Screen capture for software training - video or snapshots?

Sep 20, 2011


I'm in the process of choosing  an e-learning production suite, currently leaning towards Articulate, while keeping an eye on more video centric solutions (i.e Captivate/Camtasia).

The big question is whether the best solution for software training is video captures or snapshots. My experience and personal preference is snapshots - because they are easier to work with, and (to a larger degree) enable learning at the learners own pace (if i can fly through training in 3 minutes I'll do it - if I have to sit through 30 minutes I'm not ever going to do it ...). Also, I am sceptical to the use of narration with the cost and effort of creating and updating professional multi-lingual content in mind. 

Screen recorders do as I see it enable faster production if you are willing to deliver video "as is" after recording - but becomes extremely time-consuming once you want it to be "perfect". It seems to me it is easy to make mediocre video training  but extremely difficult to make it great. I'm thinking it's often sold by professional  e-learning providers because it sounds/looks more sophisticated and allows for a bigger invoice?

Furtermore, software interfaces are frequently  updated - and I like the idea of updating a couple of snapshots rather than creating a whole new video recording. Furthermore our objective is to create content in-house if at all possible - and I think a snapshot based approach is the easier option for non-professionals.

However it seems people immediately think screen video when we talk about software training. Am I the odd one out or am I right in asserting that screen video is not necessarily the best way to deliver software training? And if video is the answer - why?

Does anyone have thoughts/experiences they could share? 

9 Replies
Christopher Cummins

We did a training example on Excel using only images that were originally done in a PowerPoint Presentation. I thought it was too static so I took a screen cast of one of the tasks the learner had to accomplish. This example shows the difference between a still image vs a screenr. Be warned, it's just a demo and I believe popup blockers may inhibit some people from seeing the screencast. Slide 1 has a popup window screenr of the task and Slide 2 is images only.

David Steffek

For me, I look at how I want to utilize the screen capture.

If doing a demo that I intend to just be watched from beginning to end, then the video recording is appropriate. But if I want it to be interactive then I might go with the screen shots.

Another thing to keep in mind is file size. When doing video recording, even if there is no onscreen action (e.g. the narrator is explaining something), the video is still eating up the hdd/bandwidth.

And you mention future edits, which is also good to keep in mind. I've had situations where a new field was added to the software being taught. Even though this field didn't have an impact on a specific module, the client wanted the module updated so that it accurately reflected the current environment. With video, you'd probably re-record the entire demo. With screen shots, you can just update the images without needing to redo everything else.

Chantelle N

Hi Kristian, and welcome!

I actually do agree with you for the most part, especially when it comes to the time and updates. I created a whole presentation using just screenshots, but animated the slide to show the progression from one screen to the next (annotated with text, of course). However, I also agree that in some cases, especially more complex tasks, having the more natural "context" of the full screen and the real time actions can be helpful. I think it's just like everything else really, where you just need to do your task analysis and figure out what the "best" way is for your particular subject, both in terms of objective and things like time, resources, bandwidth, etc.

Kristian V

Thank you for all your great input. 

It's clear from Christoper's example that video can be a lot more delicate. On the other hand, it seems there are practical arguments weighing in favour of snapshots, as in the case of Davids experience with ongoing edits. 

I'm moving towards a conclusion along the lines of what Chantelle says; that it's about figuring out the best approach for every single item - based on the learning objectives and course content, level of interactivity and moving between screens, etc.

So I think I'll be looking at using both - while being very careful to keep video snippets short and modular, and leaning towards using snapshots if in doubt ... 

Again, thank you so much for your help!

Kim Hannan

I also like to use both methods.  I often determine the approach by looking at what needs to be covered... If I just need to describe fields and functions on a page, I find that a screenshot is often more effective.  If I need to show a process (click here, then here, then here...), I rely on a video solution (Screenr or Captivate, etc).  

I deal with a software program that changes frequently, so I also look at the likelihood of that particular page/process being updated.  As you mentioned, screenshots are much easier to update.

Bob S

Hi Kristian,

Welcome to the community.

You pose a good question and I have to agree with many of the posters that we need to vary the solution based on the need. In that vein, I do have one thought that might be different from those shared so far...

I have always found Captivate an invaluable tool for creating interactive simulations... not demonstrations. For those times when learners don't have a chance to practice on a test/development server, the interactive sim can be just the ticket. That being said, stills usually work just fine for teaching the steps/fields and they are far easier to update So...

If you want to show how, the stills are just fine and easier to maintain/update.

If you need to let students "try it" and they don't have a sandbox to do a practice assignment, interactive sims can be the way to go.

Hope this helps,


Edie Egwuonwu

Reading this older post, I'm wondering how SL2 differs from what is being discussed here. I've played  with Screen Capture and it has worked very well for me in terms of creating interactive solutions. What I don't have a grasp of is how easily can it be updated for instances such as the one new field being added, etc. Has anyone tested the flexibility there?

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