eLearning best practices: The desktop

For an IT project to deliver value, it must include end-user training. A popular approach to delivering this training is through on-demand eLearning videos. As part of our ongoing series, I share with you how to prepare your desktop before you deliver the training.
[tg_youtube video_id=”ePpcpJG9GCY”]


Before you even begin recording your screen, you should consider what the learner will be watching the video on. In many cases, if you are teaching someone how to use software, the learner would prefer to have one computer running the training and another to follow along in real-time. Lately, I have seen a lot of people take the course on an iPad or similar tablet and then take the course on their computer.

In today’s world, almost all video produced uses one of two video sizes:

720p: 1280 pixels wide x 720 pixels high

1080p: 1920 pixels wide x 1080 pixels high

Aside from the newer 4K screens coming onto the market, most flat screen televisions are 720p or 1080p, and so are most videos on YouTube and other popular video sites.

If you are training on a software product with large icons and a clean user interface (like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, or Excel), you would be fine recording in 720p. If you are recording an app that demands significant screen real estate with small, almost undiscernible icons (like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator), then you might consider recording in 1080p.

Of course, you could record at lower or higher resolutions, but I recommend you minimally record at 720p. The lower the resolution, the worse your training will look. You will likely output to MP4 format, which compresses the video, so a lower resolution will look grainy and probably give your learner a headache 🙂

Video files are already quite large, so I recommend you consider 720p as your standard and only go to 1080p if required by the application itself.

Your Desktop

Before you record your screen, you need to make sure your desktop is clean and ready for production. As you will see in the embedded video, I point out the following requirements to declutter your desktop for distraction-free training:

  • Cleanse your desktop. If you are the type of person that fills your desktop with links and icons, you should (a) get rid of them, (b) temporarily dump them into a single temporary folder, or (c) record on a temporary computer or secondary monitor.
  • Set the background to black. Generally speaking, a solid black background is the best way to record training. No matter how cool your desktop picture is or how strong your love for a fuchsia background, eLearning professionals know that a simple, solid black background is the least distracting.
  • Auto-hide application launchers. On Windows, there is a Start bar, on the Mac, there is a Dock. Nearly every operating system has a launcher with a bunch of icons on them. Unless you are training how to use an operating system, you should set the launcher to auto-hide so it is tucked out of the way. Usually, you can right-click the launcher and set it to hide, in which case it will not display until you move your mouse in that general location.
  • For Mac’s auto-hide the menu bar. The menu bar runs across the top of the screen and provides contextual menus for the application, along with the date and time, WiFi settings, and various other small icons for your apps.
  • Set your screen resolution. While I already stated this in the previous section, it is worth repeating. Most computers do not default to 720p or 1080p, so make sure you set your resolution properly before you perform the recording.

But my computer does not support 720p or 1080p!

A common issue for people recording training is their computer’s video card (or operating system) just plain does not support 720p or 1080p. I have two workarounds for these types of situations:

  • Use a resolution higher than what you are recording at. Then, resize the application’s window you are running to fit the resolution you will record at. For the Mac, I suggest keeping a little script on hand (note: it does not always work, but I found it to work in most cases). For the PC, I recommend the free AutoSizer.
  • Find a product that will force your computer to run at a specific resolution. For the Mac, I like to use QuickRes (this is a paid product). Sorry, I am not aware of an equivalent that does a good job for Windows, but I am sure one exists.
  • Use a virtual machine or remote desktop. I spent equal time on my Mac and PC, so I just run Parallels on my Mac. When I develop training on Windows, I simply resize the virtual machine window to 720p and start recording. Sometimes the VM is not a good option (too slow, graphics-heavy applications, etc.) so I set up a remote desktop and simply launch it at the resolution I require.

Once you figure out how to configure your computer for the training, I suggest you document the steps so that you have a personal checklist every time you are about to record. It is crucial you do not swap from one resolution to another or use a different desktop background every time you run the application because it will distract the person taking your course.


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