When I wrote about the Australian IT skills shortage (Where are the IT jobs) earlier in the week, I highlighted that research had identified a growing need from employers for applicants with very specific Microsoft skills sets - eg experience in virtualisation and cloud computing, as well as product specific skills. And I’d mentioned the Microsoft IT Academy programme as one route for institutions to help their students get recognised certifications.

The Microsoft Virtual Academy

imageA colleague has also reminded me about the Microsoft Virtual Academy, which is an online training centre which uses some of the characteristics of game-based learning to motivate learners. It’s free and open to anybody, not just those students in formal education institutions, and focuses on a range of Microsoft cloud-based technologies. As the site says:

  Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA) is a fully cloud-based learning experience focusing on Microsoft Cloud Technologies. You can access a variety of training content online and become one of the renowned experts in the IT Pro community around the world. MVA provides its users with a virtual university experience: the student can select a track and study the material and then do the self-assessment. By doing so, they will collect points that will promote them to a Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum Level. Students on MVA can get access to all the information, statistics and advancements of their training career, allowing them to maintain a long-term relationship with Microsoft. Learning through MVA is free of charge, and you can study the contents at any time and at your own pace.  


There are currently 310,000 students registered, and they’ve collectively taken 290,000 self-assessments (of which 6,000 were within the last week).

Topics covered include:

  • Clustering
  • Hyper-V
  • Office 365
  • Private Cloud
  • Public Cloud
  • Security
  • SQL Azure
  • System Center Virtual Machine Manager
  • Virtualisation
  • Windows Azure

The whole system runs in the Cloud, as it’s built on Windows Azure. This means that the data can be made public, or kept private, and the system can scale up as the student base grows.

The MVA league tables

Game-based learning

The interesting game-based learning aspects of the MVA site are things like the league tables on the right. All of the courses have specific points allocations (based on level, type of learning activity etc), and as learners progress through courses and assessments, they can accumulate points to move through the bronze/silver/gold/platinum levels. And on their profile they can also see their position in the national and global league tables.

The assessments are not a replacement for the formal certifications which are required to reach Microsoft certified status (eg MCP or MCSE), but it is an interesting twist to delivering learning activities, and really interesting to see how many individuals voluntary sign up for and complete courses and assessments.

Who would have guessed that over a quarter of a million students would sign up for a virtual academy?

What does it mean for the future of Learning Management Systems?

I’ve been watching the Learning Management System market change over the last couple of years, as we’ve moved away from a monolithic, ‘enterprise’ mindset for learning management. Instead of thinking that the answer lies in a big, central, controlled learning management system, we are starting to see organisations use a mixture of different systems to deliver and assess learning activities - and the MVA is a good example of something built for one specific purpose.

In the future of learning management systems, I think we’re going to see more of these custom portals, delivering learning on specific subjects, and a greater need to integrate the learning and assessment data across them - rather than having only a single system per institution that can deliver courses. We’re a long way from solving the challenges this fragmentation delivers, but we’re definitely on the journey. If you work in a school or college, how would the courses in the MVA help you to reach your teaching and learning goals? And how would you link it to what goes on in your classroom, and your own assessment and data systems?

Learn MoreGo to the Microsoft Virtual Academy