Virtual Labs: Transform your IT delivery

Jason Kinsella, CEO of Cloud PeopleJason Kinsella is CEO of Cloud People, an Australian online education company. Cloud People’s Virtual Labs platform has been developed to help education institutions deliver cloud-based practice labs to their students in a user-friendly, cost effective way. Here, Jason explains how Virtual Labs can transform the delivery of IT courses and improve student engagement.

Can you learn IT online?

When learning IT skills, hands-on practical experience is essential. IT practice labs bring theory to life, by giving students an environment in which they can apply the practical skills they learn in an IT course. While this might seem obvious, giving students access to real IT equipment for labs, coursework, or practical assessments remains a huge challenge for educational institutions and IT learning organisations. And as education moves from traditional classrooms to the online environment, this challenge is even greater.

What are IT practice labs and how are they beneficial?

An IT practice lab is a web-based environment that contains real IT equipment. Students can access this environment 24/7 using any modern web-browser to develop their skills, without having to install any software. By using IT practice labs, students can deepen their technology understanding without the risk of harming any production systems. In other words, they won’t ‘break’ anything.

Cloud People, has been working with TAFEs, universities and private registered training organisations (RTOs) for almost ten years. In that time, we have seen a number of ways that these organisations try to include IT practice labs as part of their IT learning delivery. Generally they either build an in-house solution, or they provide their students with access to a software vendor’s online labs offering, such as Microsoft Online Labs.

Unfortunately, both of these approaches have their limitations. In-house solutions are expensive to implement and difficult to maintain: They require significant datacentre infrastructure and a team of engineers to manage them. Software vendors’ online lab solutions, while usually provided at no cost to the institution, can be overly generic in their content, are limited in technical support, and operate in complete isolation from your LMS, so there is no visibility of student activity, and therefore no way to track their progress.

How does Virtual Labs transform the delivery of IT practice labs?

Two years ago at Cloud People, we started to develop a platform to solve these challenges. The result is Virtual Labs, a cloud-hosted platform that provides learning providers with a fast, easy and secure method to create full-featured IT practice labs. Our platform has been developed in close partnership with our customers, and in particular, course administrators. The creation and publishing of courses is intuitive on the platform, and it is easy to create new content, or import your existing content.

Virtual Labs is fully integrated with LMSs such as Moodle and eWorks’ TVC. As a result, course enrolments can be automated, and students can seamlessly gain access to practical modules of IT courses, with real equipment – servers, desktops and networking equipment – in their own secure, private cloud. Student results from Virtual Labs practical exercises can then be pushed back into the LMS, to assist with assessment, and provide evidence for auditors.

Our platform also contains detailed, real-time analytics about individual student interactions including access, usage and engagement. These insights are key to improving engagement and completion rates. With a growing focus on the measurement of learning and learner profiling, it is essential that learning providers measure and understand this information.

Virtual Labs LMS Dashboard

We have seen institutions increase student engagement and completion rates, while reducing the total cost of ownership by implementing Virtual Labs. This has been very encouraging for us. We still consider Virtual Labs to be a young product, and feedback from our customers is invaluable in helping us define the future product roadmap.

Do you think your institution could benefit from Virtual Labs?

If you’d like to know more about Virtual Labs, we are currently offering free Virtual Labs trials to all eWorks customers.. Please contact eWorks for more information.

Digital badges: The future of tracking staff development

Allison Miller, eWorks Accredited ConsultantAllison Miller is a member of eWorks’ team of accredited consultants, and a regular contributor to eWorks’ blog. Allison is passionate about providing learners with the knowledge and skills that they need in order to succeed in the world of work. And this means all learners – whether they are straight out of school or adult employees. Today Allison considers the nature of workplace learning and how to provide evidence of this learning.

How do people learn in the workplace?

Highly successful companies know that being a learning organisation is a key factor in helping them face the daily pressures of remaining competitive in an ever changing business world. Using strategies such as developing a shared organisational vision greatly increases the likelihood of their staff working together to achieve a common goal, and thereby contributing to their overall success.

Research (O’Keeffe, 2002) shows, however, that a high percentage of learning in the workplace is incidental through every day problem solving and experimentation, and is less reliant on formal training. Team or shared learning through regular discussions, open communication and shared findings provides even better learning outcomes than traditional education and training.

The 70:20:10 framework of learning

More recently, this learning is talked about as being part of the 70:20:10 framework of learning, and it is fast becoming the preferred way to improve workplace performance (Jennings, 2016).  That is:

  • 70% of workplace learning and development happens through day-to-day tasks, challenges and practice.
  • 20% of workplace learning and development happens when working with others and from observing what others do or have learned.
  • 10% of workplace learning and development happens through structured courses and programs.

While this is a fantastic model and a number of learning and development teams are using it, the problem still lies in capturing and tracking the evidence of people’s learning, whether that be formal, informal or non-formal learning.  This coupled with the fact that formal education and training can quite quickly go out of date. So how can the age-old issue of easily managing and monitoring staff training and development be solved?

Enter the digital badge

A digital badge is an online image which holds important information about a person’s abilities and experiences which can be shared online. Beyond its Boy Scout Badge image, the digital badge’s killer app is its embedded metadata. This metadata holds all of the information about a person’s achievements within the badge itself. It also verifies the issuer of the badge, and if relevant, identifies when the badge ‘expires’ or if ongoing professional development is required, such as for a White Card or CPD.

On issue, the digital badges can be displayed by the receiver in a number of ways, through a digital backpack, in an eportfolio or on a website. This form of digital credentialing has many advantages over traditional paper parchments and academic statements in that they are linked back to the ‘source of truth’ of the issuing organisation, and are very hard to ‘lose’.

digital badgesCredits: Modern Communication by CURSOCH

How can digital badges help to track achievements?

Digital badges are perfect in the workplace to help manage people’s training requirements. Imagine each line manager having a visual dashboard of digital badges which showcases the training and achievements of each staff member, and most importantly, what they haven’t achieved.

As these digital badges evolve, imagine they could change colour to highlight when training was due to be updated or is out of date. These badges also enable staff to display their own training and achievements as part of their digital portfolio / resume.

So who’s using them?

Deakin Digital, subsidiary of Deakin University, are using this form of credentialing to allow people to digitally document the skills they have gained in work and life (Presant, 2016). Once learners have completed a full catalogue of digital credentials they can use their digital badges to gain a unit of study as a pathway to a graduate degree (NMC, 2016).

Allyn Radford, CEO of Deakin Digital, describes this method as moving an organisation’s learning capabilities from being a black box, where you can’t see what’s inside, to that of a glass box, where leaders can see everything that their staff can do (and need to do).

The Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD) have implemented digital badges to recognise the contribution and achievements of learning and development professionals. Badges are issued to AITD members, to participants of AITD’s events and activities; to people who contribute to the running of AITD, and to the finalists of their Awards program.

Even Samsung has jumped on the bandwagon by issuing digital badges to reward staff for completing product based training.

Is it hard to get started using digital badges?

It’s REALLY easy to get started with digital badges if you are using a learning management system (LMS) such Moodle and Totara, as these systems already have built-in digital badge issuing capability. Partnered with their sister products, Mahara and Totara Social, receivers of the organisational issued digital badges can host them in their own online learning space as an all-encompassing digital badge organisational solution.

The difficulty comes if you would like to design and manage your own badges, and/or embed more sophisticated meta-data, but there is plenty of help around if you would like to go down this path.

Where to next?

First and foremost, it is crucial to consider the importance of being a learning organisation with regard to the success of your business, and how you are managing that now. Is there room for improvement, especially in meeting compliance? If there is, review some of the links in this article and do some of your own research to learn more about digital badges.

Alternatively, contact the eWorks team to discuss how you can use digital badges to track and manage your staff’s development.

Compliance, video assessment and the e-learning resistance

What did you get up to in 2015? In between helping our customers to get started or stay current in all aspects of online learning, we wrote a bunch of great blog posts. Compliance was a particularly hot topic, especially when it comes to registered training organisations. The use of video to engage learners was also popular, as was the use of video in general. And don’t forget e-learning design tips, course development and – perhaps most importantly – dealing with any resistance to the online approach from within your organisation. If you missed any of this, or simply need a roundup, here are our top ten most popular blogs from 2015.


1. Updated Toolboxes you can view on your iPad

Flexible Learning Toolboxes are stand-alone e-learning resources that cover a large range of topics, from aged care to plumbing and horticulture to food safety. Teachers and trainers can use more than 120 Toolboxes to deliver approximately 190 qualifications and support over 2,000 units of competency from a wide range of nationally-endorsed training packages. Three Toolboxes were updated in 2015.
Read more

2. Why do RTOs struggle with compliance?

It is not uncommon for an RTO to be found non-compliant in what was previously Standard 15 of the Standards for NVR RTOs 2012 when experiencing an audit (Standard One now replaces much of what was this standard prior to 2015). In fact, from October 2013 to March 2014, 78% of all existing RTOs were found non-compliant in their initial audit for Standard 15 – the elements that underpin quality in training and assessment.
Read more

3. Video assessment made easy

Are you frustrated by how complicated it can be to manipulate video and use it for assessment? This free smart phone (and tablet) app, that integrates with the assignment activity in Moodle, might be just what you need.
Read more

4. ASQA, industry engagement and RTOs – what you should be doing

What is industry engagement, why should registered training organisations (RTOs) bother with this approach, and what does the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) have to say about it all? Learn why this part of the Standards for RTOs 2015 is so important, and how to tick ASQA’s boxes without making life difficult for your industry contacts.
Read more

5. Top tips for using BigBlueButton

BigBlueButton (BBB) is an open-source online classroom package. It provides the latest classroom features and tools in eWorks’ TVC learning management system. Here we respond to some of the same queries that come through eWorks’ support desk from time to time. Originally published in 2014, this blog post well and truly stood the test of time.
Read more

6. The who and how of online course development

So you have decided to develop your own online course materials. Good for you! But before you commence, it is important to know what you need in order to achieve this successfully. There are a number of decisions your management team needs to make before you start employing people to start work. If you are thinking about developing your own online course materials, this blog post will help you avoid some common issues and pitfalls.
Read more

7. Language, literacy and numeracy skills – how technology can help

Did you know that one in two adult Australians are below the internationally recognised level of literacy and numeracy to effectively function in the workplace and beyond? What are the implications of this shocking statistic for the VET sector, and how technology can help to address the issue?
Read more

8. Six easy design tips for your e-learning projects

Six easy to understand and implement e-learning design tips from an expert designer. Published in late 2015, the fact that this blog made it into our top ten for the year really says it all.
Read more

9. How to beat the e-learning resistance

Some excellent advice about making online courses…wait for it…educational. Written based upon firsthand experience, with an emphasis on good learning design, this blog teaches you how to make e-learning work.
Read more

10. Using Mahara to demonstrate your professional currency

If you’re not sure about revised professional development requirements for VET teachers in the Standards for RTOs 2015 – or even if you think you are – this post will bring you up to speed.
Read more

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Improve your Moodle user experience

Jeanette Swain, eWorks ConsultantJeanette has worked in education and training for over 20 years as an environmental educator, e-learning leader and in quality and compliance. She is also a member of the talented team of Accredited Consultants at eWorks. In Jeanette’s first blog post she offered advice about how to take an e-learning check-up. Now Jeanette focuses on your learners, and considers how Moodle’s functions can ensure a positive experience for them.

What is user experience?

In my last Blog I talked about the user experience and asked the questions:

  • How consistent are your courses?
  • When trainers are course developers there are countless approaches to course development. Does this confuse your learners?
  • What are the organisational strategies you can use to ensure consistency of user experience?

So what is user experience? Wikipedia defines user experience or UX as involving a person’s emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system or service. User experience includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human–computer interaction and product ownership.

What does user experience look like at your organisation?

How do we begin designing the online learning experience with the end user, our learners, in mind? What functions does Moodle have to ensure a positive user experience?.

I have based the following Moodle User Experience Hierarchy of needs upon Maslow, Growth engineering and also Stephen Anderson’s user experience hierarchies of needs. I have tampered a little to get my point across but let’s explore the particular attributes of each:

moodle user experience hierarchy of needs

Moodle’s User Experience Hierarchy of Needs

1. Functionality – it does what it is supposed to do.

There are two aspects to this. The first one involves the service and the other the design.

  • Firstly, Moodle is a learning management system (LMS) that provides learning content to students. Yes it does that job and does it well at a system level, and eWorks ensures that the system runs well and without bugs.
  • Secondly, when it comes to course design various approaches can be used and this has an impact on the user experience. Complex courses using hidden and orphaned activities can render a Moodle course non-functional! If a link to an activity is hidden in a Moodle page or a Moodle book and the learner cannot find it again without searching madly, is that functional?

2. Reliable – it is stable and there when I need it.

This brings to mind several aspects of organisational practice:

  • Locating the link to the learning management system (LMS) on the organisation’s website. Is this different on site versus offsite?
  • Have you utilised the Moodle mobile? Can learners access what they want, where and how they want to?
  • How easy is the password reset? If you are using a single sign on system are the students aware of this?
  • Are all assessments and important course materials available to your learners?

3. Useable – it is intuitive and I can use it.

What type of material do you give your learners to assist them in using the system?

  • If each course is designed in a different way, then each course will require individual help guides or leave the learner in the lurch.
  • Can instructional materials be produced once for all courses, therefore saving time and money? Plus, your learners will not need to re-learn how to use the next course based upon trainer design.

Poor course design can take away the useability of Moodle. For example, if you think about visiting an online shopping website, there will be a call to action such as add to cart or checkout. Moodle activities such as assignments or forums or quizzes are quite obvious calls to action for a learner; they know they need to do something. Think about how you utilise these in your course. Adding blocks such as the activities block to a course can assist learners in locating and prioritising these activities across the course duration.

4. Pleasurable – it doesn’t detract from my learning.

Lack of consistency in course design can cause learners to be distracted. Good practice examples include:

  • Ensuring course documents are named the same name and not added in multiple places.
  • The use of consistent fonts, headings, layout, and colours.
  • Using white space – rather than cramming text into a page.
  • Using conditional release for activities and learning content, to ensure that the learning follows a structured pathway.

5. Personal – I feel like I am learning with friends.

This is part of course design and embraces connectivism as a learning theory or pedagogical view. How can learners have fun and learn from each other? Moodle gives you the tools to make learning a more personalised experience.

  • Moodle profile. Does each student add a profile picture? Can this be integrated with the student card process when users are created?
  • Messaging. Are learners encouraged to contact each other?
  • Have you added a participant’s block to the course to show when other learners are online? Adding the block with chat as activity to the course can encourage learners to seek answers to others and add to a sense of community.
  • Workshop. The workshop activity enables learners to review and peer assess the work of others.
  • Databases. Consider a bank of learner material curated by learners for learners. 

The moral of the story?

Let the tool do the work. Put your creativity into how you use the tools from an educational perspective. A consistent user experience for learners will make learning more pleasurable and personal and allow them to concentrate on the learning. An easy way to get a consistent look and feel is to invest in a more design focused theme at an organisational level and a consistent minimum standard for all courses. Contact Jeanette to focus on user experience as part of your eLearning check-up.