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Toolkit: NexLearn SimWriter

by Joe Ganci

December 23, 2014


by Joe Ganci

December 23, 2014

“I am happy to say that SimWriter has been a tool well worth my time to review, so much so that I plan on investigating it even further in the next few months and using it in real-world projects.”

After 34 years in this business, you might say I’ve learned a thing or two about what constitutes good eLearning, even truly effective eLearning. What does it mean for eLearning to be effective?

It means that it prepares learners to handle problems and conflicts in the real world. It means helping people make the proper real-world decisions in situations that are sometimes stressful. It doesn’t bore those who already know the subject matter well, but it helps novices practice as much as they need to become more expert. It certainly is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It is a joy for learners!

A joy for learners? Joe, you must be kidding. I’ve never once seen an eLearning course that’s a joy to use. True, perhaps we can’t expect a joyful experience, but we can hope for eLearning that engages us, not just with pretty pictures and sounds, but with challenges, with respectful prodding, and consequences for actions that we take.

I notice something interesting about my boys when they play video games. In many games, there are occasional video sequences that last four or five minutes, with beautiful imagery, music, and action. My boys don’t have much patience for those. Why? Because they aren’t actually playing the game during those sections. They are simply watching. Beautiful scenes don’t engage them for very long.

So it is with most eLearning. We are told to watch, to read, to look at images, or maybe some videos. We are told to hit the “Next” button. We are given a quiz at the end to prove we learned something in the last few minutes (never mind that we’ll forget it soon afterward). We all hate that kind of learning, yet we all have created that kind of learning. You know what? It … just ... doesn’t … work!

What works? Scenarios work. I don’t mean multimillion dollar Avatar-types of environments. In fact, simulated scenarios can be simple text, just like those Choose Your Own Adventure books or the old text-only Dungeons and Dragons games in the early days of microcomputers. How did those work? They sparked the imagination, they painted a rich tapestry in the mind, and most importantly, they allowed the user to make decisions that would change the outcome. Of course, images, audio, and video help a lot, animations may as well, but they are not necessarily always essential. What is essential is a challenge that leads to consequences, both good and bad.

Soft skills, such as customer relations, lend themselves to scenarios, but so can software training. After all, why are we learning the software? To solve problems. What if we use the software incorrectly? We get bad consequences. Ask, “Why learn the software,” before you ask how to use it.

Many authoring tools today do not lend themselves well to creating scenario-based learning. They push you toward a linear presentation. The truth is, the most important element you need to create scenarios is the ability to navigate freely to anywhere from anywhere. You can do that in almost any tool, including PowerPoint, but some tools lend you the power to create these navigable case-based scenarios much more easily than others.

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Hi, all, sometimes I get the number of years I've spent in the business mixed up with the number of years I'll be married. To correct the record, we married in 1980, so it's been 35 years in February and I started in eLearning in 1983, so it's 32 years soon. Oops. :-)
Looks like an interesting tool. I like the interface. Does this tool publish SCORM-conformant modules?

P.S. I meet few people who've done this longer than me (27 years), so I'm impressed.
I have only been at this since 1998...
I am interested in reviewing what you produce. I would accept a challenge to produce the same thing using Storyline, including applying variables as you have shown in your script.
SimWriter does export SCORM compliant modules, including 1.2 through AICC. I've downloaded the trial and tested the SCORM output in our LMS. Appears to work fine. The UI is not bad, but like any UI it does take a bit of time to become accustomed to. NexLearn (SimWriter parent company) offers a demo every Tuesday at 1 PM central time. I've signed up to learn more. After using it minimally (enough to generate SCORM output) I, too, wondered what it offers beyond Storyline. Maybe there are more features? Hopefully will learn more about it on Tuesday.
I attended the SimWriter demo today and learned a bit more about this tool. I had previously read Joe's article and played with a trial version, the result being a SCORM module that played successfully in our licensed LMS.

The branching functionality from linking (I think the presenter, AJ, called it "wrapping") to writing to designing is laid out in the UI from top to bottom and left to right. This is consistent with other software tools. Linking the branches from topics (like chapters) to decision interactions (choices) and on to other topics is done first to create the framework. From there, one can write in the content, i.e. questions, statements, etc.

Last in the process is the actual design of the slides is done by using built-in or imported images and media.

One of the questions we had was if Storyline could also create this kind of functionality using variables. The answer is yes, but if there are many variables in the sim and if each slide in Storyline required one or more variables, then the result would be a clunky and time consuming development process. I like Storyline a lot and use it almost every day. Creating a big variable-dependent module in Storyline is pretty tedious, although the result for the user is fantastic, of course. For this kind of e-module, I think that SimWriter could be very beneficial. So the ease of inter/intra-slide linking in SimWriter is a positive.

Another major positive is the content review function. AJ demonstrated this by exporting a word document, editing it, and reimporting the edited doc. The changes were tracked and visible in SimWriter. I thought that was pretty cool.

Lastly of note are the included images and scenes, which are limited to professionally dressed people in a variety of poses (like in Storyline) as well as conference rooms and buildings. Anything else would need to be generated and imported.

I have the trial version for a few more weeks and I'm going to keep playing with it. So far, I think it's a pretty good tool that might prove to have value.

Joe Ganci, thanks for writing and sharing the original article about SimWriter!
Hello. We are trying to get SimWriter uploaded onto Blackboard via a SCORM module. While the case works perfectly when we upload it to, we find a vexing black screen when we upload to Blackboard. So, while SimWriter is advertised to do this, there may still be a few glitches. Anyone who has solved this, can you let me know? thanks much, in advance.
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