Thursday, March 26, 2009

Audio - A Gamble?

Audio is a crucial aspect of an elearning application. There are lots of courses that do not have audio. These courses can still be good if the learner hates audio. But audio can play an important role in learning. Audio:
  • Sets the tone for your course. If the audio is formal, the theme of your course will be formal. If the audio is humorous, the theme of your course is light and humorous.
  • Adds a personal touch by giving your course a personality. This does not apply for robot-like audio.
  • Captures learner's attention.
  • Completes the learning experience.
  • Reinforces learning by supplementing visuals and content.
Using audio in your course can be a gamble. If you do not play your cards right, you may end up ruining your course even if the ID strategy and theme is great. You need to keep in mind the following:

1. How much audio do I include in the course?
This is the most important and the most difficult question. Further questions that arise:
  • Do I have the audio artists read everything from the screen? Please don't have the audio artist read everything (especially if your screens are content heavy). It is very distracting and unnecessary. Kern conducts learner testing to check the effectiveness of a course before its roll out. We have seen learners look for audio mute/off button several times. They are thinking, I can read the content, thank you very much. We have also seen occasions on which audio is different from the OST and this troubles the learner. He/she feels that there is a variation in what is being said in the audio and what is written on screen.
  • Do I just include the main gist of what is being covered in the screen? You can do this. However, ensure that your audio captures the most crucial information and does not sound abrupt. Sometimes, you just wait for the audio to continue but it doesn't.
  • Do I include audio for just the important screens? Please don't do this. Imagine the learner listening to a para long audio on a screen. He moves to the next screen and meets silence. It can be very awkward. I have seen this during learner testing. You can see the learners anticipating, waiting for the audio to start. I am almost tempted to lean over and say You can move on now.
  • Do I include separate audio for the characters? Your could do this depending on your budget. But it can be a nightmare to get the tone and the pitch right for multiple audio artists.
2. Should the audio supplement content or vice versa?
Actually, it depends on the ID strategy you use for the course. If your course is highly visual, the audio will play a crucial role as it may act as a link between the screens. There are course in which the audio drones on and on, while nothing happens on the screen. This can hinder learning. The learner may switch off after sometime. Either reduce the audio, split the screens, or add animation to supplement the audio. Can you imagine staring at a screen waiting for the audio to get over? On the other hand, do not make a text heavy course, audio heavy. Like I already mentioned, it can be quite irritating for the learner. Find the right balance between audio and visuals.

3. Does the audio have the desired impact?
Yes! You have identified how much audio you want to use. You have also found the right balance between audio and visuals. Now, what else can go wrong?
  • An unprofessional audio artist can ruin your course. If the tone and pitch is not right, the course will sound bad.
  • If the audio is too fast or too slow, it could kill learner motivation.
  • If the audio is not in sync with what is happening on screen, it will confuse the learner.
  • If the audio is not edited well, it will ruin the course even if your audio artist is really good.
4. How can audio add value?
Audio in terms of background music can increase the imapct of the gain attention screen. Audio can also play a crucial role when used to indicate correct and incorrect feedback. This may be the best way to avoid 'That's correct' and 'That's incorrect' feedback. Audio plays an important role in games. It increases the thrill and increases the learner's curiosity.

There is no standard rule or guideline to say you can use this much audio in your course. Use audio wisely. Ensure that it has the desired impact. Use it to aid learning and make learning experience more pleasureable.


Geeta Bose said...

Archie, this is a very useful article. Please post this on learnability matters as well.

Archana Narayan said...

Thanks Geeta. We have been talking about audio for ages. Thought it was time to pen things down. :) Posted it on learnability matters as well.

Rupa Rajagopalan said...

Good post!

I agree with all your points.

I think audio works very well when the e-learning course has lots of visuals. Audio must run throughout the course and must be in sync with what is being shown on screen.

I have also seen that bad voice over can do more harm than good to an e-learning course.

Thanks for this post.

The Writers Gateway

Archana Narayan said...

Thanks Rupa :) You can read the comments/discussion for the same post on learnability matters also.

Sreya Dutta said...

Hi Archana,

I am out of touch with adding audio to courses since I left designing courses for the aviation sector, where audio was essential, the content was dominated by loads of visuals, animations, screen sequences etc.

Now I make training for software products where the audience are mostly techies. So these courses are expected to be very formal, to the point and give learners just what they need. They sometimes make elearning for basic and conceptual courses, but more advanced courses are mostly ILT. So even in the learning there's no audio on a screen by screen basis. Audio is only added where needed like in animations or product demos.

Thanks for sharing all this.


Rob Kennedy said...


I just wrote something about this the other day. Bad audio, overused narration, ridiculous cheesy sound effects all make for a distracting experience as opposed to an engaging learning period. I agree that you say we need to ensure the desired impact before introducing audio. That said, a course with sound is most often more engaging for me personally. Good stuff!!

Archana Narayan said...

Thanks Rob. I read your post ' Can you Hear Me Now?'. Like you mentioned, there are so many courses that read audio off the screen. I don't think this is because the learner's learning style is predominantly auditory.