Online SoftwareTutorials – Are they useful or messy?

I love playing with software applications and tools. If I have to learn to use an e-learning tool like Captivate or say software products like a BRMS or BPM, what I usually do is hunt for some online tutorials. I follow these tutorials and try and build something in the context of real life business situations. This helps me understand the application or tool better.

These online tutorials are real useful things. They help you get started with the application or tool without much help.

But not all online tutorials are completely useful. They are usually too many gaps or missing information that makes you get flustered.

Recently I tried modeling a business process in a process modeler. Of course I used a tutorial to learn how to work with the process modeler.

The online tutorial that I was using had a real business situation and I was trying to model a process it. The business process was about placing a purchase order request, the order being processed and the order finally getting sanctioned or rejected.

The tutorial was helpful till I created a project, a work flow with flow objects and flow controls. After that I was just not able to proceed because the tutorial was directing me to download some WSDL and XSD files. Here it got very problematic because the steps to create the WSDL and XSD files were not given. This tutorial was addressing a specific business scenario so it had to give guidance on creating the WSDL and XSD files or even simpler, the files could have been available for download.

Teaching learners how to create an XSD or a WSDL file was not the objective of the tutorial. The main focus was modeling the business process. Therefore the tutorial must have given all supporting files for download to successfully complete the tutorial.

Online tutorials must be complete in itself. It must include all nitty gritties. For example in the tutorial I was mentioning sometime back, without the WSDL and XSD files you cannot proceed with the tutorial.

Online tutorials must never assume that the learners know everything. It must be suitable for any kind of audience be it techie or non techie.

Here I cannot help mentioning about the tutorial on creating a loan processing application I had gone through in the NetBeans website. I created a complete loan processing composite application in NetBeans using the online tutorial in their site.

Believe me when I actually took up the tutorial, I had no clue about business processes, WSDL, XSD or Web Services. Yet I was able to create a loan processing application simply because the tutorial was complete in every way. I did not have to ask anyone for help. The tutorial had all the steps and all the files necessary to create the application. Even more so it also had the code lines which you had to type in the source editor of some files to make the application run.

I have seen some other tutorials which are quite well developed and are really useful.

Mostly online tutorials are either text based tutorials or video based tutorials. I guess if both are made available it would be highly useful. The video based tutorial could be a demonstration of working with the tool and parallely the text based tutorial could list the steps to work with the tool or application.

Now it’s your turn

  • What is your opinion about online tutorials for e-learning tools like Captivate or software products like Microsoft PowerPoint?
  • Are these tutorials helpful?
  • Have you seen some really good tutorials?

Please type in your comments now!

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2 Responses

  1. […] Online Software Tutorials – Are they Useful or Messy? — Writers Gateway, 1/23 Rupa at SAP Labs praises the NetBeans tutorials in this post, which […]

  2. Hello, I stumbled across your blog while searching for material on instructional design. I make extensive use of online tutorials for learning software and I agree whole heartedly with your comments. I have little use for simple software tours, which are very common. Instead, I benefit from a project or scenario based approach where I’m able to work along with the instructor while creating something that is viable while at the same time giving me hands on practice using the software in a manner similar to what I would be using it in the real world.

    Having access to the source materials is not always necessary, it really depends on the program I’m learning and my previous experience level. But, I agree that if you’re going to create an online course you should include access to all the materials necessary to successfully complete the course.

    I use a site called Lynda.com for most of my creative software learning. They offer a variety of learning methods and provide the ability to select whether you want access to the supplemental materials or not. I like the flexibility but I’m not real thrilled with the extra cost. Most times I forgo the cost and muddle my way along without the supporting materials. I can say with certainty that I learn more with the materials, then without.

    BTW….nice blog…I’m looking forward to reading the archives.

    Mike in Vancouver

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