As of late January, I’m a ranger. Not a park ranger, or someone who drives a Ford Ranger, but a Trailhead Ranger. Of the Salesforce variety.

Related: How I completed the Salesforce Lightening Challenge.

Ranger is one of many levels of recognition you can earn on Trailhead, Salesforce’s free online training service for its cloud-based platforms. Being a Ranger is the top designation a user can currently earn, but getting there isn’t easy or quick.

A few years ago, I had heard about the reputation of Salesforce as a CRM company, but I wanted to improve my skills within the CRM itself. Enter Trailhead. This tool was the perfect one for getting me ramped up on the platform, and not just by seeing screenshots. It actually helped me walk through challenges and complete configurations in a real Sales Cloud environment, preparing me for the real world.

Salesforce launched Trailhead at Dreamforce 2014. The team constantly works to bring new content to the site, encompassing an ever-expanding group of Salesforce clouds. Here’s how it works. Sign up for a Trailhead account, and while you’re at it, register for a free org in which to do your challenges. Connect it to your Trailhead account, so you always get credit for your challenges.

Trailhead constantly incorporates new content, encompassing an ever-expanding group of Salesforce clouds.

Trailhead surfaces up training materials in a few different ways. The main segment is called a module, which has a targeted focus, such as Lightning Experience Basics or User Authentication. Within each module are multiple units, which will teach a specific element related to that module. For example, the Lightning Experience Basics module has units on getting started, deciding if Lightning is right for your company, and enabling the feature.

Units end with either a quiz or a hands-on challenge, where Trailhead incorporates the fun aspects of the learning. The quizzes result in points, and finishing a module earns you a badge, which is where the gamification of Trailhead kicks in. One hundred badges later, I’m a Ranger! The points also rack up, but the badges are what I enjoy. The hands-on challenges also have a satisfying result. You are able to walk through specific scenarios that you are likely to see in a real Salesforce org.

The hands-on Trailhead challenges allow you to walk through scenarios you’ll see in a real Salesforce org.

If a user has a specific role for interacting with Salesforce, or a specific product or level they work within, they can follow a Trail, which is a collection of modules that follow a theme. For example, developers can go from Beginner to Intermediate and beyond, or hone in on a more specific track, such as developing apps with Heroku. Projects asking for creation of specific functionality are shorter hands-on exercises that surface specific business objectives, such as building a branded chat module.

Recently, Trailhead also rolled out the impressive Superbadges, of which I now have two and both of which were very challenging. I had to unlock them by completing four predetermined badges and then follow a complex prompt requiring a variety of Salesforce knowledge. It’s a multistep process to earn the badge.

Because modules are released regularly — the spring 2017 release came out yesterday — Trailhead is an updated way to learn newly released functionality, especially with their specialized release badges. If you’re looking for a way to learn Salesforce for free and still get a hands-on experience, get your ranger hat, sign up for your org, and start down that trail!

Check back next week as I dive into how you can use Trailhead to get Salesforce certified in part two of our Trailhead series.

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