Thursday, July 16, 2009

Simulations - Considerations

Currently, I am involved in creating simulations for a new system application. This is something I have done a lot of over the years. And I have learned quite a bit, but the hard way. To avoid the problems I encountered in the past, I strongly suggest making the following considerations prior to developing software or system application simulations.

  • Have access to a “test” system to capture the sim's screens. If there is not a test system and you must capture screens in a live system, identify all the tasks you can or cannot do without adverse effects on the system or its data.

  • Is there sensitive data or information on the system (test or live) that should not be displayed on the simulation? Can dummy data be added for the sake of the simulation? If not, you may need to alter the captured screens with a graphics editor to eliminate and replace sensitive data.

  • Is the system you are using when capturing the screens exactly as it will appear when it is “live?” The graphic user interface (GUI) and functions should replicate what the user will actually experience when they start using the actual system.

  • Determine the end users’ computer specifications. What is their bandwidth, browser type, Flash player version, etc.? These will all determine how you develop the sims and what software(s) you choose for sim development. For example, some development software may require certain players or plug-ins your users do not currently have or they may have low bandwidth causing the very slow download of the Captivate sim you built, etc.

  • Timing of the course launch. Obviously training should occur prior to when people are expected to use the system, but retention can be an issue and I like people to be use the system soon after training

  • Keep the course accessible. Users will probably find the sims to be great refreshers at a later time, so make sure it stays online and is  easy to navigate. They should be able to launch the course on the fly and go directly to the sim they need. Make sure the course's menu and navigation are very user-friendly.

  • Provide job aids. If the system is not intuitive or the tasks taught are very complicated, the job aid can be a big help to the users after training.

  • Coaching labs. If geography and resources allow, I like to also offer "training labs." After attending the online training, system users can come into a computer lab and receive coaching on whatever issues they are having or still confused about.


  1. Good summary of considerations for creating software simulations. I would personally add:

    - Keep them short. In Captivate - I limit my project sizes to 100 slides or less. It just seems to work better.

    - Make them task-based. And chunk, chunk, chunk!!!!

    For instance - I am going to need to develop a tutorial on how to add a page to our organizational web site. Since that will take more than 100 slides to simulate (it's a complicated program), I will split it up into logical chunks:
    + Starting the new page
    + Adding the content (I will probably split it further depending on the type of content).
    + Publishing the content.

    I'm still in WAAY early design (as in, I just started thinking about this yesterday evening) - but the point is that logical chunking of online simulations is key. This way, people can return to only the piece they need. No point in making someone slog through 30 minutes of online tutorial if they don't need it.

    Love the blog and keep up the good work.

  2. Excellent suggestions, thanks!

    Making them tasked based is key and I will add that it is important to make the task based on a realistic scenario. Scenarios that very relevent to their job and something they are likely to encounter.

    Thanks again,