By Shelley A. Gable
I recently completed an eLearning course (as a learner, not as an instructional designer) on project management. The entire course was narrated. I enjoyed the narration at first – given all the time I spend reading and typing, it was nice to mainly listen. But I changed my mind after five or so minutes.
First, the audio narration slowed me down. The concepts taught in the course were relatively simple. I felt I could’ve skimmed a text version of the content and retained just as much.
Second, the images on the screen were not instructional. So, while the course avoided the mistake of reading text that appears on the screen (which we know can hinder comprehension), the many images that animated onto the screen throughout the course seemed to be more decorative than meaningful.
Since I didn’t need the visuals to understand the audio, I decided to listen to the course like a podcast while glancing at email and other stuff. Eventually, I got further sucked into the multitasking and found myself half-listening to the course (at best).
So when is audio worthwhile?
Although I had never designed an eLearning course to include full audio narration, the experience reinforced that I probably shouldn’t go down that path in the future. It also got me thinking more concretely about instances where audio does make sense for learning. Here are some ideas...
Dialog. Perhaps the course you’re designing includes scenarios with dialog. Using audio for the dialog can draw learners’ attention to that element of the scenario and increase the realism of the scenario (for conversations that occur aloud in real life).
Storytelling. If the course includes a story, you could use an audio or video recording to convey the story to learners. This allows learners pick up on emphasis and expression that is difficult to convey with text. Enthusiasm exuded by the storyteller might even be contagious for learners.
Demonstration. In the training I completed, the images were more for decoration than instruction. But if you have a flowchart, diagram, or other instructional image, it may make sense to use the full screen for the image while the audio explains it to learners. This can help you avoid blocking areas of the image with text.
What to keep in mind...
The list above is far from comprehensive. The principle to follow is to use audio only when there is a specific reason to use it. When you consider that incorporating audio is an additional project expense (e.g., time to record and edit, increased output file size and storage space needed, etc.), it makes sense that we should have a specific justification for its use.
When do you use audio in eLearning? And how do you decide whether to use audio?