Follow Process Like a Pro

If you’ve ever recorded a software simulation for soft skills or systems training courses, you know there’s a lot to consider. If you want a polished result, you can’t just launch your screen recording tool of choice and capture the sequence. A professional product requires you to be deliberate.

So what’s involved? Quite a few things! You need to select the best app, do a task analysis, review product documentation, record your simulation, edit the video, and more. The easiest way to show you is with an example scenario.

You work as a training designer for a medium-size company called Widgets Inc. One of the directors, Fatima, needs you to deliver systems training on the company’s customer database, WidgetData, for the customer service representatives. 

Let’s assume you’ve already selected Storyline 360, so we don’t have to worry about the app-selection process. So let’s focus on the additional steps, as follows:

  1. Identify Tasks
  2. Perform Task Analysis
  3. Document the Processes
  4. Prepare Your Demo Data
  5. Prepare Your Recording Area
  6. Record Your Simulation
  7. Edit Your Recording

Step 1: Identify Tasks

You’ll first need to identify the tasks to cover. Since most software systems are multifunctional, you need to narrow down the specific processes to simulate in your course.

Start by interviewing the stakeholders, those people responsible for the processes, and the target audience (if it’s different than either of those two groups) to find out what they consider vital tasks to be covered in training. Once you’ve identified those processes, check to see if the software vendor or your internal teams (think the system owner, IT, etc.) have video or written tutorials you can reference or repurpose. 

Back to our example! Ask Fatima about the tasks she wants to cover in the systems training. Her response is that she wants learners to know how to do the following in WidgetData:

  • Add a new customer
  • Search the database
  • Edit a customer profile
  • Delete a customer

You also find out that the system was built in-house, so there’s almost no existing documentation and there are definitely no video tutorials. With that in mind, you next need to identify the step-by-step sequences for each of those tasks in WidgetData. It’s time to do a task analysis!

Step 2: Perform Task Analysis

In some cases, you might already know the step-by-step sequence for the processes you need to cover in the training. When that’s not the case, work closely with a subject matter expert (SME) who does.

A few tips to remember when walking through processes with SMEs:

  • Respect their time. Prepare a list of processes you’d like the SME to demo for you. If you can, send the list ahead of time.
  • Record the meeting. Use the recorder built into your e-learning authoring app. Better yet, meet virtually and record the session. A virtual meeting has the benefit of capturing not only the step-by-step process but any additional information you discover while chatting with the SME. The recording is what you’ll rewatch later to analyze each step.
  • Ask questions. Put yourself in the mindset of someone who’s never encountered the tool before. There are no stupid questions. As the training designer, you need to uncover as much information as you can to understand the “why” behind a process so you can pass that key information along to the learners. Build some scenarios around what’s being demoed to represent the real-life situations learners will encounter. When training has relevance for learners, they’re more engaged in finishing it.

At Widgets Inc. Fatima puts you in touch with Derrick, one of the company’s top customer service reps, to act as your WidgetData expert. You invite Derrick to walk you through each of the processes in the system while you record the screen. As he talks you through every click and keystroke, you ask questions like:

  • What happens if you forget to input this information?
  • What are the most important things to remember related to this process?
  • What would be the worst-case scenario if someone did this step or process incorrectly?

Asking these types of questions will help you gather critical contextual information about the processes.

Step 3: Document the Processes

Once you’ve identified the step-by-step sequence for each of the processes you’ll cover in the training, create a document that clearly lists each process. For our example, we’ll use a table format, but you can use whatever you’re comfortable with. It’s also helpful to add information you uncovered during your task analysis so that you can reference it during your demo recording. 

At Widgets Inc., you’re using the recorded video version of your meeting with Derrick to document each step of the processes you’ll need to cover in your WidgetData systems training. Here’s what you documented for the first task: 

Name of Task

Trigger for Task


Additional Info

Add a new customer.

A customer calls who doesn’t have a profile.

  1. Navigate to WidgetData home page.
  2. Click the Customers tab
  3. Select Create New Customer from the drop-down menu.
  4. Enter customer information in required fields.
  5. Click the Create button.

Enter information in all of the required fields or you’ll get an error message when you click Create.

After you’ve created a new customer, a pop-up confirmation message displays letting you know the account is created.

Step 4: Prepare Your Demo Data

You’re almost ready to start recording your systems training—but before you do, make sure you have all the data and information to complete your recording. Here are a few things you might need before you start recording:

  • Get access to a “sandbox” environment. A test version (“sandbox”) of the computer system software will enable you to complete your processes without impacting real data in the system.
  • Create an account or profile in the sandbox. You’ll want an account that gives you system access similar to that of your learners.
  • Add some sample data. You’ll need some dummy data that you can quickly input into the system for processes as needed.

In our Widgets Inc. example, Courtney in IT has given you access to a sandbox version of the WidgetData system as well as a fake account with the same admin rights as a Widgets Inc.’s customer service rep. Your interface looks exactly like the customer service rep’s, with the same available options. In this sandbox Courtney says you can create, edit, and remove customers without impacting any real data.

Step 5: Prepare Your Recording Area

Before you record, you’ll need to prepare your virtual environment. If you’re using a fresh sandbox, don’t add additional icons or customizations unless you need to better mirror your learner’s environment. If you’re using your own system, remove extra icons, bookmarks, and personal data and images. It should be free of distractions. Along those lines, make sure before you start recording that all external system notifications are disabled (unless you need to record them for the demo).

Additionally, you should:

  • Launch the applications and systems you’ll use in your recording before you start so that they’re ready to go when you need them.
  • Have all the data you need close at hand on the system where you’re recording.
  • Have your step-by-step document available as a hard copy or on a separate system from the one you’re recording. 

Next, access the sandbox that Courtney provided and make sure all extraneous applications are closed. Turn system notifications off to prevent pop-ups from interrupting your recording and launch WidgetData so you don’t waste any time waiting for the application to launch. Finally, check that your process document is close at hand so you can follow it step by step as you record.

Step 6: Record Your Simulation

With your prep work done, you’re ready to record your simulation! The steps will vary depending on the recording app you’re using, but you’ll start by selecting the size of the recording area. Then you’ll hit the Record button and click through the process step by step. 

Pro tip: Do a test recording to make sure the video quality is acceptable (just a few seconds; it doesn’t have to be the whole process). You don’t want to have to re-record a lengthy process due to a technical issue with your setup.

Depending on your project, the type of simulation you record will vary. It might be interactive, where the learner clicks through the simulation themselves. Or it might simply be a demo with captions along the way that describe what’s happening. It could even be a graded quiz game, where learners click through the process themselves and lose or gain points depending on where they click. Suffice to say, you have tons of options, depending on your project, your audience, and what you hope to achieve.

For Widgets Inc. you’re using Storyline 360 to record your processes in WidgetData. Once you’re finished, you can reuse that recording in any format you want, either as a single movie or as step-by-step slides.

Step 7: Edit Your Recording

No matter which recording app you use, you always have to do some amount of post-recording editing. As soon as you've finished recording a task or process, preview it from start to finish and see how it looks. Make sure you capture everything and that it flows logically.

Then, one slide at a time, make the necessary adjustments to the caption text, hot spots, mouse clicks, data entry fields, and other objects. If you’re using captions, here are a few tips:

  • Use consistent terminology and language across all captions.
  • If you use an abbreviation or acronym, even if it’s common knowledge to your audience, consider including the full term the first time it’s used. 
  • Be direct and concise; don’t use words you don’t need.
  • Start instructions with a verb, except for captions providing general knowledge or information, like defining a term.
  • Don’t hide important information with on-screen captions.
  • Don’t include wordy paragraphs in your captions. Omit anything unnecessary and break up longer chunks of text over several captions or slides. 

In addition to instructional and informative captions, you might need an introduction and summary caption for each task. If you have tips or additional information you noted during the documentation process, consider including them throughout the simulations as appropriate to provide added value for your learners.

For example, the introduction slide for each WidgetData task explains the context and trigger for completing that process in the system. The summary slide describes what happens at the end of the process and provides follow-up information. 

Wrapping Up

That’s how you create software simulations like a pro, from the initial request to the post-recording edits. Remember, planning is key. As you can see, if you want the best possible simulation, there are a lot of steps before you actually hit “Record.”

For more information about task analysis, check out our recently refreshed How to Do Task Analysis Like a Pro. For ideas on working with SMEs, check out this series on Everything You Need to Know About Working with SMEs as well as these awesome downloads from Sarah Hodge. If you’re looking to do even more with Rise 360, be sure to peruse this fantastic guide on creating software tutorials.

Follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning. If you have any questions, please share them in the comments.

Luke Barrett

Thanks for the tips, Nicole. I'd like to second the importance of testing your recording screen resolution and quality before diving into the 'real' recording. It can certainly save you headaches down the track! One small thing I'd like to add is the importance of allowing users to control the pacing of the simulation, particularly in demo-only mode when using text instead of audio narration to accompany the process animations. Having slides change before slow readers have finished reading all content on-screen is a huge source of frustration. I've found that pausing the simulation on screens where there is lots of text (particularly when providing additional information beyond the core process steps being demonstrated), and allowing users to click 'Next' to move on when they are ready ... Expand

Nicole Legault
Tess Richardson

Great article, Nicole! A few things I've found helpful when creating software simulations: 1. The zoom function in Storyline is really helpful when you need to draw the learner's attention to the one task being taught, or just to enlarge a small section of a very complicated user interface. 2. When preparing your recording area, consider what size/aspect ratio you are using in your course display settings and match it. If your Storyline slide are is 720x540, you won't want a screen recording that is something crazy like 1020x480 (okay, yes I just made that up!) 3. I like to use a combination of screen recordings and static screen shots. I've found the way to make these match most closely is to insert the video into Storyline, publish it, and grab the static shots from the publi... Expand

Nicole Legault
Marcus Rummler
Nicholas Sargent

I recently also discovered the value of recording the SMEs. I will definitely do it again. I recently had 2 SMEs tag team for 3 hours showing me over 25+ tasks/maneuvers on a software they needed to test their trainees on. I used Camtasia in 10-minute spurts to gather this session. My brain was swimming by the end. I kept nodding as though I understood everything they were telling me. (Yeah right!) Over the past two months I've milked that footage into a suite of brief "See it" and "Try it" modules. I've watched and re-watched the raw material to understand it and think through a succinct path. So many good comments they made along the way that I would have had no capacity to remember or write down fast enough. Then, as an instructional designer, I was able to distill it into a cl... Expand

Daniel Mitchell

Awesome article, Nicole. I will be passing this on to coworkers who need to hear these tips. For the majority of my Instructional Design work, I've been building software simulations for programs like SAP and ADP, and these tips are spot-on. I wish someone had handed me a checklist this precise years ago. Thankfully, through hundreds of recordings, and lots of trial-and-error, I've come up with a very similar process. Articulate Storyline has been my whole world for this type of training, and it is amazing at creating realistic-feeling interactions. I began with Storyline 1 years ago, and now use Storyline 2. However, there is one thing I'll mention to anyone needing to build software simulations: Storyline 2 is NOT good at accomplishing text interactions. When Articulate upgraded fr... Expand

Julie P
Tess Richardson
Dianne  Hope

This is something I've been working on lately Tess - there are a couple of ways I've done this. I pretty much never record the narration while I'm recording the screen - although as a technology trainer I should be able to do this, but I find it a very different situation when you know you're recording something as opposed to showing learners in a face-to-face training session. So, I firstly go through the process a few times before I start recording. Then I do the screen recording using SnagIt (which I use a lot and find an absolutely brilliant program). Then I bring this .mp4 file into Camtasia where I edit it (sometimes quite heavily). I then record the audio while I'm watching the edited file - this is really easy to do in Camtasia. This way it's easy to synch the audio with w... Expand

Julie P
Catherine Sheehan