean that you will watch a video that shows how to do something on-screen, whereas our hands-on labs means that you, as our student, get to launch a real lab environment (such as an AWS console, Azure console, or server instances with different combinations of operating systems and software) and you get to learn in those environments as you follow along with our written guides and videos — after all, if you need to troubleshoot an issue in the real-world, you need to have that hands-on knowledge and not just knowledge learned from watching videos.

This is significant because there is no better way to learn than by experience. The only way to get experience is by doing and our hands-on labs help you do.

After building our hands-on lab system, which quickly became popular, we had another thought. What if we could take these hands-on labs to another level? What if we could do two things:

  1. Show you real-time progress as you go through labs
  2. Understand your strengths and weaknesses based on how you perform in labs

After investing in R&D, we found a way to do all of this.

When thinking about it, though, we realized that communicating the value of our hands-on labs was challenging enough, and adding even more features and options would cause even more confusion unless we could re-brand it all under one name. Plus, these features were going to live on our Cloud Assessments platform (but also be part of Linux Academy courses and available to all of our paying students), so this gave us an opportunity to re-brand our hands-on labs and hands-on training…and that’s when Learning Activities were born.

The name Learning Activities communicates two things:

  1. They are for learning
  2. They are activities

An activity indicates taking an action…doing something instead of simply watching someone else do it. And with the term “learning”, we set these activities as being learning-first. This is the major difference between Challenges and Learning Activities. Challenges are testing-first. Learning Activities are learning-first. Or, another way to put it if you are a gamer, Challenges are bosses while Learning Activities are levels that build up your XP so you can fight tougher bosses.

Now, let’s take a look at examples.

Examples of Learning Activities

Here is an example of a live environment Learning Activity that makes use of videos and an AWS environment – Introduction to Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service)

Introduction to Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) Learning Activity detail page

Detail page for Learning Activity

Introduction to Amazon S3 launched Learning Activity detail page

Learning Activity in progress

AWS Console example

AWS Console for you to practice in that we provide

As you can see, we provide the video lesson(s) on the right, and the Credentials, Instructions, and Tasks on the left. 

The credentials provide you with access to a real AWS environment (or Azure/OpenStack/Linux environment), which oftentimes has a scenario already pre-deployed so you can dive right in and not have to pay extra for those resources. (This should look fairly similar to you if you’ve ever used our hands-on labs.)

One of the key differences though is the tasks. The tasks show you what’s expected from this activity. By the end of the activity, all 4 of the tasks shown above should be checked off, which means they’ve been completed. This happens thanks to our real-time grader engine.

This engine can tell what you have successfully completed in that live AWS environment, and what you still need to complete (or improperly configured and need to fix).

Example of real-time grading for Learning Activities

Tasks checking off in real-time as they are completed

Learning Activities tasks with explanation

Tasks with step-by-step and bite-sized explanations

If you are stuck even after using the video guide or written guide, or if you just want a quick tip, you can click on the question mark next to the task in order to get bite-sized instructions and explanation of how & why to complete this task. That way, you can figure it out and learn faster instead of having to go through an entire video or written lab guide again. This reinforces Cloud Assessment’s philosophy of lean learning — which is all about learning faster by focusing on what you don’t know.

Everything I’ve just mentioned is now part of your Linux Academy & Cloud Assessments membership. We already rolled it out to all new content launched after April 1st 2018, and you don’t even have to pay anything extra to get it :-).

We’ve got some great Linux Academy and Cloud Assessments content and features being worked on for 2018 that we can’t wait to share with you. In the meantime, enjoy our new Learning Activities!

Thank you for using Linux Academy and Cloud Assessments and thank you so much for your amazing feedback so far! Please keep it coming!

If you’re not already training with us, we’ve got a 7-days free trial that gets you access to all of our platforms — Linux Academy, Cloud Assessments, and Scale Your Code.

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