I used to use the built-in tools that Articulate Storyline and Adobe Captivate come with for building software simulations. You probably did too or you’re still using them.
That’s perfectly fine if you’re still using them because you probably don’t know the reasons you shouldn’t use them. The purpose of this article is here to change your mind so hopefully you keep an open mind and at least weigh the options of ditching the old worn-out software simulation tools of Storyline and Captivate.
Don’t get me wrong, Storyline and Captivate have both changed the game for creating software simulations. They both give you the tools you need to create powerful software simulations and there aren’t a lot of other tools that can say the same.
But, their power doesn’t lie in the built-in tools they give you for building software simulations. The power lies in regular tools that are available in both tools and your ability to take good screenshots. That’s all I’ll say for now but it probably gives you a pretty good hint of the ideal solution I’m proposing.
The results when you use the built-in tools are far from ideal. If you’re looking for an easy way to quickly create software simulations that aren’t that great, editing is limited, and not easy to edit at a later date, you’re better off using other methods. The built-in tools are none of those.
At first glance, Storyline and Captivate seem like great tools for creating interactive software simulations. After all, these tools offer a variety of features that let you customize your project and make it look professional. They even come with a way to automatically capture an entire process with modals, clicks, etc.
But when it comes to software simulations, they don’t provide the needed level for a highly polished realistic simulation that’s also easy for you and others to manage later on.
Despite having software simulation tools built-in, neither of them does a good enough job to use them and call it good. Not even with some polishing and hard work do the outcomes from their built-in tools look that great. You are stripped of a lot of potential to make them look cleaner, work smoothly, and edit as needed.
The results are fast but not good.
The good news is, there are ways you can do simulations not quite as quickly but with infinitely better quality, editability, and power to recreate more realistic simulations.
By the end of this post, I want you to forgo using Storyline and Captivate’s built-in software simulation tools. They’re simply not the right choice unless you want to create something quickly and the realistic quality doesn’t matter because it just needs to train a limited number of people.
What Are Software Simulations?
Software simulations are one of the best ways to provide employees with a realistic recreation of the software they’re using and provide it with context that’s based on realistic scenarios. You’ll find that software simulations are a great way to provide employees with effective software training.
At its basic level, software simulations are a type of digital learning experience that allows employees to interact with an application or system as if they were using it in real life. They’re typically guided, though, and not entirely open-ended though sometimes an open-ended portion makes sense to encourage deep learning and understanding of consequences.
They’re typically used to teach people how to use a software system or application whether phone, tablet, or even a computer. It could even provide a realistic practice environment to help them develop skills or test them on their understanding of something.
Sofware simulations could be as simple as a single task that allows the user to click through with assistance. Or, it could be as complex as learning several different tasks they will need to perform in software. Just like all training, though, software simulations must abide by people’s cognitive limitations and follow a good design process that prioritizes the most important tasks to learn.
The rules for how long an eLearning course should be should also be practiced with software simulations.
Benefits of Using Software Simulation Tools
There’s no better way to learn than doing and software simulations are definitely doing. It’s a great way to help employees learn how the software works, the process they need to do, and scenarios that fit their job.
Another great benefit of software simulation tools is that they give you the power to create realistic environments that help employees practice using software without the risk of making mistakes or damaging anything. Software simulations help people better understand how a system or application works in a safe environment.
Articulate and Captivate provide tools that make it easy to create a safe and realistic environment. That means you can allow employees to make mistakes in a safe environment which is essential to learning. Software simulations at their core are exactly what good training is about. But software simulations, like anything else, can be done poorly and provide little to no effective learning.
Not only are software simulations great for training and learning practice, but the tools make it a lot easier to provide interactive and engaging learning experiences blended with scenarios. It’s pretty nice not to learn something in theory or practice but rather do it yourself. I can’t imagine learning software without actually getting in there, playing around, and doing a bit of tinkering myself.
Yes, there are benefits to employees but there are a lot of benefits to the organization too.
Employees doing the wrong thing and breaking stuff can be pretty costly. When people don’t know what to do or forgot what they’re supposed to do, what do you think they’re going to do? My guess is that they’ll likely call the help desk or interrupt a colleague, therefore, taking away from their concentration or work. In either case, they’re consuming time unnecessarily because they weren’t provided with the right type of training.
All of those benefits make software simulations more cost-effective than other forms of training that aren’t effective at teaching software. That’s one reason we’re advocates for eLearning for learning technology and why we stay away from instructor-led training. Those forms of training for learning a system aren’t nearly as effective.
A good software simulation tool allows you to create a wide range of experiences that are realistic and accurate but with guidance that aids learning. Even without using the built-in tools both Articulate and Captivate provide a lot of feature that makes it easy to create simulations relatively quickly and easily.
How Storyline and Captivate Software Simulation Tools Work
If you’ve ever used a screen recorder for anything then you know in general how the Storyline and Captivate software simulation tools work. It’s a souped-up screen recorder that records interactions, video, cursors, and more all at the same time.
You get to select the screen size (or area) you want to record and if you record audio. There are advanced settings but those make up the main ones. I’m going to focus on Storyline since that’s what I’m most familiar with though as I remember (been a while for Captivate) there are similar options.
Once you start recording a process in Storyline, it saves it in the recordings section of your file. That makes it available for creating walkthroughs for realistic software simulations, videos, as well as tests all from the same recording. They call it view mode, try mode, and test mode.
You can then choose to place everything recorded into a new scene or your current scene. Then Storyline creates a slide for each distinct step of the process and does its best to create animations from slide to slide. You may end up with 5 or 500 slides and it can be unwieldy sometimes managing the entire process when recorded exactly as it’s done.
But, that’s how it’s done and it’s quick to do. It can be as quick as doing the process itself and then waiting for Storyline to process and save all that then put it in your Storyline file. That’s where the true lengthy work begins, though, which we’ll get into next.
What Problems Do Software Simulation Tools Solve?
Software simulations solve a lot of problems with training especially with software systems. But, as far as what problems the tools themselves solve, that can vary.
If you have a good system to go exactly as is and won’t change, ever, the tools solve the problem of time. They’re quick to jump in there, record a process, and throw it into a quick simulation that can be used nearly immediately.
So, they can bring you to market with a software simulation extremely quickly. Unfortunately, speed is rarely the best way to solve a problem. The outcome is a relatively realistic environment (maybe realistic enough) that gets the basic job done for creating a software simulation.
So, if you need to create something quick and dirty to answer the basic problems of a few people, the built-in tools of Storyline and Captivate are great. Their biggest benefit is in their speed.
The main problem these tools solve is speed and a nearly 100% accurate recreation of a process.
Unfortunately, speed and being 100% accurate with clicks for every single action is rarely the right solution. It can be downright overwhelming and create a poor learning experience. And that’s where we’re going next, why you should avoid these tools.
Why Storyline & Captivate Software Simulation Tools Are Bad
The simulation tools built into Storyline and Captivate are fast and they do a lot automatically. Unfortunately, you lose a lot of control and accuracy when you use them, two of the most important elements when creating a software simulation.
Control is a big issue because it is more difficult to do things like mask information and make changes later. If your system doesn’t require masking, then you’re good on that. But, things change in software quite often. You’ll inevitably need to go back through and update individual screens or certain processes.
When you’ve used the built-in tool then it’s more difficult to make those updates for yourself and especially for others. It’s not as easy as taking a screenshot and updating that one screenshot. You likely would have to record either the process again or at least a section of the simulation.
Providing a good software simulation to teach software isn’t made up of just a basic screen recording, either. There are processes in that and customizations for each screen. You’re not likely to record and publish. You’ll likely edit each screen with speech bubbles that look better as well as callouts for each screen. All that goes away when you re-record and you have to copy/paste or recreate it.
It’s difficult to make all these changes with screen recordings with the built-in tools.
Not only that but masking information is difficult to do well in the tools. You have to mask within either Storyline or Captivate which aren’t very good at it. Using an external image editing tool is a much better option.
Another reason built-in software simulation tools aren’t up to par in Storyline or Captivate is the quality of what it outputs. The image it outputs are low quality in the name of saving space and the animations can be goofy and jarring to the user. In theory, they record all of that stuff but in practice, it looks bad.
If you do a lot of work post-recording to make them look nice then you can end up with a decent production. But it doesn’t work out well for any small change and you end up wasting a lot more work than you can save by using a different method that takes more work on the front side.
There’s a better way to create software simulations. Paired with the powerful tools and interaction options in Storyline and Captivate, they’re going to make realistic and amazing courses that integrate software simulation elements.
How You Should Create Software Simulations in Storyline & Captivate
Just because the built-in tools for creating software simulations in Storyline and Captivate are bad doesn’t mean the tools don’t provide everything you need. There are almost no situations I’ve seen where they can’t provide exactly what you need to create amazing software simulations into courses that are engaging and interactive.
It takes the power of these rapid eLearning authoring tools, a great screenshot-capturing tool like Snagit, and a good process. You may need to throw in an image editing tool like Photoshop occasionally, but Snagit’s editing capabilities are usually quite sufficient.
Here’s how we go about creating software simulations for those parts of the courses we build.
Step 1: Determine Screen Size
This is one of the most important parts of your project. If you don’t get the right size then you’ll end up with unreadable screens or possibly screens that don’t fit everything from the software. There’s a balance you have to find between what you capture and how far you can make it smaller without losing readability.
As an example, if you have a viewport of 1000 pixels by 600 pixels, you can’t always capture the software you’re working on within that viewport because that’s pretty small for software. But, if you use an aspect ratio tool (that’s our favorite) then it’s pretty easy to find that right balance.
You need to find the smallest possible size for the browser’s width or height (whichever makes the most sense) where all content still fits perfectly into it. Just make sure you browse around through your steps to make sure all steps look good within that size. Then you can input the dimensions you need the screen capture to be, input your new width or height into the aspect ratio tool and it’ll output the missing fourth dimension.
So, let’s say you need it to be 1280 pixels wide and no less. Just input the 1000×600 on one side and 1280 on the other.
The aspect ratio tool gave me the magic missing dimension which is 768 pixels. So, I need to capture all my screenshots at 1280 pixels by 768 pixels which will resize perfectly into my course viewport of 1000×600. As long as the screenshots resize to still look readable within that size then you’re good to go!
If you need any zoomed-in portions then you can manage those as needed with your screenshots.
Step 2: Capture Each Required Step
As long as you went through a good process for working through the content and finding the right goals (use ADDIE, it works) then you have a good storyboard that will help dictate your screenshots. A course to help employees learn software doesn’t always require every step all the time. Sometimes some parts are so similar in a process that you can safely skip them.
This is where it becomes difficult with the built-in tools, they make it pretty hard to skip steps and you may end up with a file so bulky you can’t even work with it.
So, just capture the screenshots you need and only those, nothing more. We take screenshots for each necessary step, move one, then capture the next step that we want. What we end up with is a bunch of screenshots that are consistently sized and high quality.
If you need to mask content then this is the time to do it. We typically do that in Snagit and then save each image as a number for the step with sub-steps with letters.
Step 3: Rebuild The Software In Your Tool
Now you can take everything you put together and rebuild the software in your favorite tool, either Storyline or Captivate. These tools can add back in text fields, and other form fields. It can do everything you need to rebuild the software of a higher quality than the built-in tools could ever do.
One additional benefit to building it yourself is that you can build more complex software functionality into your simulation. You can have one screen with modals, hovers, and more all on the same screen that allows employees to navigate it just like in the software. The built-in tools would create a separate slide for every single interaction including on the same screen, which means it’s more linear.
With you building the simulation custom you can account for more variations and make it more realistic and open-ended to how the software functions. Your options are limitless when you build it yourself with screenshots.
Then, you only have to use triggers and such for showing/hiding objects as well as a hotspot for any clicks that progress you to the next screen. Ultimately you’ll end up with a much more realistic and smooth process that looks more like you’re in the software.
The Benefits Of Our Method
With our method, you can customize your software simulation to be more accurate and smoother than ever. It also makes it completely modular so you can easily update any single screenshot if you know the dimensions. As long as you keep the original image then you’re set on that part too.
I started with using the built-in simulation tools too, but now you have some excellent reasons to stop using them and go with a new method that will take your software simulations to the next level and give you endless customizability.
Both Storyline and Captivate are great tools for creating eLearning faster than any alternative method. They also offer everything you need to create awesome software simulations. The only stipulation to that is that you don’t use the built-in tools to create those software simulations, they’re just no good.
You will never be able to achieve the same level of realism, engagement, quality, and flexibility with them. Your best bet is to manually rebuild software simulations using screenshots and your Storyline or Captivate skills. That way you will end up with a software simulation that’s more realistic and better yet easy for you or others to edit in the future.
Our modular approach to creating software simulations in Storyline or Captivate is the best way we’ve come up with for both quality and flexibility. If you know of a better way yet, we’re all ears so please don’t hesitate to let us know.
We’re always looking for ways to improve our process as well as improve how we deliver quality training to clients. If you want the highest quality training that’s effective and positively impacts your organization, we’re here to help. Schedule a consultation and we can discuss your project and if we’re a good fit.
Our goal is always to ensure your next technical project has training that supports it to have a huge impact on how your employees manage the technological change, the most difficult kind.