By Dean Hawkinson
There are a lot of arguments about using audio in eLearning – some in favor, some not.
Audio narration can be very time consuming, and in many cases requires hiring talent for a professional sound. Many eLearning development tools allow you to easily record narration with your content, including Adobe Presenter and Adobe Captivate.
However, what if you don’t have the budget to hire the talent to make it sound professional? What if you, as the Designer, do not feel that you have the voice for the recordings? What if you simply do not have the time to devote to recording audio in the first place?
Adobe Captivate includes a text-to-speech function that allows seamless narration without having to do any recording.
About the Tool
Captivate’s text-to-speech tool is very simple to use and allows you to type the text that you want narrated on each slide. You can select a female voice (Kate) or a male voice (Paul) for each individual slide, which allows you the freedom to mix it up a bit and use both narrators in one course. It also adds the feeling of having a trainer guide you through the process.
Captivate takes what you type and converts it to a voice-over for each slide. You can then use the timeline to position all of your effects to match the narration of the slide. If you play the slide and find that you made an error, fixing it is a simple matter of just re-typing the text.
As with any software application, there are a few challenges to using a text-to-speech tool:
- The voices can sound a bit robotic – Although not as bad as a monotone computer, you can tell that there is a robotic edge to the narration. However, in my experience, it is not as bad as you might think (anyone ever have a “Speak and Spell” toy as a kid?). The voices actually do sound professional, but you can always tell that it is not a real human doing the narration.
- There are some issues with pronunciation and voice inflections – I have noticed that the narration has some interesting pronunciations of certain words. For example, the word “detail” comes across as “dtail” (doesn’t pronounce the “e”) and “status” is pronounced “stay-tus.”
- It Shouldn’t be used for long narratives – The primary use for Text-to-Speech should be to walk learners through a system simulation by guiding them through the clicks. This calls for short narrations. However, if you need to explain something in detail, it might be better to use text on the screen and have the narration refer them to that text. The robotic sound is probably not best for longer narratives.
Ways to “Trick” the System
When you type out the narration text, no one will ever see it. So, you might end up purposefully mis-spelling some words to get the system to pronounce them the correct way.
For example, I really don’t like the way the system pronounces the word status. So, to get around it, I typed “staatus” and the narration pronounced it with the short A sound. The same thing can be done with the word detail. I typed “deetail” and it pronounced it the way I wanted it to. You may find some other ways to “trick” the narration to correctly pronounce certain words.
Is Text-to-Speech for Everyone?
As always, before selecting media and technology for eLearning, you need to consider your audience. You need to match the technology to your instructional goals, not the other way around. Ask yourself:
- Is audio necessary?
- What are your budget and time constraints?
- Will your audience look past the occasional robotic pronunciation?
It might be better to use professional narration if you have the resources. However, text-to-speech is a great alternative when you have a short time frame for your project and do not have the budget to hire voice talent.
What is your experience with using this type of technology? Do you have any additional suggestions for using text-to-speech in your eLearning courses?