Many companies are offering video-based training to bring Windows 7 users up to speed. We compared several of the options — from free videos to corporate training tools — to find out whether you really can learn it all by watching.
While Windows 7 offers many improvements and new features (along with some things that not everybody may like), some things about Windows 7 are new and different. For example, as a Windows XP user I have to come up to speed with jump lists, pin lists, sticky notes, the screen-capture “Snipping Tool,” and Aero Shake. Nor am I the only one who needs to come up to speed quickly with new features in order to become productive. The computer users that your IT staff supports have the same challenge.
At minimum, users want to avoid losing productivity by fighting and cussing at things that no longer work as they used to, and the IT Help Desk would prefer users to get up to speed on their own. (Which is why IT Expert Voice has an entire screencast series called, “I know it’s in here somewhere.”)
There’s no shortage of training materials, ranging from books (some written by IT Expert Voice authors) to in-person classes. Microsoft has plenty of information within Windows 7, as well as on the Microsoft web site. There are thousands of magazine articles, and, no doubt, tens-to-hundreds of thousands of blog postings.
And then there are videos, available online either as click-and-watch or to download, and on computer CD or DVD. In this article, I give you a quick look at some of what’s available, for fee or free, as well as my thoughts about what to look for in a technology training video.
All the training video courses I looked at broke up their content into short, topical segments. Most topics were covered in two to three minutes, with some running five to eight minutes, or done as a series of segments. I watched several segments from each video, focusing on basic user interface (e.g. Jump and Pin Lists and Aero Shake), and drilled in on some other topics, like BitLocker, the screen Snipping Tool, MSIE InPrivate browsing mode, and Sticky Notes. I also tried to follow along and use the features. I watched each video on a Lenovo ThinkPad Edge notebook running 64-bit Windows 7 Professional (and an external DVD player, since the Edge doesn’t have one built in), sometimes connected to a 28″ LCD monitor.
I give the single-user prices, but most companies also offer enterprise licensing or per-month catalog access.
Technically speaking, the information was, unsurprisingly, identical, since the features work the way they work, and comprehensive information was readily available to work from. Of course, the various training sessions were phrased differently, spoken by different people, and given in a variety of orders. The turf covered — Windows 7 topics — did vary. Every video covered the same basics, of course, but not everybody covered all the more advanced aspects of Windows 7. For example, not all the training videos covered Windows Defender, BitLocker, or Encrypting File System (EFS). So you need to start by putting together the list of the features you want your users to learn, and either ensure that a potential video covers the list, or be prepared to mix-and-match.
What follows is a comparison of features and usability, not of content accuracy or clarity. I looked at:
- Windows 7 videos from Microsoft
- Dream Force’s “Windows 7 Levels 1 & 2″
- Infinite Skills’ “Microsoft Windows 7 Training”
- Lynda.com’s “Windows 7 Essential Training”
- ShoresMedia CBT CLIPS’ “Power Up to Windows 7″
- Train Signal’s Windows 7 training videos
- Windows 7 For Dummies (from the book/DVD bundle).
Each video training course had its good and bad points. But at the end of the day, Infinite Skills and Lynda.com each had one unique feature that made their videos significantly more helpful, tying for first place in my estimation.
Looking At Windows 7 Training Videos
Microsoft bundles a fair amount of non-video information right into Windows 7, and the company has nearly two dozen or so free videos online, scattered across various pages, including:
- Windows 7: Videos & Tours
- Windows 7 How-to Videos
- Windows for Small Business
- Getting Around The Desktop. This series in particular has good demos and explanations of moving things to the Taskbar, JumpList, Pin list, and other end-user features.
Microsoft also shows real hardware where it’s relevant, e.g., in parts of the video on Remote Desktop Connections, along with the screen sessions.
You won’t find video explanations for everything. However, there are links to non-video explanations, which might be enough for most users.
But the price is right. Even the most budget-squeezed IT or HR department could easily assemble a good “Welcome to Windows 7 and changes to the UI” starter package using Microsoft’s free videos.
Dream Force Video Training Pro
Dream Force offers 11 hours of video in its Windows 7 Levels 1 & 2 Training Video , as downloads ($14.95 for each level), or on DVD ($39.95). One or two sessions for each level are available free. Topics include enterprise topics such as Bitlocker and the Problem Steps Recorder.
Dream Force’s videos are offered as Flash (viewed via web browser) and as WMV files for Windows Media Player.
What’s good: Dream Force’s screen sessions highlight the cursor with a dime-sized color circle, making it easier to follow the action.
Dream Force was the only vendor of the ones I looked at to do this. And they topic-tag each video while it’s playing, in the upper left.
What could use improvement:
- The Flash videos expected a screen size or resolution other than what my notebook was set at, with no obvious way to reset the size. This would be a showstopper problem except the WMV sessions auto-fit within Windows Media Player.
- The individual segments don’t have a large start title tag. So, for example, the “preview pane” in Windows Explorer just shows “Dream Force” … not a big deal, but a minor nuisance in navigating.
- Also, the WMV files don’t have any master Table of Contents. The file names, like the ones on many CDs, start with a number followed by text, so looking at the directory, e.g., with Windows Explorer, the listing acts as an automatic Table of Contents.
Infinite Skills’s Microsoft Windows 7 Training, by Tony Northrup, has 6.5 hours of lessons, and is available on DVD or as a download for $99.95. The first three “chapters” or sections, about 15 of the 91 lessons, are available as free samples. For example, check out “Using the Taskbar,” which includes an explanation of pinning items.
Some of the tutorials would benefit from illustration other than just a screen session. For example, the Infinite Skills discussion of ReadyBoost talks about USB flash drives but doesn’t show, say, a photo, video, or illustration of a user inserting a USB flash drive (or a Secure Digital card), followed by a screen session of Windows 7 offering to utilize it for ReadyBoost. It would have been easy to do. Failing that, the video should at least display keywords to make the learner more familiar with the term; for example, in the discussions of Encryption File System and BitLocker, display those words.
What’s good: The user interface has some useful features. Infinite Skill’s video player lets you show or hide the menu for the chapter’s worth of segments, and lets you select and jump among them, rather than requiring the learner to go back to a web page, Windows Explorer, or a DVD menu.
What could use improvement: The video player controls don’t easily let you back up (or “rewind”) within a video. You can do it, but the video-position marker doesn’t move smoothly. And again, it has no cursor highlighting.
Lynda.com offers over 40,000 training videos on a wide range of technologies and vendors. According to the company’s website, about 10% of their content (i.e., about 10% of each video, not 10% of the courses) is available for free. Currently, two Windows 7 courses are available:
- Migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7 (slightly over an hour)
- Windows 7 Essential Training (six and a half hours).
You can all of access Lynda.com’s video content with a monthly pass, which starts at $25 per month (or $37.50 if you also want access to the exercises). Or you can buy Windows 7 Essential Training as a $49.95 DVD.
What’s good: Each segment is labeled at the top, and vendor-tagged at the bottom right. The tutorials are well paced, saying what the instructor is about to explain or do, and then following through. If you drag the “time” marker, there’s no “rewind/fast-forward” delay, the tutorial shifts to that point in the tutorial instantly. Lynda.com has toggle-able Closed Captioning, which makes it easier to follow along, and learn any new vocabulary.
What could use improvement: Highlighting the cursor, and/or otherwise flagging the action, like CBT Clips does, would make it easier to follow the action.
ShoresMedia CBT Clips
What’s good: CBT Clips highlights key parts of screen activity with graphics, such as a large red arrow, colored outlines, or an animated circle. This makes it much easier to follow what’s happening.
I like these videos. The instructions on Sticky Notes has convinced me to start using that particular feature. I’m not sure if I’ll ever have to write a math expression, but it’s interesting that there’s a tool for it, and now I know how it works.
What could use improvement: CBT Clips doesn’t include security topics like BitLocker, encryption, or Windows Defender. It does, on the other hand, include laptop/tablet topics like “Writing Math Expressions” and “Handwriting with a Pen.”
Train Signal offers free online training videos. At this writing, there are about half a dozen for Windows 7 in the company’s Free Windows 7 Training Videos as well as more information under its Archives section (see the “Previous Entries” at the bottom).
What’s good: In the main group, Train Signal provides not only a mug shot of the trainer, but also short text summary of the subject and what you’ll learn from the video, e.g. for Aero Shake. And each video begins with a subject slide. Sensibly, for some topics, Train Signal uses PowerPoint-type slide shows (for instance, ”How does System Restore Help Me?”), to present key information, before switching over to a screen session. I like this mix a lot; I didn’t see any other training company doing it. And you can’t beat the price. The only thing missing is cursor highlighting. Also nice, in the archives (not the current listings) are the “Related Posts,” suggesting other videos, including non-Windows-7 courses.
What could use improvement: There’s no at-a-glance table of contents in the main group; the photo-and-summary, while useful, makes it hard to do an at-a-glance scan to see what’s there. A clickable “collapse” this view would help. The archive lists don’t include the photo-and-text, instead pushing that to the individual pages for each archive video.
Windows 7 For Dummies (Book/DVD bundle)
Andy Rathbone’s Windows 7 For Dummies is available not just as a book, but also as a book-and-DVD bundle, for $27.99. The entire DVD is only two hours long, so it’s not as comprehensive as the videos with no books. Plus much of the DVD, like the book, is more of a general “Windows, UIs, and Operating Systems” intro than “What’s new in Windows 7.” On the other hand, the book is 400 pages. I include this book/DVD set in this review because it straddles the line between video and book, and Rathbone’s videos have one or two features the others lack.
The Dummies DVD mixes some “talking head” shots of Andy and some hardware shots, like, for turning the computer on. But it is mostly screen sessions.
What’s good: Each training segment starts with a “what it is,” and pans and zooms to focus on the relevant part of the screen.
What could use improvement: I initially had a lot of trouble selecting the video segments to play from the DVD menu. Basically, it takes patience, and possibly clicking several times on a segment. It shouldn’t be this hard.
Also, in Windows Explorer’s view of the contents, the DVD appears to be “Windows Power Point 2003,” with files labeled “Title1,” “Title2,” etc.; you can only navigate meaningfully via the DVD’s cumbersome menu. Tsk.
Don’t buy this bundle primarily for the DVD, there’s only two hours of material here, and much of it is general-Windows stuff. I got it mostly for comparison. But if you’re looking for a reference book for new Windows 7 users, this is a good choice.
What To Look For in Video Training
After viewing several dozen video segments from several vendors’ videos, I’ve come up with a general shopping list of what to look for in training videos, aside from the specific content.
First, the package as a whole needs to be navigable. This makes it easier for a user to get to a specific task or piece, and also helps the learner to see what’s available, and get there. Some training videos did this well, some not so well. Only one, Infinite Skills, lets you show/hide a chapter/segment menu at the upper left of the video player window.
In addition, the individual video segments need to be as usable as possible:
- “Don’t overflow my screen!”
- “Whose Is This, and What’s the Subject?”
- Where’s the action?
- Not everything is a screen session.
- Stop! Go Back! Go Forward!
- Walk the Windows 7 Walk
Some videos want more screen turf than is available. For example, they act as though your display should be half again as big (or perhaps set to a much higher resolution) — with no way (or at least no obvious way) to resize the window. At least one of the web-based Flash videos started “oversized” at about 150% of my screen size, and opened an MSIE window without a Zoom control in the bottom right. Using the Menu bar’s Zoom solved this… once it occurred to me to try it.
Look for video windows that can be resized, even just by an inch of so. Sometimes a user needs to reclaim screen turf while learning. Some, like Infinite Skills, don’t allow this.
Some vendors display their name in the “session screen.” Others don’t. Some, like Infinite Skills, show their logo, which I found was not helpful enough.. This may seem to be a minor point, but it never hurts to have an as-you-watch reminder of what you’re supposed to be learning. Some videos displayed the segment title continuously (albeit usually in a too-small font) while others didn’t. If you lose track what you’ve selected, it would be nice to see, in a reasonably-sized font, the title of the currently selected segment.
Some vendors’ segments begin with a “title slide” for a second or two. That’s a good way to reinforce what you’re about to learn. For videos that on DVD or on your hard drive, it also helps in selecting files through Windows Explorer, since for videos, Windows Explorer’s preview pane (on the right-hand side, showing the beginning of the file) shows the first “frame” (the starting image). Here’s a good example of a video with a starter title:
A training video about using Windows is mostly screen sessions, of course. However, it helps to focus the learner’s attention when the video pans and zooms to show the portion of the screen under discussion, like the Task Bar or drop-down menus. Highlighting the cursor and areas on the Windows 7 desktop being explained, with colored areas or borders, like Dream Force does, helps even more.
Screen sessions are the sine qua non for much of Windows 7 (and other) learning — but not all of it. In a lot of Windows 7 explanations, screen sessions don’t contribute anything, particularly when nothing is happening. Watching Windows 7 “desktop wallpaper” gets old quick. Instead, there are lots of places where a photo or illustration would be helpful, like ReadyBoost, Windows Defender, and encryption. Even a simple illustration or two per topic would make this more than an audio session.
Sometimes you want to back up, or skip ahead within a given segment. Not all the players/vendors support this. For example, Infinite Skills doesn’t.
Oddly, some display windows don’t support all the Windows 7 UI features. Infinite Skills’ training, for example, doesn’t “Aero Shake.” (The feature lets you hide or reveal all other windows when you “shake” theirs using the mouse.)
Thoughts and Recommendations
None of the videos I watched did everything well. Lynda.com gets points for its closed captioning; Dream Force for the highlit cursor. And of course, you need to make sure the package covers all the topics you need.
The “Windows 7 For Dummies Book” made it clear how much better computer videos are than books in terms of screen shots. The videos are in color, already large, and zoomable… and they are session movies, not static screen snapshots.
As I said earlier, I like CBT Clips and Lynda.com’s videos best in terms of usability, and I recommend both of these training courses for a general overview of Windows 7 and its new features. Your choice will be driven, of course, by the videos that cover the features that are most relevant to your users. Be sure to look at the topics they cover, because you should not assume that all vendors cover everything, especially for corporate use.
Even if IT simply puts together a page going to the freely available videos, from one or multiple sources, you’ll already be making your users — and the IT Help Desk staff — more competent and confident, and thereby less techno-stressed and more productive.
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