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Let’s Talk about Hands-on Labs

After weeks of preparation, your event is finally here, and you are ready to unleash your Hands-on Labs to the world.

So, what do you need to think about when it comes to running Hands-on Labs at an event? Tons!  Let’s break it down.

There are 2 Types of Hands-on Labs

There are generally two ways HOLs are run: Self-paced and Instructor-led.  Both have their advantages and can suit different learning styles, depending on your software product and users.

Self-paced

Self-paced labs are great for drop-n/drop-out, self-directed learning.

With a self-paced lab, the end user will grab a seat at a computer and request a specific lab from a menu. Following the script, the user can then proceed through their chosen lab. With this type of lab, their are a few things to note:  sometimes this may mean your user will go off script, and sometimes this can mean that your user doesn’t finish the lab for whatever reason. Either way, a self-paced Hands-on Lab will help your user get a feel for your technology and a brief nugget of learning.

Instructor-led

Instructor-led Hands-on Labs typically have a classroom format and  are generally held in smaller, dedicated rooms. Often the end user will have to book a space in the Instructor-led Lab in advance.

Have a knowledgeable tutor to guide your users through the Hands-on Lab:

  1. A good instructor will provide additional context and explanation, giving your user the opportunity to ask questions during the lab.
  2. Users can sit down and focus on the lab, offering great motivation to complete the lab.  Your users won’t be as tempted to drop out of the lab to grab a coffee and run off to another session.

Instructor-led Hands-on Labs allow your users to get deeply immersed in your technology.  Most importantly, instructor-led HOLs offer your user the opportunity to ask how your software product can apply to their enterprise!

Hands-on Labs Prep

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when planning your next on-site HOL:

Proctors

Have knowledgeable assistants in the lab room. In a self-paced lab, they can help users who get stuck and prevent users from abandoning a lab out of frustration. In instructor-led labs, assistants can offer help to address a specific user’s issue or question, freeing up the instructor to continue on with the HOL.

Though a bit of a challenge in self-paced HOLs offering a large menu of labs, ensure that the proctors are familiar with your software product.  For instructor-led labs, have the proctors walk through the lab in advance. They shouldn’t just know the technology, they should understand the flow of the lab to easily help guide your user through your software product.

Known Issues

Ensure that any issues with the labs are well understood in advance. With the fast-paced nature of cloud services, often lab content can get out of date quite quickly. Document these changes and provide the documented changes to your instructor, proctors, and/or users.

Available Credentials

Have your credentials on hand!  In an instructor-led lab, the credentials are often distributed to the attendees on slips of paper at the start of the lab. Make sure you have enough for all of your users! For self-pace labs, make sure that the common credentials, such as login information for lab machines, are posted in an easily seen place for the user.

Fixing Issues

For a week-long conference, it is acceptable to take a lab offline for a quick fix. It’s always better to fix a lab and give the attendees an opportunity to try the lab again later in the week, than to display a partially broken lab, risking dissatisfaction.

Feedback

Get feedback from your attendees! Without it, you can’t improve your next round of labs. For instructor-led labs, hand out surveys at the end. For self-paced HOLs, offer a link to an online survey at the end of the lab. However you choose to survey your self-paced lab users, make sure you capture the thoughts of those who did not complete the lab, as these users will have the most valuable thoughts on how you can improve your next lab!

When in doubt, remember why you are hosting hands-on labs.  Ideally, you want your (potential) customers to have a great experience with your software product, leaving them wanting to learn more and dig a bit deeper into your product. Follow these tips, and you will be on your way to clinching that deal!