In a world where software is rapidly evolving, how can you empower users to use your company’s software to its fullest capability? What technology can you use to deliver an IT or technical training experience that is optimized for fast, fun and effective learning? Meet the virtual training lab. When it comes to delivering effective software training, virtual labs are a powerful technology for providing the engaging, hands-on learning experiences that software users need.

Last year, TSIA released a report that examined the adoption of 18 technologies in education services. Virtual lab technology ranked second highest in terms of satisfaction scores among survey participants – and for good reason. A virtual lab is not a simulation. Rather, it is the actual product, but in a non-production environment where users can experiment without affecting the actual production environment. It empowers learners to learn by doing, which, in turn, improves knowledge retention rates.

The benefits of virtual labs are not limited to higher retention. Other benefits include:

  • Lower training costs: Virtual labs eliminate the need to maintain a physical, in-person lab or to invest substantial resources into IT.
  • Scalability: Virtual labs can scale to meet almost any training demand. Whether it’s a handful of learners or thousands, they will receive the same high-quality training experience.
  • Greater reach: As long as users have a web browser and internet connection, they can access a lab from any location.
  • Post-class access: Virtual training labs allow access outside of the course for a defined period of time, providing learners with the opportunity to really dig into course content.

Below are some use cases for using virtual labs in IT and technical training.

Product Training for Employees

Whether you are investing in a new technology or releasing a major update of your own software, your employees likely need training to learn how to use it. Because virtual labs are cloud-based, there is no need for IT to configure traditional, in-person training sessions. What’s more, employees can access a training lab from any browser, ensuring better user adoption and engagement.

Customer and Partner Training

The pain of installing software on individual laptops cannot be understated. There’s always someone who can’t install the software because he or she has an ancient laptop or an outdated operating system, or someone brings a laptop to training that’s locked down due to corporate software installation policies. Making a web browser the only requirement means that even people with the oldest of machines can participate in software training and harness powerful servers in the cloud to complete complex data analysis or processing.

Itential, a software company that provides network automation software, uses virtual labs for its customer and partner training. Andrew Austin, director of the company’s training program, says that with virtual labs, the company has “recovered 80 percent of the training team’s time that is now used to develop and improve new course material for customers. Itential is able to deliver more training than previously possible. Estimated projections indicate over 100 percent growth in training attendance.”

Sales Enablement and Product Demos

Another popular use for virtual labs is for sales enablement, particularly for complex software applications. All too often, the sales process is delayed because the prospective buyer can’t understand the product’s value due to its complexity. Sales teams can set up demonstrations and send collateral, but unless the prospect can actually use the product, the sales cycle may stall. After all, seeing is believing. A virtual lab solves this problem by enabling the buyer to take it for a “test drive.”

The virtual lab can also be used for larger sales initiatives, like user conferences and summits. InterSystems, a big data software company, uses virtual labs to accelerate product adoption with “try before you buy” experiences. Its annual summit for users and prospective customers includes virtual lab stations that allow attendees to preview and test products. Doug Foster, manager of online learning at InterSystems, says, “The biggest advantage of using Virtual Labs has been our ability to isolate learning for our audience. We can pre-configure each environment to keep them focused on learning objectives – not all of the other stuff.”

With virtual labs, it’s easy to convert prospective users into paying users, enhancing customer conversion using passive lead generation. For example, Redis Labs, a database platform, allows both existing and prospective users to take online courses created by Redis Labs’ team. This approach fosters a sense of community, engages new users, and helps share the Redis platform and expertise with a wide-ranging audience. The online courses also give the company an opportunity to find out who its most engaged prospects are and give that information to its sales team.

Developer Training

Developers can benefit from using a virtual lab for learning a new software development kit, API or programming language. When it comes to problem-solving, particularly for software debugging and troubleshooting, no amount of written content or lectures can compete with a hands-on experience. Companies can set up a sandbox environment, a virtual lab that allows developers to solve problems without the risk of breaking the live system. In addition, the virtual environment is an essential tool for developers who need to test the code of new software.

The Future of Software Training

As software development continues to evolve and learners continue to demand just-in-time, just-for-me learning experiences, the use cases for virtual training labs will continue to grow. The future of virtual labs is brighter than ever.