What’s the secret to creating application training?

Having just finished a big project for creating application training for a major fast food chain, I was musing on what are the important ingredients in producing learning for a new application or piece of software.

In my experience, there are two really challenging aspects:

  • coping with software that is changing
  • unlocking and capturing the knowledge of an SME

For coping with software changes, I know there are some high end application such as Vimago which claim to be able to cope with application changes, but most (Storyline,  Captivate, Camtasia et al) require either :

a)  some nifty footwork re-editing screen shots or videos to band-aid on any change to the core application

b) re-recording the application process.

Either of these is not great use of time so my advice is to try to hold out until the last possible minute before doing the app recording. Map the process, work out what you want to say, but hang tight as long as you can ….

For the challenge of unlocking an SME’s knowledge, often an SME doesn’t have much time (incredibly busy with the many aspects of launching the new application) and tends to be dauntingly knowledgeable. This huge knowledge translates into a tendency for SMEs to describe any process at warp speed leaving you breathless and spinning.  The best advice here is to record by any method – video, screencast or audio – get the pearls of wisdom down in some method to avoid you needing to rely on scribbled notes and your own memory.

The last important ingredients in creating application training are context, context, context.  It is all too easy to get obsessed with the clicky-clicky aspects of a process rather than asking:

  • what is the purpose of the learner doing a process?
  • how does it sit within their overall role?
  • can we use examples and scenarios to bring the process to life?

For great application training, create introductory, interval and summary screens to put the process in context or use an example (“A customer arrives in Mrs Miggins shop with an order for 20 cupcakes, what does she need to do?”) and to relate the process to workflow.

This is a great article on the capture process itself but don’t forget to add that context!



Why you must use slide masters

When you start developing a presentation or a course, it is tempting to plough straight in with the content. Once you’ve kinda got the look and feel you want on a slide, you can cheat by just copying the slide over and over and changing the new slide. Big mistake.

Whenever I’ve been tempted down this path, I’ve regretted it. It only takes one font change, colour change or formatting shift and you are faced with the task of making an amendment on every single slide.

Much better to invest a bit of time getting your slide masters right in the first place so they are exactly what you want.  That way, you need to make a minor change later then it is one change rather than a zillion fiddly changes later on.

My advice is to make sure you understand the role or Masters and their Layouts and how inheritance works – but also what happens if you break inheritance by amending individual slides.

This is a must-read article on masters for Articulate Storyline if you are not familiar with them:


What makes a good scenario?

What makes a good scenario?

Scenarios are one of the most important tools in a learning designers’ toolkit. Scenarios enable us to move beyond the “information firehose” into applied learning. That’s the point at which students start to think about your learning points in actual practice. In Bloom’s terminology, we are moving beyond the “remembering” and “understanding” levels of learning, through to the more useful levels such as analyzing and evaluating which are most relevant to people within organisations.

But what makes a good scenario? If you already know what a scenario is, skip ahead to point 2 for a few simple guidelines:

  1. What are scenarios?

Scenarios use situations or stories to illustrate learning points. In scenario-based learning, students are put into a hypothetical situation, then asked to make a choice of how to act. For example, in an Anti-Bribery course, the scenario could be as follows:

stock-photo-white-wine-bottle-close-up-in-wooden-crate-673272.pngIt is approaching Christmas. One of your suppliers leaves a crate of wine in reception as a gift for you. What do you do?

  1. Call the supplier to say thanks then share the wine with all of your colleagues.
  2. Call the supplier to tell them how much you appreciate the thought but you can’t accept the gift.
  3. Call the Finance Regulation department and ask for advice.
  4. Call the supplier to accept the gift and offer your thanks.

Following the student’s response, as an author, you can either choose to offer immediate feedback to explain which option is the best choice, or you can move students to further scenarios where they learn the consequences of their choice from subsequent outcomes.

Scenarios make a great form of learning because they provide an opportunity for learners to make incorrect choices and judgements without the real-life consequences of the potential mistakes they might make.

  1. Keep it real.

One of the most important points for a scenario is that your learners have to believe it could happen. To achieve this, the scenario must be “real”, that is to say credible: the best scenarios are rooted in real-life examples where incorrect choices and mistake have been made.

For example, in a course on construction safety, would the following scenario be credible?


You need to excavate a two metre deep trench on site and are running behind schedule. Your site supervisor insists that, to save time, you should not use any shoring or support on the trench. What do you do?

This scenario could be viewed as relatively ineffective because it is highly unlikely that a supervisor would make a request to use no support on a trench this size. Far better to use an example based on the choice of the type of support to illustrate the potential issues and learning point of time versus risk.

  1. Keep it relevant

For a scenario to be truly effective, the situation must be relevant to what the learner does in their work.  For example, to them in a data protection course, if your learner works on a busy counter in a retail environment, would the following scenario be relevant?


A customer calls you on the phone and says they have received an incorrect bill through the post. You check their record on your billing system and find the person speaking on the phone is not the listed contact on the account. What do you do?

While a student from a face-to-face retail environment will be able to make a sensible guess, they will get less value than a scenario that speaks to what they do – dealing with customers face-to-face and the likely issues they will face.

  1. Make it ambivalent

The best scenarios are ones where the choices are not clear-cut. Options which are not obvious cause the learner to pause, to consider the different options and to assess the implications. This is the point at which your learning point starts to be applied and become less abstract. If you include obviously wrong or “giveaway” choices, the overall impact will decrease.

As an example, consider a course on effective annual appraisals where the first formal stage of the appraisal is a self-assessment of performance by the staff member. Would the following scenario be effective?


You are in meeting with a member of your team, Heinrich, for his annual appraisal. After initial pleasantries, you ask whether he has completed his self-assessment. Heinrich explains he hasn’t. What do you do?

  1. Terminate the meeting immediately explaining that his behaviour is unacceptable.
  2. Continue the meeting, moving to your own assessment of his performance
  3. Ask him why he has been unable to complete his self-assessment

In this example, answer (c) is clearly the appropriate choice. There is insufficient ambivalence in the options and little to cause the learner to stop and consider. The best scenarios have an element of dilemma or conflicting forces in their choices, echoing real life.

Take a look at this eLearning course for some great ideas on scenario-based learning in the area of first aid. Not only does it use some really effective scenarios but it also shows how you can include interactive video in your course:

Even if your budget doesn’t run to video, you can still deliver effective scenarios with a just a few lines of text to create a realistic, real situation combined with some well-crafted options to make your learners pause and really reflect on your learning points.

In future blogs, I’ll be looking at devices that you can use to make your scenarios even more effective – including gamification and other kickers. If you have any great techniques you use that you would like to share, let me know!