Choosing the right virtual classroom

When looking for a cloud-based training provider, there are a number of features you should look for to ensure that your online virtual classroom operates at the highest level.

To make the initial screening process easier, start off with these three essential basics. If the cloud-based training providers you are talking to cannot absolutely ensure that you will get the following features, then keep searching:

1. Architecture: It must be 100% cloud-based and a true SaaS model; you should not have to re-program or re-architect anything from your side.

2. A training-dedicated solution: It must offer all of the tools and features necessary for the best possible instructor/student experience.

3. Measurable ROI: It must enable you to measure the performance and results of your training environment

These three criteria must be your primary filters, and they will help you narrow down potential providers to a short list. Once you have the short list ready, you can start really digging…

Here are 15 of the most important features you should seek out, grouped under the three basics outlined above:

Architecture

When searching for a fully cloud-based training provider, make sure they can deliver on the following 7 benefits:

1. Worldwide data centers

Since the distance of your location from the cloud server will affect the speed of your connection, you should find a provider that has an international presence to ensure a rapid global training service.

2. Migration and integration of external environments

It is crucial to be able to easily migrate existing environments and simply integrate with other systems through REST-based APIs. You must be able to swiftly add new information without duplicates or admin errors.

3. Exportable environment

If you want to be able to export your complex training environment to an external disk for backup, or to deploy it locally, you will require flexibility.  You should be able to do what you wish with your training environment, where you wish, without having to be confined to a particular provider’s platform.

4. Complex networking support

Complex networks, such as IP addresses all on the same virtual machine networks, are often used with training. You should look for a provider that supports complex networking so that spinning up environments will be much easier than an otherwise time-consuming development process in a public cloud environment.

5. Deployment-ready templates

Ready-made templates allow for the quick deployment of pre-configured virtual training environments, without the need to set up or test them yourself.

6. Full customization

Your training lab and online course should be easily modified and customized even with the use of templates. The cloud architecture should allow full customization.

7. Scalability

Rapid environment provisioning should allow you to add as many participants as you wish, when you wish, which will allow you to grow the reach of your training courses. You should be able to accommodate a fluctuating number of students, quickly, and provide them with access to a training environment without much effort from your side.

Dedicated for Training

The solution you choose should be specifically designed for training – with all the bells and whistles.

First of all, you should make sure the solution gives instructors the capabilities to provide students with the same support they would be able to give in more traditional classroom environments. These include:

  • Over the shoulder” views to monitor student performance
  • The ability to assume control over a student’s machine to provide on-screen instructions, instantly
  • The option to share screens in real-time with students, thus providing an effective training experience

Secondly, for students to receive a thorough and engaging learning experience, they need certain built-in features, such as:

  • Social learning
  • Live chat
  • Environment refresh

The built-in features should allow students to ask questions, check their progress, interact with other students, and fulfill other needs.

To further improve upon and strengthen the interactive learning experience, the training lab should also support videos, multimedia presentations and other interactive content and situations.

Another important training-dedicated feature to look for is easy access to reports on individual student performance. This helps trainers understand how well students are progressing. Visibility into student progress, with clear insights, helps trainers see where they can make improvements in their training programs.

Cloud economics and measurable ROI

When implementing a cloud-based training solution, you must make sure that it provides the greatest benefits and value for your business. Thus, you should look for a solution that can help you maximize your investment. You should look for these 3 features, which can help you evaluate the economics of transitioning your training to the cloud:

1. Usage reports

Simple, easy-to-follow reports on training lab usage provides instructors with important details regarding how the environment is used. The reports also ultimately ensure that instructors avoid wasting resources, helping to get the best possible ROI.

2. Licensing fees included with templates

You should not have to pay extra fees for licenses when using a 3rd party provider for your training environments. Licenses to various solutions should be part of the package, and you should inquire with your provider which are included. This feature saves resources and opens access to a wide range of pre-installed environments.

3. Environment suspend mode

You should be able to have as many training environments as you need, even if the amount fluctuates. This means that you should have the ability to suspend or delete unused or idle labs, so you can use your active environments more efficiently and save on costs.

Once you narrow down your list of potential cloud-based training providers to the ones who provide these features, there is one more acid-test to get an even shorter list — The “Less than a minute” test:

Training managers should have immediate access to virtual infrastructure resources, including virtualized hardware, servers, networking, storage and pre-installed operating systems, and application licenses. If a hosted lab environment cannot enable training managers to bring their on-site training environments to the cloud within this time frame, scratch them from your list.

Final thoughts

There are plenty of cloud-based training providers on the market, these days, and they all make big promises and paint a bright future for your business, if you work with them. Identifying the providers who make empty promises and who do not meet your minimum requirements is crucial, and it is ultimately up to you to evaluate them and select the right one for your business.

With this guide of must-have features, you should be able to easily weed out the average providers, and find the one that fits your requirements and can enable you to provide a high level of effective training.

Michal Frenkel

Michal Frenkel is Director of Product at CloudShare. She is responsible for translating CloudShare’s vision into reality and for making sure that customers get the best product experience possible. Michal holds an MSc in Computer Science from Bar-Ilan University in Israel.