In order to fully harness the potential cognitive power of online simulations, we recommend familiarizing yourself with the entire suite of available tools and the recommended best practices for using SimTutor Author.

Typical E-learning that we have seen comprises short videos followed by some multi-choice questions. But that’s not a simulation and neither is it an effective way to help people to learn. With SimTutor Author, you can do so much more than that!

People learn best when what they are trained on is as relevant as possible to what they do day to day. With a simulation they can apply their practical knowledge about the procedure and master the cognitive aspect of how to perform it, without needing to be on-site or using the actual equipment or software - and without incurring any risks!

This is the essence of a simulation – being able to practice the task virtually, without the risks. It is proven that simulated learning allows the learner to retain far more compared to traditional eLearning or videos, and you can also much more effectively test their competence for what they will actually be doing on the job. Therefore, we highly recommend following this realistic, interactive style of training, and this guide should help give you an idea of how to achieve this.

From our experience there are five main things to think about when creating simulations:

We will go through each of these in this guide to help you create great simulation-based training.


1. The Scenario

The scenario sets the scene for the learner. It provides context, helps to immerse them within the training, and helps reinforce that the questions they are answering or the tools they are using for certain steps are realistic and something they would encounter in real life.

Introduce the scenario at the start and continue to build on it as they complete the appropriate steps (we will talk about this more in the Media section).

The scenario you choose should represent as closely as possible the situation the learner will be facing - whether it be a common day-to-day activity or a possible unforeseen situation that they need to be able to respond to.

Here are two example scenarios:

“A vessel has arrived at the port and is awaiting logs to be loaded. You are a dock worker who must take a photo of each load of logs and assist with the hoisting of these logs by connecting the cables, so the crane can lift the load.”

“A potential new customer has contacted your company, and it is your job to add them to your customer management system.”

As well as a text description of the scenario, it’s also helpful to use a background image to reinforce the context/setting. More about that in the next section.

2. Media

The media you use plays a large part in how effective your simulation turns out to be. As a rule of thumb, when filming or taking photos for the key steps of the simulation, it is always best practice to shoot media from the learner’s point of view - just as if they were doing the job at the time. It is more relevant to the learner when they can visualize what they would see if they were doing that procedure in real life. The exception to this is where you are including a few scene-setting video clips or photos, which you’d take from a different angle, further away from the subject.

Here are some useful tips for getting the best media for simulated learning:

  • Shoot “point of view” video showing what the learner would see if they were performing the task themselves. Make sure to film all of the important steps in the procedure.

  • Take snapshots of that video throughout so the still images are in the same perspective as the video and can be seamlessly integrated into the Sim.

  • Cut the video at the exact point where you want the user to interact, so when you build the simulation, the video from one step transitions smoothly into the still image in the next step.

  • Then, start the next video from the point the previous video ended, so you can include this in the simulation to show the user the task being done correctly right after. (More on this in Orientation of Sim)

  • Using Hotspot/Hotspot with Tools, and more advanced step-types such as Picture Swap and Image Sequence, can be a great way to make the learning experience more realistic. We strongly recommend you use these step-types in preference to Quiz steps whenever possible, to provide more realistic interactions for your learners, which will provide more effective learning outcomes.

  • When prioritizing what to film and/or what to test the learner on, focus on the parts of the procedure that have the highest risk, or the lowest success rate.

  • Allow for wrong answers in your Sim. If safe, film what happens when the learner does a step incorrectly so you can show them the consequence if they choose the wrong path in your Sim. If unsafe, an easy alternative option is to use a created graphic or some text on the screen to explain what went wrong and the risks. This allows the learner to understand why the answer or action they chose was incorrect and why it should be avoided.

3. Instructional text

The instructions you include for each step are vital for the success of your simulation. The learner must be guided through the steps, at the level they are expected to know. For example, if the procedure is completely new, or you would rather they just practice it without pressure, you can tell them exactly what needs to be done. However, if they previously completed training about that procedure, then the simulation should have minimal tips and guidance so they must really think about what they are doing without being specifically told.

Be clear with your instructions. Make it known exactly where they are in the scenario, so they do not get confused. We suggest telling the learner what each step needs them to do e.g. click or tap the correct part of the image, click and drag the correct object, etc.

You can also decide that “What happens next?” is what you want to train the learner to know. If so, your instructions can be just that, allowing the learner to really test their knowledge of the steps in the procedure and what they should do next. This can be used for less technical elements of your sim e.g. a Hotspot with multiple tools used at different points in the procedure, and the learner has to select the correct tool they should use next.

4. Orientation of Sim

As mentioned in the introduction to this guide, we find that most traditional E-learning defaults to having a video that shows what to do first, then a simple question afterwards. This can be good for initial training if the content is completely new, but if the learner has already done some study and should know what they are doing, we suggest avoiding this type of orientation in your Sim and, instead, use the approach explained below.

In our experience, the choice and order of the steps play a big role in the effectiveness of your Sim. We find that it is very powerful if you show the user what happens in video form after they interact with a step such as a Hotspot or an Image Sequence. For example, if the next part of the procedure is to pull a lever: after the user correctly completes an interactive “pull the lever” step, provide a video of an actor pulling the lever, showing the result of what happens when the lever is pulled, leading into the next interactive step that the learner needs to do. This approach requires the learner to think, draw on their knowledge, and make a decision, rather than just passively watch a video, and therefore helps them to build an effective mental picture of the procedure steps.

5. Branching

A SimTutor simulation allows you to utilize branching to take the learner to different areas of the sim depending on the choices they make. This is extremely useful to create more realistic simulations because the learner’s choices now have consequences, which encourages critical thinking.

Use SimTutor Author’s Planning Tool early on in your planning process to map out a flow of steps for the Sim. Not every interaction needs a branch as this can take a lot of time to build, so focus on the most important decisions or questions you have in your simulation, and add branches around those.

An example of a great application of branching would be a Hotspot step with a range of possible “next step” options. If the user selects the correct hotspot, it will take them down the “correct path”; but if the user selects a hotspot that is wrong, or even just sub-optimal, you can take them down a path that explains what happens if they were to choose that in real life - while still marking their answer incorrect. From there, you can add follow-up steps to help the user make decisions to get back onto the “correct path” or simply give them another go at answering the previous question.


In summary, creating true simulation takes a bit of practice and requires a shift of mindset from a normal E-learning style, but the benefits it gives your learners are worth it as it gives them the life-like training they need to operate safely and effectively. Feel free to contact the team at SimTutor if you feel like you need any advice or help - we build simulations every day and we are more than happy to help and share our experience.

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