Creating a simulation - seeking advice

nwilliams3743 Community Member Posts: 74
Hi All

Not really a question as such, but more seeking advice and experience from the community!

It's been almost a year since I started working with Lectora and it's been great, and the support from this community has greatly assisted my development.

I've been given a new project to train a new application process and I've decided to create a simulation.  Think your standard online financing application.

I'm yet to start but am very excited, and am reaching out to seek advice on any experience you have had when making one.

It will be about 10 pages long consisting of many text entry fields, setting passwords, drop down selections etc etc.

I know how to carry variables over from page to page, such as a user entering their name/DOB/address on page one, and that info will appear on the final 'confirmation page'.

Conceptually I believe I understand how to complete it all.. But from your experience, what do you believe is an area I should really focus on, or do you have any tips or advice before I start? Any troubles you had when making one?

Thanks in advance!


  • nwilliams3743
    nwilliams3743 Community Member Posts: 74
    Further information, the online application will be dynamic depending on options chosen.

    For example, if it is a single application, X will appear below the 'type' drop down selection.

    If it is a dual application, Y will appear below the 'type' drop down selection.

    In this case, I figured I would have screenshots from the actual application process (which has already been build) but segment it, so each screenshot only contains that information and entry field/drop down selection, so I can then show/hide new information as required?

    The original drop downs/entry fields will be photoshopped out, and replaced with the lectora fields and customised using CSS.

    Would this approach be ok, or is there a better solution?
  • ssneg
    ssneg Community Member Posts: 1,466 ☆ Roadie ☆
    Warning! Unhelpful opinion incoming!

    Disclaimer: I have no idea about your job role, learning goals, software, audience and I assume nothing. This is an impersonal rant of a procrastinating e-learning guy.

    I don't believe in software simulations. Software should be designed to be intuitive and require minimal training. It should include fool-proof inputs, input validation, contextual prompts and tips, contextual help, searchable wiki-based manuals, process wizards, and as much automation as possible. 'Software training' is just crutches for badly designed corporate software. Here is why.

    Software applications change a lot, constantly. Training will always demand resources to keep up with the software and will lag behind the actual software nonetheless. Especially if training is complex (simulations) and requires a lot of effort to build/rebuild/update/maintain.

    So when building software training is unavoidable, I always push for the cheapest, simplest solution, like annotated screenshots, with minimal interactivity for the sake of readability ("click a feature to read more"). They are easy to update. Sometimes screenshots can be replaced with a video but that is almost always a worse option. The material should be arranged in an open structure for quick and easy reference access to specific parts.

    Okay, a team of skilled developers spent months building an app using specialized tools. Now the learning guy has to semi-rebuild the app (at least its front-end) and simulate its complexity (branching, dynamic nature) using far simpler tools. Singlehandedly. Is this fair? I don't think it is fair or efficient allocation of a professional's time.

    If a software requires a step-by-step guide that mimics the software, there are two problems. Either the software is so badly designed that it is impenetrable without rigorous training, or the learning department thinks their audience (professionals that the company employs) won't be able to figure out a software without help. Too often, it's both.

    So when tasked with building a software simulation, I try to do as little simulation as possible and focus on explaining things that don't change that often, namely, the business processes and birdseye view of the application. Then I include instruction on the most counter-intuitive aspects of the software and suggest the learners can figure out the rest or else why were they hired.

    Okay, I promised it wouldn't be helpful and it weren't.

    Now for helpful (hopefully) stuff.
    - Start with a wireframe. Build the basic logic of the course before you build out small elements like dropdowns.
    - If you have time, build a "backdoor" that allows you to navigate freely and see all variable values or testing might become a nightmare (look at this great tutorial for Dev Mode)
    - Keep in mind that a lot of things can be updated without even firing up Lectora, e.g. screenshots can be edited and replaced in bulk in the /images folder.
    - Remember that dropdowns and radiobuttons and input fields will look different in various browsers and most likely not how they look in the software. Manage expectations of people who might demand pixel-perfect replication of the software.
    - Inline Variable Replacement might come in handy in software sims

    And final tip. If you get stuck, there is a vibrant and helpful community right here ready to help :)
  • approg
    approg Community Member Posts: 258 ♪ Opening Act ♪
    While you could certainly build a course with "many text entry fields, setting passwords, drop down selections etc etc." on 10 pages with each widget interacting with one or more other widgets in the course I think you'd be creating a rod for your own back by using Lectora to create it. The build process would probably be tedious and error-prone.

    You should consider using some other tool that's specifically geared to software simulation or perhaps consider writing it using HTML, JavaScript, and CSS (it's what I would do).
  • switalba
    switalba Community Member Posts: 88
    Our company recently implemented a new system but we also knew it was going to change. So instead of building a simulation, we created a discovery game (Mission Possible). Basically the learner would access the system outside the course, then also have the course open. The course would ask a series of questions that the learner had to go find in the system. We provided clues, tips, quick videos, reference guides and a collaboration option to help the learner obtain the correct answer. Feedback was provided and the learner earned badges.

    Hope this helps sparks ideas for you. Good Luck.

  • jvalley4735
    jvalley4735 Community Member Posts: 1,357
    Thank you for your kind words about the community.  You made my Community Manager heart happy :) I worked for a company that did healthcare software simulations and from an Instructional Design standpoint I struggled with how much instruction is too much.  You don't necessarily want to give your learner the information step by step but if they're completely new to the product making them fend for themselves is a little evil.  I can relate to Sergey's comment about software simulations being a moving target.  It was hard to keep up on content so make sure it's as updateable as possible.  We used screenshots so the version could easily be swapped.  I also think it's really important to provide real-time feedback.  My favorite set up was a guided simulation and then a test using the same screenshots with less help at the end of the course. Gamification is always a win in my opinion as well because it makes the content more interesting.
  • ssneg
    ssneg Community Member Posts: 1,466 ☆ Roadie ☆
    I think Billi's idea of accessing software outside of the course to complete challenges in the course is excellent. I'd love to learn more about this.
  • clewis2107
    clewis2107 Community Member Posts: 43
    Software applications change a lot, constantly. Training will always demand resources to keep up with the software and will lag behind the actual software nonetheless. Especially if training is complex (simulations) and requires a lot of effort to build/rebuild/update/maintain.
    Way, way, back in the late 90s I was working on a CBT (using Authorware) simulating a tracking system and the system changed at least 5 times in the three months I was working on the course.  I am now bald.
  • nwilliams3743
    nwilliams3743 Community Member Posts: 74
    Uh oh.. what have I done?! Proposed the simulation to the business yesterday to which they were really enthusiastic about..

    Thanks all for the responses!  Really enjoying the feedback and support.

    So I guess the best way to explain it, is that it's not really an in-depth software simulation, rather an (almost) linear online application process.  Go to any bank/finance website and click on apply for a credit card/finance and they're all pretty similar - that's what I'm creating the sim for.

    Is the process straightforward? Yes.

    Does the training HAVE to be in the form of a simulation?  Probably not.

    This is a change in the process. Some of the audience will know the old process, some new starters in the audience will not. With this in mind, I intent to make the process open to navigation, and allow a user to go end-to-end or only select a portion of what they want to know. Really like the idea of gamifying it somehow too.

    Also, I'll be providing a section dedicated to only what changes have occurred.

    approg - I don't have other specialised software, nor fantastic skills at HTML/CSS/JS (although I have been doing plenty of and w3schools to understand it better)

    Billi - Great suggestion. I have done something similar in the past but not to that extent (which I had forgotten about until now - thanks!)

    Jennifer - I'll see how I can incorporate gamification and make it less focused on a standard front to end process.  Real-time feedback is a great point too.

    Sergey - Helpful as always! Great ITC lecture on Minimalist design too!

    Chuck - I'm not bald yet but the greys are becoming more predominant!