Musings of a Busy Software Trainer

I work for a small technology company, Creative Edge Software. Our product, while amazingly effective and affordable, is at times difficult to master. Partly this is because our brilliant U.K. engineers keep adding new features. Even though the universe of potential users is smaller than, say, Photoshop, they still need to be trained. There’s also our international reseller partners who need to know the product their selling—and in turn support their customers.

That’s where I come in. I’ve been training users and resellers since the product was introduced. I also do LOTS of sales demos, and travel all over the planet, training and supporting our users and partners. It’s exhausting.

So, naturally, I rely a lot on the Internet to supplement or even replace live training. Screen share demos are a daily occurrence. I also record these “how-to” lessons and post the resulting videos—as many other software companies do these days. For software, narrated screen recordings are potentially a great training medium.

Here’s where it gets tricky. I don’t know if my students—especially our reseller partners—are really learning, or even watching. Online video is a great way to save on training travel costs, but how do I know if it’s really effective? In no particular order, here are some thoughts on how video-based software training can be more effective.

How are the videos made in the first place?

I’m pretty lucky. My company’s software, iC3D, can already export QuickTime video files. So, it’s easy to show a finished 3D package by uploading a .MOV file. (I can also show the interactive artwork on a secure web portal, but that’s another story.) The real issue is walking trainees through the user interface, and teaching them how to perform certain tasks. There are lots of capture programs for this, such as Camtasia. I use QuickTime for Mac to record my screen and voice.

What about editing?

For software training, you really don’t need a lot of flashy editing or special effects. But it’s always good to cut out the long pauses and digressions. I use Adobe Premiere, but there are many good programs for that, from the lowly iMovie and even Photoshop CC to Final Cut Pro.

Where do I host software training videos?

Lots of technology companies host their training videos on YouTube or Vimeo—which is fine for training you want the world to see. However, if you want to keep it out of your competitors’ hands, and have control over who sees what, you’ll need a secure video learning portal.

If a video is played in the forest and nobody’s there to watch it, does it really exist?

Well, technically, yes. Even YouTube lets you count the total number of views, but little else. To find out who watched a particular video—and whether they watched the whole thing—you’ll need a video portal that tracks such things.

What if I want to test my students’ comprehension of the training?

Asking online questions is the standard answer, but when you’re using video as your software training medium, it’s best to have the questions appear within the video itself. You’ll also need a way to capture their answers.

But how do I know if they’re really getting it?

The only way people become good at a task, like using software, is by practicing it. Practice builds confidence. With a remote, video-based training setup, your students will need a way to record their own practice sessions, and upload them for your review. Ideally, this should also include a way to easily rate their performance on a numeric scale.

But my software is constantly changing! How can I keep making these videos when they’re outdated so quickly?

Amen to that. The trick is to record actions in the software as a series of short “takes.” A good training system will let you combine those short clips into a single playlist that just looks like a single video. That way, you can re-record a short segment that’s out of date, rather than re-doing the whole video.

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