Interactive tutorials are a great way to help users to learn new skills and master new software by allowing them to follow along with a step-by-step process on the screen.
However, picking the right tutorial software can be a tricky business - there are so many out there, so which type will work for you?
Different types of tutorial software
It's important to be aware of the limitations of your operating system – not all software works on all systems.
Broadly speaking, you'll be looking at three different categories – two are native (i.e. must be installed), one runs from the cloud:
On that final category, a word of advice.
Cloud-based tutorial maker software runs inside a browser, which means it can't capture tutorials outside of the browser.
So, for example, if you want to record a tutorial of a piece of software such as Oracle, which must be installed and runs natively on the computer, cloud-based software won't work. You'll have to use a native screen recorder.
That said, if you want to record a tutorial of a cloud-based tool such as Salesforce, Workday or Dropbox, a cloud-based tutorial creator will work just fine for you, as all of the activity happens inside the browser.
To find out more about our award-winning tutorial creation tool (and to build your tutorial in under 60 seconds), click here.
Otherwise, read on to find out about each of those steps…
Interactivity is something of a spectrum – ranging from users thumbing through a PDF file of screenshots (not very interactive!) to watching video tutorials (somewhat interactive) to actually being immersed in the app itself and being taken through the process live.
Clearly, the learning outcomes increase the further towards the interactive end you proceed – would you rather learn by looking at pictures, or by clicking the mouse and by doing it yourself inside the app?
However, there are tradeoffs in fully interactive guides.
It's harder to control a curriculum, for example, and some effects won't be available (see the next section). You'll need to decide which format best suits the process that you are trying to illustrate, based on the capability and attention span of your audience, as well as the context that you'll be delivering in.
This diagram showcases the increasing level of interactivity in popular tutorial software packages:
Your choices will also be determined by exactly what you're trying to show in your tutorial. Common things to include are:
As you can see, there are a lot of bells and whistles that can be added to a tutorial. Here's the rub though – generally speaking, the more extras you add, the less interactivity you'll have.
At the screen recorder end of the tutorial spectrum, you're essentially creating a video tutorial, where all the user can do is play, pause, fast forward and rewind. That makes it very easy to add effects such as voiceovers.
However, an interactive tutorial allows a user to click forwards at their own pace, perhaps take different paths, and experience an application as if they're really inside it.
Obviously, this is a more technologically advanced solution, but it means effects such as voiceovers are much harder to add, because they may end up being in the wrong place (or, depending on the path that the user chooses, not there at all).
So think hard about the additions you want to add to your tutorial.
Based on our experience, it may be that they're not as necessary as you think.
Using a screen recorder and offering a video instead of an interactive guide because you feel like a voiceover is critical doesn't make sense if the learning outcome of a video is poorer with or without the voiceover. You're better off skipping the voiceover and offering a superior interactive experience.
Once you've recorded your tutorial, you'll need to deliver it. Some packages make this easier than others - a software tool such as Adobe Captivate, for instance, packages up screen recordings into neat elearning modules that can be easily dropped into an LMS for playback.
A cheaper software package (or a free one such as Quicktime for Mac OS X) might only output a .mov file, leaving you to worry about where to host it, how to ensure it's been completed, and how to restrict access to the right people.
At the most basic level, make sure that you can effectively embed the output of any tutorial maker you choose, whether it's interactive tutorial software or tutorial video software.
In 90 percent of the cases we see, organizations end up managing curriculums independently from the tutorials themselves, and almost all LMS systems support embedding videos or walkthroughs as part of a curriculum that they manage.
Side note: Don't just throw your tutorial videos up on YouTube… It's a security risk, even if you use the unlisted option. Use a video content management system!
Of course, you may be delivering your tutorials in a completely different way, and not as part of a structured curriculum.
Remember that every user needs to be able to play your video tutorials, so avoid using proprietary video formats that some browsers can't handle. CanIUse.com is an excellent resource for checking the compatibility of your website features – here's their page for video playback so you can check.
How to launch tutorials from within an app, with Nickelled CEO, David Batey
Implementing tutorials with logic like this transforms the way that you deliver help, even as it shifts you away from a formalized learning curriculum. In our books, 'on-demand' help offers a far better user experience, as not everybody learn at the same pace, although we fully accept that's it's not for everybody.
Even within the parameters of the rule examples above, it's worth considering how you want your tutorials to appear. Some organizations choose to launch tutorials over live pages, which is a nice effect for users (who can complete their work as they view the tutorial) but nightmarish to maintain (what happen to the tutorial when a user goes off-course?).
A more stable solution is to record the tutorial and then play it back over the top of the site, showing the user what to do but returning them to the live page when they're finished or if they click cancel. See an example of this kind of tutorial in action here.
Even videos, the most basic kind of tutorial, can be launched within an app, thanks to the embed functionality available with most video hosts (YouTube, Vimeo and Wistia all support this).
In case you're wondering how important this step is, we'll offer the final words here to Panopto:
A recent survey conducted by Panopto and YouGov revealed that, on average, employees waste 5 hours a week just waiting to get some bit of knowledge from a coworker who can’t be reached, or blindly forging ahead to try and find that knowledge elsewhere. For larger companies, that translates into about $3 million in productivity lost each year for every 1,000 employees on your team.
Below, we've built a fairly comprehensive list of the best tutorial creation software packages on the market. There are a lot, so if you don't want to get overwhelmed, we strongly recommend reading the guide above and figuring out what you need before diving in!
These software providers offer cloud-based tutorials which can be embedded inside an app for a fully interactive tutorial experience. All offer strong analytics features, with customizable, rules-based launcher options.
Cloud-based tutorial creator tool that records webpages and can be embedded within an app.Start Trial
Enterprise-grade tutorial and walkthrough tool, suited to large implementations.View Full Review
These software providers output click-to-proceed elearning modules, which have some level of interactivity. They often support non-cloud software and can be embedded into LMS systems easily - all should be SCORM-compliant.
Adobe Captivate: Screen capture and elearning creation tool, capable of recording native applications and adding interactive effects. Easy to bundle up videos into exportable elearning packages (see our full review here).
These software providers specialize in screen recording software, which can be used to create tutorial videos. They tend not to be interactive, but may be uploaded to video hosting sites such as YouTube or Vimeo (or hosted on an intranet).
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