For learning almost anything there’s nothing better than doing. And the reason we learn anything for the workplace is so we can do something or do it better.
We need to document data, clock our time, track projects, and all sorts of other things. In the world of software and computers, it’s possible to create simulations that are realistic and great for learning.
It could be Salesforce, Anaplan, ServiceNow, or whatever other application employees need to use. Creating something realistic is going always be more effective at helping people learn than simply showing screenshots or even worse, babbling on for hours with no visuals at all. At that point, it’s just a guessing game!
There’s a lot more positive potential for learning software with simulations. It allows for realistic environments that help people quickly grasp and retain exactly what they need to do. Plus, there’s no challenge in guessing how it will look in the system if the simulation is done to near exactness.
But it’s not just about creating fun and exciting experiences. Leveraging the power of software simulation is also about designing training that is both effective and efficient in helping employees learn how to do something they can transfer back to their job. It’s also essential to know that not everything can be transferred and there are ways to deal with that.
To understand the full value of software simulations, it’s important to understand what it is and how it works. In essence, software simulation is a system that allows users to interact with simulated versions of software applications. It’s a safe space for them to learn, sometimes try things, and not mess anything up.
An employee might be able to practice using a software application by completing tasks in an interactive, virtual environment. That means clocking into the company time clock without having to do it the first time to see how the entire process works.
Or it could be learning how to navigate reporting tools to gather the data they need in a course so they know what to do when they do the job because they’ve already done it. There’s nothing better than knowing what to do when you’re expected to do something! A good software simulation does exactly that.
Software simulations can be used for multiple purposes including learning, testing, and even exploring a system if it’s an open-ended simulation. By going through real-world scenarios, employees can learn how to perform specific tasks quickly and accurately, allowing them to become more productive and proficient.
Paired with realistic scenarios, software simulations create realistic training situations that allow people to develop their problem-solving skills.
Now it’s time to take a deep dive into the power of software simulation for effective software training. We’ll look at the benefits it offers, the techniques for creating effective simulations, and tips for getting the most out of your simulations. All of this information will be provided on a high level but we’ll dive a bit deeper in further blog posts.
By the end of this post, you should have a better understanding of the potential for software simulation to help train users in software skills and have better-prepared, more confident, and all-around happier employees.
The Benefits of Software Simulation For Training
There are many benefits of software simulation for training, with the most obvious being that it allows users to practice and refine their software skills in a safe place that’s realistic and guided. By providing a realistic experience paired with a realistic scenario, employees will understand how the software works and what they’re expected to do in it.
Software simulations are a quick way to help employees acquire the knowledge and skills needed to be successful. Paired with resources that will help them do the not-so-regular tasks is a winning combination that helps employees do their job better.
With custom software training that’s built to be realistic with a software simulation and with a good scenario, learning will be more fun and engaging. By interactively presenting problems and challenges, learners can stay engaged and motivated to continue learning.
Software simulations also offer advantages from a financial perspective.
Companies can save money by cutting training time significantly. Software training that’s a realistic simulation is typically self-paced which means a lot more thought can go into shortening training and making it more effective. It also saves money because people learn better and will make less costly mistakes.
If employees know what to do then they’ll make fewer mistakes, work faster, and ultimately save the organization lots of money.
With software simulations, employees are kept out of the real environment until they know enough to use the real thing. Real practice in a fake environment is much better than real mistakes in a real environment. I think employees will appreciate the ability to learn and practice in a safe environment.
Nobody wants to mess up a real system and deal with that mess!
But not all software simulations are created equal. You can’t just buy some software, record a process, and expect it all to come together. Just like any training, it has to be approached with strategy, process, and knowledge of how adults learn. You can either work with an instructional design consultant or if you have instructional designers on staff, that’s a great place to start.
How You Can Implement Software Simulation Effectively
It’s not magic and just like all things, it takes a good blend of skill and knowledge. It all comes down to creating software simulations that don’t contain too much information, are realistic, and are also engaging. Just because it’s a software simulation doesn’t guarantee it’s engaging.
Even in software simulations, you have to keep in mind that if you think everything is important then nothing is important. In other words, if you overload people with too much information in an unorganized way then they aren’t likely to learn as much if anything at all.
Using software simulations effectively revolves around organizing your content, chunking similar content/tasks together, and above all else creating realistic and engaging scenarios. It has to hit home when it comes to relating to exactly what employees will need to do in the actual software.
Just having employees click through a realistic simulation to learn all the things software can do is a recipe for disaster. That would mean taking a good framework and messing it up with trivialities.
It’s best to make the simulated environment as close to the real-world environment as possible with scenarios that will hit home for employees.
Here’s a good example of what you could do to make a software simulation amazing rather than bland.
If the application being simulated is a customer service application, the simulation should closely imitate the look and feel of the actual application. The course should also recreate a real scenario employees are likely to encounter and how to deal with it from a soft-skills angle as well as using the software during the process.
Software simulations are a type of technical training and mixing technical training with soft skills will give the training a real boost. That will make it easier for employees to connect with it, believe it, and know how to use it in the context of their work.
But, you also have to keep in mind that employees who are taking training are new to the software. That means you shouldn’t go too complex too fast. It’s all about finding the right balance of depth as well as complexity so the training is easy to use and understand.
With proper guidance in a software simulation, it will be easy for employees to use and learn effectively. Just be sure to always provide clear instructions and guidance so employees can quickly and accurately complete tasks.
Another thing that’s important to keep in mind to effectively implement software simulations is the importance of keeping things modular and reusable. This is an important one and one that most software tools don’t help with or make easy to do. In fact, we don’t use the built-in features of most tools because they simply aren’t any good and give you very little control.
Using the built-in software simulation features in tools like Captivate and Storyline 360 are great ways to create poor-quality software simulations that are also not modular. That means it’s extremely difficult to update and change one part of the simulation.
It’s helpful to keep things modular so software updates can easily be translated into software simulation updates.
That’s all nice and great, but what about making sure there’s a positive return on investment (ROI) for the software simulation? Let’s take a look!
Optimizing Software Simulation for Maximum Return on Investment
Sometimes training is hard to put a solid return on investment (ROI) value on it. Even training for salespeople is difficult to do. Well, I should say it’s difficult unless the training is for providing an improved process.
If you’re able to compare employee performance data before training and after training then that’s a great way to see the real ROI. But, that’s not possible when training on new systems or training new employees.
One thing that you can visibly see is that without good training, employee turnover will be high and training has the potential to decrease turnover significantly. Even with new processes or new employees, you can test the turnover rate before training improvements and after.
Software simulation can offer a significant return on investment over traditional methods of training. I mean, simply learning the content is a pretty good ROI, right?
Okay, on a serious note, to ensure that it provides the highest possible return, it’s important to have a well-thought-out training process. That’s why instructional designers and training professionals are essential. That’s all we think about!
Every software simulation should be properly designed, implemented, and perhaps more importantly, regularly updated and maintained.
As with most training, you also can’t see any sort of ROI if you don’t track user progress and identify areas for improvement. This can help to ensure that the simulation is providing employees with the skills and knowledge they need. It’s also important to use analytics to measure the effectiveness of software simulation.
Then there are also good ‘ol employee surveys. They aren’t the best sole method of assessing training effectiveness but they shouldn’t be discounted entirely. If created properly, surveys can provide valuable information that isn’t focused on if employees liked the training.
Just don’t use an NPS score for training surveys. What a joke that is.
If your organization has the capability, monitor how users interact with simulations. That way you can identify areas where the simulations can be improved and optimized. Analytics can also help to identify areas where users are struggling, allowing companies to adjust the simulations accordingly.
That might require detailed tracking software or perhaps using more modern tools like xAPI because SCORM simply doesn’t have a lot of options when it comes to tracking. SCORM only offers the most basic pass/fail, complete/incomplete type of tracking.
Sad but true.
All of these things can help you maximize the ROI of your software simulations.
In addition to providing a visible ROI, following some best practices will help create better software simulations.
Best Practices for Software Simulation for Training
When it comes to using software simulation for training, there are some best practices to keep in mind. It’s tempting to get complex and go in-depth with the software because it’s so intuitive, but fight the urge.
First, always make sure the environment in your simulation closely resembles the real-world environment. There’s nothing worse than practicing something only to find that what you practiced is dramatically different than what the real system is like.
That leads us to the second point, you always need to keep the training up-to-date. Making sure training is in line with the real system ensures employees won’t have to extrapolate too much from training to actually using the real system.
Third, make sure you have good signposts. That means helping people understand what they’re supposed to do next and how to use the system. If you’re using narration then be sure you also use a visual on screen. If someone misses a few words they shouldn’t be lost. A nice hint that remains on the screen is always appreciated.
Nobody wants to feel lost and that’s easy to do in a poorly designed software simulation.
So, provide clear instructions and guidance, as well as a way to track progress or see your progress. How much longer is this course going to take!?
Finally, our fourth best practice is to provide users with feedback and if relevant or helpful then may even reward them for completing challenges successfully. It could be a simple virtual pat on the back but anything is helpful to keep things going.
Now onto what most people care the most about but shouldn’t. Software simulation tools!
Choosing the Right Software Simulation Tool
Yes, this seems to always be the biggest focus in creating software simulations. Of course, it should be the focus for creating them because the tools are necessary. But the focus shouldn’t be on just creating, it should be on creating effective software simulations.
The keyword here and for all training is effective.
The focus shouldn’t even be simply on the tool because an effective software simulation isn’t about the tool but rather the plan. That’s where having a good plan for training design comes in and why we love ADDIE still to this day over all other instructional design systems.
Nope, the tool doesn’t matter. You could theoretically even use PowerPoint to create a software simulation. In fact, we’ve used PowerPoint to create a prototype of how in-app help processes work. That’s kind of like a software simulation!
So, any tool you can use to put training together can ultimately be used to build a software simulation as long as the tool allows for interactive elements.
Some tools would be less than ideal, though, and that specifically includes video tools such as Camtasia. While Camtasia does allow for interactive elements, it’s not complex enough for software simulations.
We’ll cover in a bit more detail how we create our software simulations, but it’s not by using the features built into Captivate or Storyline 360.
Nope, we don’t even use the software simulation functionality of either of those. Neither one of them has built-in tools to create software simulations well. They’re both mediocre to poor at best. It must be done manually to provide the best possible simulation.
So, whatever tool you’re used to for developing courses is the best tool for software simulations.
Here is a list of some tools you could use.
- Storyline 360 (our fav)
If you’re an eLearning developer or instructional designer then you’re probably familiar with at least two of these three. We got our start on Lectora but those days are long behind us. But, if you’re comfortable with Lectora then there’s no reason you can’t use it as long as you can place images and use interactive hotspots as well as form fields.
With basic features in most tools, you can develop realistic software simulations with any tool and the result will more or less be the same.
Software simulations are essential for any organization whose employees use any software at all. So, pretty much every organization because who’s not using software these days?
Even construction workers are expected to pull out their phones and do things such as check their email or document their progress. Software simulations are an invaluable tool for training users in software skills.
To get the most out of software simulations, it’s important to understand how to build effective training (not just software simulations) and use best practices to make it awesome. It all starts with them being realistic, engaging, performance-focused, and ensuring every part of it has a goal that matches the business goal for the tool and processes being taught.
Whatever tool you choose (it doesn’t matter as long as basic features are there) it takes a lot of practice to build software simulations well. Software never stays the same so one of the biggest jobs is keeping it up-to-date so employees learn the right stuff and can move from learning to doing easily.
By understanding the power of software simulation and following these best practices, companies can ensure that they realize the amazing benefits that training with software simulations provides.
We’ve been creating software simulations to train employees more effectively for a long time. It’s part art and part science but with the perfect blend, the outcomes of training can be extremely effective and memorable to employees.
If you want to discuss how to effectively train your employees in new or updated software, we’d love to learn more and help you work through the process. We’re always available for a free consultation so we can get to know your project better and how we might be able to contribute to its success.