Online Training Tips: Software Simulations Made Eas(ier)

Online Training Tips: Software Simulations Made Eas(ier)
February 7, 2013

Creating software simulations is a necessary evil for many instructional designers. They are a great way to help learners of new software visualize a process. Of course, it’s not the design and creation part that is evil, mind you, but rather the maintenance that makes us crazy. 

Fortunately, after creating many simulations, I have learned a few ways to make it easier to both create and maintain them. For example:

#1. Always start with the script. You need to know what you are going to say before you can build the images and animations on your slides. Plan it all out with an outline so you know what each slide will be about. The best way to approach software simulations is to consider all of the tasks you want to show. And remember that you might need to break them up into segments: no one wants to watch a two-hour non-stop simulation!

#2. Capture and organize images ahead of time. If you haven’t memorized all of the steps to accomplish the task you are simulating, you will probably have to go through the process on your computer or tablet. Why not take that opportunity to capture all of your images as well? Organize them by slide so when you start working on your visuals, you aren’t faced with a hundred images to choose from for each slide.

#3. Try an alternative to screen capture software.  When charged with creating a simulation, your first thought might be to use software like Camtasia or Captivate to create a video of all clicks, menus and mouse movements.  While it is easy to create this video, the challenge comes with editing, matching your narrative to the movements, and maintenance. What happens when a screen changes? You typically have to record the whole thing again. And edit it. And match up your narrative. And repeat this the next time. I have found that using still images connected together in PowerPoint with animations makes for a much smoother production.

Wait, what??? That sounds like a nightmare!  Not if you practice a few simple steps.

  • Keep your images in the native capture size. Whether you use [Alt ]+ [Prnt Scrn] or a program like Snagit (use the Window capture setting), don’t crop out any of the parts. Also, make sure you note any browser or application window settings you changed (hiding menus, zooming, etc.). It will be much easier to recapture and update your images if anything changes. But feel free to…

  • Scale your images as large or small as you need them. It doesn’t matter if they spill off of the slide (I’ll get to why in a moment). You can even use a zoom animation to make them bigger (just be sure they aren’t so big that they become grainy or pixelated).

  • Use the Selection Pane in PowerPoint. Make sure you name all of your images in the Selection Pane. This will make it much easier to add animations and help you know what you need to update if something changes.

  • Create mouse or finger movement with motion path animations. Whether you are creating your simulation for a computer or tablet, you can show movement very easily with motion path animations. Make sure the mouse image or finger image (we use a semi-transparent green dot to represent a finger tap for tablet simulations) is on top of the last image, and remember that you can always create multiple versions of the mouse or finger image if you have to layer them.

  • Use an overlay to cover the extra parts of the image. Create a computer or tablet overlay like the one below to sit on top of all images and act as a screen. The screen area should be transparent so the images behind it will show through and no one will see the extra stuff behind it.


  • Format > Change Image is the easiest way to replace images. When you have to make updates, use the Selection Pane to find your images (I find it easiest to hide everything, then show images one by one using the little eye button until I am sure I have made all changes needed), double-click the image and select Change Image off the Format tab. PowerPoint keeps everything the same as the original image, making it super easy to make the swap.

Now, you can time your images to your narrative in Brainshark the same way you would with any other PowerPoint presentation. Ahhhh…so much easier!

I almost forgot my super-secret bonus tip for advanced users: Timing Delay on the Animations tab is supported by Brainshark. While I don’t use it often, sometimes I need just a quarter- or half-second delay between animations, especially when I use After Previous with Appear or Disappear.

Want to check out an example of the tips above in action? This is a tutorial on SlideShark (which, if you do any presenting at all, you must download!!) and you can see both the computer and tablet simulations working together (sometimes on the same slide). Good luck!!

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