Our Hands-on Labs have a new look

Building new hands-on labs and improving our existing labs is a major focus of Cloud Academy for 2017 and beyond. If you search “types of adult learning,” you will get approximately 16.9 gazillion hits. Many will boast about how they meet the needs of a certain type of learner (up to 70 different types)! Regardless, the common thread in most of these articles is the importance of kinesthetic learning (also known as experiential or tactile learning). For most of us, actually doing something is key to transitioning concepts from short- to long-term memory. This is especially true when it comes to technical subject matter.

Cloud Academy holds customer feedback in very high regard. This feedback has been essential as we continue to improve our hands-on labs. For example, some of you said that the diagram for the lab was very helpful in understanding what to do in the lab. This got us thinking, How could we improve the format of our labs to provide a better user experience? Today, I’m excited to share some of the major changes that we have already started implementing in both new and existing labs. Let’s take a look.

Lab Landing Page

The goal of the landing page is to give you a good idea of what you are getting into when you click the “Start Lab” button. The new landing page contains the following sections:

  • Overview: This contains the high-level information you need to know about the lab. 
  • Objectives: Task-based objectives show you what you will be able to do once you have completed the lab.
  • Prerequisites: Usually speaks to prerequisite knowledge, but sometimes includes required software.
  • Lab Environment Diagrams: These provide a high-level view of the lab environment. The diagrams help you understand which services are used in the lab:
    • Before diagram (optional): What the lab environment will look like after you click “Start Lab”, but before you complete any instructions. Sometimes Cloud Academy builds assets for you to help streamline the learning experience.
    • After diagram (mandatory): What you will build by following the instructions in each step of the lab.

The following are examples of before and after diagrams from the Continuous Integration and Deployment with AWS Code Services lab.
AWS VPC - after

Lab Steps

Lab Steps are the heart of the lab. They are now broken into three sections:

  1. Introduction: This section tells you what you will be doing in the lab and includes an overview of key services and topics.
  2. Instructions: Detailed guidance for completing each task, often with the aid of screenshots. (Especially for our beginner and intermediate level labs. We listened to our visual learners too! (wink))
  3. Summary: A quick wrap up that focuses on the salient points of the Lab Step.

Lab Steps are not meant to repeat the more robust information contained within a Cloud Academy Learning Path or Course, nor the exhaustive cloud provider’s documentation set. Rather, a Lab Step introduces you to the task at hand, leads you through completing it, then quickly reminds you of a few key points that you just learned.
Important! These labs are designed to teach you not just what to do, but also why, because you will need to be able to apply the knowledge in the real world. So, although you may be tempted to jump straight to the Instructions… don’t! The other sections are brief to guard against wasting time, but they help provide important context. If you perform the Instructions without reading the other sections you may be reduced to simply mimicking and run the risk of wondering “why am I doing this again?”

Format for Instructions

It’s worth taking a moment longer to familiarize yourself with the main conventions adopted for Instructions within a Lab Step. No matter who the Cloud Academy developer is, the end result is stylistically consistent in order to improve the learning experience. Here are the key conventions that we employ to provide a similar look and feel for each lab:

  • User Interface (UI) elements are bold: This will help you identify sections or individual parts of the UI. (Example: Click Next then Create Cluster to…)
  • What you should enter is in italics: This usually refers to a field within a form. (Widget Name: MyWidgetName. Description: The Widget will be used to…)
  • Short in-line commands are in code-font. For example: Use the ls command to make sure the configuration file is in your local directory.
  • Code snippets or a command along with example output are pre-formatted with the entire block in code-font. For example: Make sure the system load has returned to an acceptable, low number:


11:06 up 14 days, 8:59, 3 users, load averages: 1.83 1.86 1.82

There are other conventions that you may notice, but these are the primary ones.

Flotsam and Jetsam

“Anything else?” you ask… Sure!
Cloud Academy strongly encourages the use of two screens (when possible) or at least two browser tabs when following the Instructions in a Lab Step. Use one screen (or tab) for the Cloud Academy Instructions, and one for following the instructions (usually in the console, SSH, or RDP connection).

Great content + Great technology = Great learning experience! In addition to the updates in this post, which will be very apparent for anyone firing up our Labs, we’re adding many enhancements in the actual Cloud Academy platform. Our Lab R&D and Lab Platform teams are committed to continuously improving our platform and providing new functionalities. Stay tuned for new updates!

Key Takeaways

Here is what you can expect from new and revised Labs on the Cloud Academy Platform:

  • A consistent, familiar look and feel that is easy to understand. No need to spend any extra cycles figuring out anything but the technology itself.
  • Improved quality of Lab content.
  • A better Lab platform as new features are implemented and pushed live.

Test Drive

Click on any of the images below to take one of our new labs for a spin!
New Azure Lab: 
Getting started with Docker on Linux

New Beginner AWS Lab: 
Getting started with Amazon Redshift








New Int. AWS Lab
Using Amazon Key Management Service to Encrypt S3
FREE Rebuilt AWS Labs








Create your First Amazon S3 Bucket










To see our latest collection of Labs, check out our Content Library Labs section.

Written by

Greg DeRenne

Greg DeRenne is a Lab Researcher and Developer at Cloud Academy. Greg has worked at seven bay area tech startups. The last ~15 years he has devoted to training and education related roles. Greg enjoys learning new technologies and building labs and associated content to help others ease their learning curve. Whether it's coaching his three daughter's soccer team or helping his buddies negotiate the mountain bike trails of northern California, he enjoys the hands-on element of learning. That is why Greg is passionate about the importance of hands-on labs when learning new cloud technologies.

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