So your company is rolling out a new piece of software to employees, and your job is to make sure the IT helpdesk isn't overwhelmed with calls.

What can you do to help make this part of the rollout go smoothly?

In this guide, Instructional Designer, Ethné O’Donoghue explains how you can make a huge difference by developing an easy-to-understand learning resource that employees can draw on when they need to.

There are a number of solutions to consider:

  1. If the software manufacturer’s documentation meets your needs, then use it e.g. this could work well if the documentation is well written and you have a standard configuration.
  2. If the software manufacturer’s documentation doesn’t meet your needs, check whether an off-the-shelf course does.
  3. There are several cases where a bespoke solution may be more suitable. Here are a few examples:
  • Employees use a highly customised or locked-down instance of the software.
  • You need to include company workflows in the training.
  • Your company has developed software for internal use.
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A bespoke solution will largely consist of software demonstrations, also called product simulations and software simulations.

A software demonstration uses images or video, often with a text or audio explanation, to show how to use perform tasks with the software. This allows employees to learn the tasks by seeing exactly how to use the software. For example, you could show how to book holidays in the holiday management system.

Design a resource that’s simple and intuitive, with help along the way if you’re stuck. If learners have low levels of computer literacy, that needs to be addressed before they take a course on a specific software product.

Here are some guiding questions that will help you design an effective software demonstration.

1. How stable is the software environment?

Are new features being developed at the same time as the training? If the environment is in flux and the software demonstrations have to be rerecorded, this wastes effort. It is preferable for there to be a delay between the completion of software development and the rollout of the software so that training can be developed on a stable version of the software.

If this is not possible, you can mitigate the risk with the following measures:

  • Allow extra time or resources if you know things will change.
  • Stay close to the software developers. Find out which features are unlikely to change, and record those first. Make sure you have access to the latest version of the system.

2. What is the learner’s level of experience?

Knowing your audience guides the level of instruction and support you provide in the software demonstration. Have they used a previous version of the software, or are they totally new to it?

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If learners are a mix of new and experienced users, Aurion recommends having separate courses for these audiences, as they have different needs, which can be a challenge to meet in a single course. A newbie will probably want to do a programme from start to finish, whereas an experienced learner may want to skip ahead to specific content.

3. What are the most common tasks they need to perform?

Find out what the most common tasks are, which roles perform these tasks, and why they perform these tasks. Use this information to set up a scenario that underpins the demonstration topics. Making the scenario relevant to the audience makes it easier for them to see how they will use the software to complete their tasks.


For example, when Aurion Learning developed a software demonstration of how school teachers could use a messaging feature, it was illustrated using realistic messages, like the one in the screenshot.

Cover the most commonly performed tasks first: organise your programme so that these are covered before less common tasks.

The order of tasks in your learning programme should be based on learner need or workflow: avoid grouping tasks based purely on their location in the software interface, unless those tasks are related to the learner's work environment.

4. Will they use a customised version of the software product or a default setup?

Before the software demonstrations are recorded, the environment must be set up to replicate the work environment of the learner. Set up a sandbox environment – an environment that is disconnected from the live environment - where a demonstration can safely be recorded without causing chaos to the business. Ensure that you're working with good quality and anonymised data.

If the software will be customised for users at an administrative level, use these same customisations as the basis of your demonstrations.

If learners will be using a default setup, will they have permission to customise the software on an individual basis? If so:

  • You’ll need to decide how much time to spend on this. How many customisation options are there? How likely is it that staff will need to or want to customise the software? For example, you could have basic coverage such as one topic showing how to access customisation options and one or two common changes people make. Or you might have more advanced coverage that uses a separate course to demonstrate several customisations in detail.
  • Customisation should be covered separately to the commonly performed tasks. Some users may not customise the software, so we don’t want to force users to watch a demonstration of something they don’t need to know.

5. Which topic types should I use?

The most common topic types in a software demonstration course are conceptual and demonstration topics.


A conceptual topic explains any concepts or decisions associated with performing a task. It can place the software tasks in the context of the learner's job role and workflow. Such a topic should immediately precede the related demonstration topic.


A demonstration topic shows the learner how to accomplish a particular task (e.g. how to save a file to the cloud). A demonstration can be created using screen captures or screenshots. A screen capture uses video to guide the learner through tasks, whereas a screenshot uses images to do the same.

Both demonstration types can also include audio, onscreen text, and highlights, but screenshots can be produced more quickly than screen captures. Whether using screen capture or screenshots, the person who scripts a demonstration should also create the screen capture or screenshots.

A demonstration topic may include Try Me interactions – the ability for the learner to try out steps in the software in a safe environment. You could use software like Adobe Captivate or TechSmith Camtasia to create Try Me interactions.

Include the Try Me if it is appropriate for the audience. For example, if learners are new to the software and they need to practice using it before they use it in a production environment, this can be a great way for them to learn. But if learners are experienced with the software and want to quickly find out how to complete a task, they may prefer a video that gets straight to the point.

6. How can I make it easy to find information in a course?

When it’s easy to find information in a course:

  • It is less demanding on learners’ time, allowing learners to progress a topic when they have a short break.
  • It allows learners to choose the topics most relevant to their job and level of experience.
  • It allows the course to serve as a reference tool after course completion. Learners can see how to perform a task they may be stuck on.

Nobody wants to guess which 20-minute topic covers the demonstration they’re looking for, and then have to view the entire topic only to find out it’s the wrong topic! Make it easy to find information in a course by creating targeted, concise topics (e.g. 3-5 minutes) with clear titles that can be easily accessed. Concise topics don’t mean the course will be shorter: instead, your list of topics will be longer.

Keep navigation unlocked to provide open access to learners. They should be able to choose whether to take the whole course or just certain topics. This is good practice in general but is also great for learners who only need to access specific topics.

If you’d like to find out more about our approach to software demonstrations, or how we could help you get the most out of creating software demonstrations, get in touch.

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