In these tough economic times budget cuts have become the norm, and the IT training budget is often one of the first things to go. In some ways this is understandable because Microsoft training classes tend to be expensive. A five-day training class typically costs around $2,500. Never mind the associated travel costs and the lost productivity that occurs when staff members miss a week of work for training.
If taking an on-premise Microsoft certification class is out of the question then you might be looking for other training options. Believe it or not, Microsoft actually provides free training through the Microsoft Virtual Academy.
The Microsoft Virtual Academy is a cloud-based training portal. According to some sources, the Microsoft Virtual Academy was first put in place to provide IT professionals with training on Microsoft’s cloud based technologies. Today, however, you can receive free training on an extremely wide range of Microsoft products and technologies.
Unlike some of Microsoft’s other educational offerings, you don’t have to meet any criteria in order to participate. The academy and its vast library of content are freely available to anyone!
Registration for the Microsoft Virtual Academy is quick and easy. The registration process consists of providing your name, geographic location, and answering a couple of other simple questions. Upon doing so, Microsoft will email you a link that you can use to activate your membership. The entire registration process takes less than five minutes to complete.
Once you have registered and signed into the Microsoft Virtual Academy, choose a technical track. A track could best be described as an area of study. For example, some of the available tracks are Windows Server 2012: Server Virtualization, Windows Server 2012: Technical Overview, and Windows Server 2012: Storage.
As you can see, the track offerings are not pulled from the library of live Microsoft certification courses. You won’t for example, find a five-day training course on Windows Server 2012. Even so, much of the same information that you would receive in a typical live training event is scattered throughout the various tracks. Currently, Microsoft offers 51 different tracks of study, and new tracks are being added all the time.
Obviously, it can be tough to choose the training track that is most appropriate for you. Fortunately, you don’t have to choose. Microsoft does not limit the amount of free training that you can receive. You can use as many of the training tracks as you like. And if you start a training track and decide that it isn’t what you were looking for, there is no obligation to complete the track before starting another one.
Once you have selected a track, it’s time to get started with the actual training process. Each track consists of one or more modules. A module can be thought of as a class within a track. For example, the Windows Server 2012: Server Virtualization track consists of two modules:
- Virtual Machine Scale and Mobility
- Virtual Machine Availability with Hyper-V
A module’s contents vary widely from one module to the next. Some modules consist of nothing more than links to relevant TechNet articles. Other modules offer training videos, and some modules include a mixture of content types.
The one element that exists in every module is a self assessment quiz. The self assessment experience is very similar to that of taking a Microsoft certification exam. The questions follow the same general format as a Microsoft certification exam (multiple choice, choose all of the correct answers, etc.). Furthermore, the self assessment is timed and the questions are of a difficulty level that is comparable to a certification exam.
The biggest differences between self assessments and certification exams are that you do not receive a certification for passing a self assessment, and self assessments tend to be shorter than a Microsoft certification exam. While a certification exam usually has about fifty questions, a self assessment might only have five or ten questions.
The Microsoft Virtual Academy uses a point system to help IT pros track their progress. Academy members earn points for completing various tasks. For example, you can earn points for reading the TechNet articles within a module or by watching a module’s training videos. You also receive points for successfully completing a self assessment. You will receive bonus points when you complete all of the tracks within a module.
Microsoft awards membership levels based on the number of points earned. The membership levels are as follows:
- Bronze: 0 to 99 points
- Silver: 100 to 499 points
- Gold: 500 to 2999 points
- Platinum: 3000 points or more
The Microsoft Virtual Academy contains a dashboard view through which you can keep track of the points that you have earned, and the modules and tracks that you have completed. You can also view your Microsoft Virtual Academy ranking compared as compared with all other academy members and members in your own country.
Microsoft also gives you the option of sharing your profile. Some members share their profile as a way of making their achievements visible to potential employers.
If you are studying for a specific Microsoft certification exam, using the Microsoft Virtual Academy might not be the best option. Even though most of the information that you need to pass an exam might be available through the Microsoft Virtual Academy, the tracks are not directly aligned with specific certification exams. However, if your goal is simply to learn a Microsoft technology or if you need to pass a certification exam but have no budget for doing so then the Microsoft Virtual Academy can be a very attractive option.