Thursday, February 21, 2008

My Client is Addicted: Audio in eLearning

Cathy Moore had a post a few months ago (Addicted to Audio?) that inspired me to change my approach to using audio in eLearning. She suggested using audio sparingly.

So I've been storyboarding differently. When I see a need for a text heavy pages, I eliminate audio so as not to "depress learning." I avoided narrating onscreen text.

In the comments on Cathy's post, there was a bit of discussion about switching back and forth between pages with and pages without audio.

Yesterday, after round four of a storyboard review process (which has stretched out for months, by the way, due to unavailable/overloaded client SMEs), the lead ID at my client came back asking for audio on EVERY page.

The biggest thing I would like to see is that we add some voiceover on just about all of the slides. Based on experience here, our learners are used to having v.o. on just about all slides. They think the program isn't working when they come across a slide that doesn't have v.o. It doesn't need to be much - but there should be something (verbal instruction rather than just text for example).

Now, maybe I'm just jaded and want to get to an approved storyboard. Maybe it's the fact that I'm recovering from pneumonia and just don't have the energy to fight the fight. But I caved. And yesterday I just added audio back to every page. A little. A line here or there.

Can't win every battle.

The reality of everyday instructional design.

Photo credit: Microphone by hiddedevries


Anonymous said...

I can sure relate to this! We've played that same tug-of-war: audio that reads the text on the screen is the equivalent of a presenter reading her slides, and yet people expect audio, even when it's just a voiceover.

We've used two solutions as much as possible: speaking more with less text on the page, or limiting the speaking to summaries or highlights as the screen shows more details. The Perfect Audio Solution (and learner expectation) is always one step ahead of us.

John H. Curry said...

I think we've all been through this, haven't we?

When I was at Utah State, two others and I designed and developed Syllabase, an online course management system much like BlackBoard or WebCT (at the time). At any rate, as we were showing it to some of the faculty and other higher-ups there at the University, we were astounded by some of the suggestions people--people who didn't know anything about what we were really doing--had.

Our favorite?

"Um, yeah, but can you make it blue?"

Unknown said...

Audio can make a huge difference in how the learner perceives the relevance of the material. From a practical standpoint I can add twice as much content with a voiceover twice as fast as writing it all out. The slide/screen itself can focus on key points and or use diagrams. The key from an integration standpoint is the ability separate audio files and tag them... (using Mp3 tagging - ID3)

Unknown said...

Audio for my client was always a big want, but they neglected to better understand the audience. Child Welfare caseworkers... Fast paced environment with little seat time. In addition their had been no research done on what systems they were using to take the course in did it have audio capability? Did they have speakers or better yet, headphones!? Also, the client wanted the audio to read what was exactly written on the page (and these were text heavy pages!) Talk about confusing an already burned out audience. My guess is the mouse click most widely used was to select the exit button!

Audio has its place but unless one knows who is taking the course and their system seems silly to even discuss it.

Anonymous said...

I always wonder why people need audio when there is on screen text.

Audio must be used when there is no onscreen text or when text is being used sparingly.

Manish Mohan said...

Sounds familiar... :-). Audio is one of the ways in which we can keep the audience engaged. I personally prefer audio text narration with only key points displayed on screen. If narration is required for all text on screen, it is better to have an Audio Off button.

My favorite request for audio from a client:

"Can we have the background score of Who wants to be a Millionaire while the user is on a quiz page?"

Anonymous said...

Sorry to read you've been so ill recently. Keeping my fingers crossed and sending good wishes that you'll back to your 110% fully soon!

Anonymous said...

I just redid a demo for the exact same issue.

Without going into when and when not to use audio, I think your client has a point. If you use narration on some screens and not on others, then from the user perspective it might imply that the audio is not working. How would they know the difference?

You probably need some sort of trigger that indicates this screen has audio, this one doesn't. perhaps you create some sort of coach/avatar image that when visible indicates audio.

Cammy Bean said...

Great comments everyone. I think audio is clearly something we all struggle with on some level. Back in the "old days" everything was audio with timed text bullets. I designed it that way because I was told that's the way to appeal to different "learning styles."

I agree with Stephen that you can "pack more in" with audio, but that's not always the best way of explaining the content. I love using audio to narrate software demos and complicated graphics or animation. But reading a page of text? That's a next button for sure...

I like Tom's idea of the audio avatar -- as a means, perhaps, of slowly weaning a client away from needing audio on every page.

Cathy Moore did it well, I thought. Some pages with audio and some without...

Laura -- thanks for the get well wishes! I'm just now starting to feel slightly less horrible...

Anonymous said...

Alas, the people asking for audio on every page tend not to be the learners, but the decision-makers: folks who generally don't have to sit through someone reading to them for an hour.

In my experience, the ISD model is completely crushed by the Little Corporate Schoolhouse model. Most middle and upper managers have two frames of reference for "learning" -- high school, and corporate training sessions.

I've been struggling a lot lately with the "body of knowledge" mindset, the notion that there's a Big Bag o' Facts that people have to master (as opposed to learning that they have to engage in).

Listening ain't learning.

On the other hand, if you've been subjected to enough typical corporate training, you expect to be lectured, and you can feel somehow cheated when that doesn't happen.

As a practical alternative, I think the Audio Off button is a great idea -- which of course means that the audio can't ever carry the main message.

Anonymous said...

In a company I recently worked for as a consultant, they did something similar to what Tom suggests.

At the beginning of the elearning there was a slide that noted that some slides would have audio and some would not, and to look for the speaker icon in the upper right corner. Slides without audio had a slash through the speaker icon -- as typically seen with a mute visual indicator.

In taking some of the elearning before doing updates, I personally felt more engaged by having times without audio and times with it...a layer of variation in what was (sigh) otherwise too much a of page-turner.


muddymud said...

I recently started looking for guidelines that would help me figure out when it's best to use audio in an e-Learning course and when not to. I've read "E-Learning and the Science of Instruction" (excellent book) and I've also read Cathy Moore's blog about this.

What criteria do you use to determine whether or not to use audio, either on a specific page in a course or in a course generally?

It seems like audio is best used when you need to describe a complex graphic, or when the learners' computer skills are rudimentary. If done properly, audio can enhance the learner's perception of the course as well.

It also appears that we need to stay away from reading the same text that appears on screen - adults don't like to be read to, I agree. But Cathy makes a good point about audio as well. She thinks about using audio in terms of controlling the pace at which the learner goes through the course. It seems that, generally, learners can/will read on-screen text faster than someone reading it. Plus, having an audio-heavy course eliminates a lot of learner control: they have to wait until the narration is finished before moving on.

Some managers in my organization like audio and some like text. Those who want me to include audio in the course often don't know exactly why it should be in there. So I need to figure out how to explain best practices. So I guess I'm looking for a central place to go for these audio "best practices". Do any of you know if/where I might look?