Why Video is Essential to Software Training

In the modern digital world, technical expertise is the ultimate advantage. To survive, every technology company must enable its staff, resellers, and end users to understand and benefit from their product. Here are the ways interactive video can make that happen.

Let’s be honest. It’s hard for many of us to keep track of all our gadgets and apps. Right after we figure out how to do something, the app or the OS is upgraded, or something else changes. Even if it’s an app we love, we’re in constant learning mode.

Software developers have this problem in spades. Everything changes all the time. Not only do these companies need to support their user base, they also have to train (and re-train) their reseller partners and even their own staff. For developers, success is tied to how well everyone understands and uses their product. That means training has to be both continuous and effective.

Is Online Video the Answer?

Traditional training methods—manuals, help databases, self-running tutorials, live classroom sessions, etc.—are usually quite expensive. They are also unsatisfactory in many cases. Many software trainers turn instead to online video, capturing a screen sequence (with audio commentary) using systems like Screencast-O-Matic, Movai, Camtasia, or even QuickTime Pro for Mac. That way, a trainer can capture his or her expertise easily—in a medium most users find conducive to learning.

Having a source of training video is not the whole answer, however. Just throwing a video to a YouTube channel is problematic. For example:

  • How secure is your software training video? For released products and end user support, YouTube videos are nominally effective. But if you’re training reseller partners on pre-release software, you probably don’t want to give your competitors an edge.
  • How much distraction can you tolerate? YouTube (and even some types of Vimeo accounts) insert “recommended videos” at the end of every video. Even if these are not competitive—as many are—they compete for your trainees’ attention.
  • How can you track viewing? With typical online video, you never know who watched what, or for how long.
  • How do you engage with users and measure their learning? No matter how good your software training video footage is, traditional YouTube video delivery is a black hole. Without two-way interaction with actual users, actual learning is uncertain at best.

There are alternatives. Many Learning Management System (LMS) providers are struggling to incorporate video into their courseware—with limited success. However, a more promising approach is the video learning portal. Before we go there, however, we need to consider the content needs.

How to Plan and Create Training Video

When planning a video training library, be sure to classify each potential segment—not just by feature or step, but also by degree of difficulty and release status. Software training is a complex process, so the more you know about your material the better.

The next step is obvious. Instead of putting your best trainer on a plane—or chaining him to endless Skype or GoToMeeting sessions—capture that expertise with any of the capture programs mentioned above.

While you need not achieve high-end studio quality, you should pay attention to things like audio quality. Your computer’s built in microphone is probably good enough for Skype or FaceTime, but you should probably invest in an external USB microphone, and steer clear of noisy locations and bad acoustics.

When screen recording, it’s always wise to “chunk” the information into smaller segments—and keep an organized list of each feature or process description. Software changes constantly, and it’s a lot easier to update a single segment than a 30-minute tutorial.

(By the way, recording small segments means the possibility of video editing—to combine a series of steps into a single video. That process is surprisingly easy; it can even be done in Photoshop. However, there are even easier ways to combine short video segments. More on that later.)

Finally, be sure to collect all non-video components of your training program. PDFs, Office files, and the like are standard fare in any training environment.

How to Manage Video Learning

A trainer’s mission is more straightforward for software competence than it is for other, more nuanced skills training environments. Mastering a software app may be challenging, but there are usually well-defined, measurable learning goals.

The first step in setting up a software learning portal is to identify the types of trainees. Are they typical users or beta testers? Are they rank beginners or people in need of advanced training? Are they reseller partners, tasked with explaining or supporting the product? Are they involved with one product or many? Each user is assigned to one or more groups or “learning paths,” which determine the content and assignments they receive.

Handling training video content also requires planning. If software training videos are “chunked” into logical segments, as I mentioned earlier, then they can be combined and rearranged as single playlists. (See illustration below.) This is especially useful when only one of many software features is altered. With a playlist, the trainer need only create a video capture for that feature, and replace the older version in the playlist.


Once a single video or a playlist is created, interactivity can be added. This can include in-line questions and attached, non-video resources. The portal not only delivers these on demand, it also tracks usage, captures answers to questions, and records comments or questions for the instructor.

Finally, training videos in a learning portal can be assigned to one or more groups or learning paths—to be viewed by the appropriate users in any place or time.

Clearly, these steps can be applied to other training scenarios. However, online video is uniquely suited to software training. It is typically viewed on the same device as the software itself, making individual practice sessions inherently simple. It also maximizes the limited resources of a developer’s experts—who often do much more than training.

In the fast-paced, ever-changing world of software, well-managed and interactive video training can be a godsend.