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An update on how we’re creating new ACG content

Terry Cox
Terry Cox

Earlier this year, we merged the 100+ full-time content developers at A Cloud Guru and Linux Academy into one unified team. Our goal is to create the “best of both worlds”: a combined content library that ACG and Linux Academy learners can both use to get the freshest, most effective, most comprehensive cloud learning anywhere.

Sounds great, we know. But it turns out that simple goal has a few complexities under the surface.

Merge conflict?

Any software engineer knows that merging work from two different teams can lead to plenty of puzzling challenges (and maybe the desire to delete your root volume and switch careers to artisan woodworking). Here are just some of the strange questions that confronted our new, combined team in the spring and summer of 2020:

  • ACG and Linux Academy had developed many courses that overlapped, particularly for popular cloud certifications; if we merged the two content libraries, which courses would “win”?
  • A Cloud Guru and Linux Academy courses were known for different things: ACG traditionally provided shorter courses with a fast track to certification, whereas Linux Academy was known for more involved deep dives in the surrounding topic area. Which training style would we use going forward?
  • How would we integrate Linux Academy’s powerful Hands-On Labs into the ACG course catalog? 

We get versions of these questions every day from our learners, and while we continue to listen and adjust based on your feedback, in this post we’ll do our best to provide transparent answers on our approach so far.

How we are designing certification courses going forward

First, we acknowledge a fundamental principle: not everyone learns the same way. And that’s okay! If you joined the Linux Academy community looking for 40+ hour deep dives, the fast-ramp-to-certification style of historic ACG courses might not be what you are looking for … and vice versa. 

But whatever your learning style, we need to make sure we’re providing you with the tools you need to advance your career in the cloud. So starting in July 2020, all new certification courses developed for ACG / Linux Academy are following this pattern:

  • A “primary” certification course that focuses on getting you prepared to pass the certification exam. These courses typically run 6 to 18 hours in length and will include Hands-On Labs, Quizzes, and a Practice Exam.
  • Supporting “Deep Dive” courses that drill deeper into the different knowledge domains in a course with additional lessons and Hands-On Labs. There might be several of these per course depending on the number of domain areas, and each Deep Dive might be up to 10+ hours in length.

This plan enables you to jump into the shorter course if all you need is a quick refresher for certification, or take more time on the concepts by dipping into the Deep Dives. 

Here’s how we’ve put this new model into practice for the AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional certification path:

Primary Certification Course:

AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional (DOP-C01 Exam) [10.2 hours]

Supporting “Deep Dive” Courses:

Total time: 46 hours

Note that although the time length for the primary course is shorter than the old DevOps Professional course you might remember from Linux Academy, the total amount of learning remains the same (or even greater); we’ve just broken it down differently to give you more flexibility in how you study.

We also recognize that more work is needed to make the supporting courses easily discoverable across the ACG and LA platforms. Our product and engineering teams are working hard on this, and you’ll notice more improvements here in the coming weeks. Please continue to keep us honest with your feedback, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about a particular course.

In addition, every new course (cert-prep or otherwise), starting from July 2020, includes Linux Academy-style Hands-On Labs as a core component. We’re doing this because we believe it’s very important that you get not just exposure to how to do something, but also context on when and why you might do it.

Finally, we are updating existing A Cloud Guru courses to include new Hands-On Labs as well. For example, we’re excited to announce that you’ll see Hands-On Labs added to Ryan Kroonenburg’s flagship AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate certification course as soon as early October. We appreciate your patience as we fill in even more labs in the weeks and months to come.

A note on deprecations

When the new, combined ACG platform launched last month, many of our learners noticed larger-than-usual numbers of courses being marked “deprecated” on both ACG and Linux Academy. We understand that this caused some confusion, and we want to be transparent about what is going on here and why.

Due to the high rate of change in modern technology, both A Cloud Guru and Linux Academy have always been very serious about keeping our content as up-to-date as possible. Often that means proactively tweaking our existing courses; sometimes, it means we altogether retire older courses and replace them with new ones. As we combined our two content catalogs into a cloud learning behemoth of more than 300 courses, we had many tough decisions to make about which content to support moving forward, given the degree of overlap between the two libraries. Here are some of the things both ACG and Linux Academy historically looked at when deciding whether to deprecate/replace a course:

  • Freshness – is the content up to date?
  • Quality – how do our learners rate the course? (We take this input very seriously)
  • Engagement – how many learners are actually using this course?
  • Notoriety – is this course very representative of the classic ACG or LA learning experience?

When we deprecate a course as a combined team, we do so to ensure that we can provide the highest-quality training on that topic in the future. That said, we understand that we need to be more deliberate in how we handle deprecations so that our students have ample time to get what they need from each course during their learning journey. 

In response to feedback from the Linux Academy community, as of Oct 2, we are extending access to many legacy courses on the Linux Academy platform through the end of the year, and will keep you informed as updated courses become available.

Going forward, we will take the following steps when we have identified that a course needs to be deprecated/retired:

  • We will place a clear notice in the course description with a specific date that the course will be deprecated. This date will be no less than eight weeks before the scheduled deprecation.
  • We will add a video that talks about the deprecation and describes the content that will be replacing it (or, if the content will not be replaced directly, provides guidance on related content that can be taken).
  • When new content is ready to replace the course, we will add a link to that new material in a notice on the course. At that point, we will kick off a 30 day ‘grace period’ for everyone to ‘wrap up’ learning on that content and begin transitioning to the updated material.

We are also working with our product and engineering teams on other ways to make sure no one is caught unaware that a course is being deprecated. Look for more announcements on that as we evolve our platforms together.

Finally, thank you for coming with us on this journey. We’re building a sustainable future for cloud education, and your feedback makes a big difference in how A Cloud Guru evolves going forward. For any questions as we navigate these changes together, please don’t hesitate to reach out at support@acloud.guru. 

Terry Cox is a 20-year veteran of the IT industry. He created many of Linux Academy’s first training courses, and now serves as SVP of content at A Cloud Guru.

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