Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Audio in eLearning: Cultural Differences?

What's your take on using audio in eLearning? For or against? Do you use audio on every slide because the client says people will think it's broken if you don't? (This has happened to me!)

We've taken this up before and many of us IDs know the strategies for using audio most effectively by now. We know to avoid narrating text word for word, for instance. (You do know that, right?)

As I'm ramping up in my new job, I'm talking with my new Kineo colleagues about everything under the sun. Really. It's quite fascinating, the conversations we've been having and it's only Tuesday!

I was talking with Mark Harrison, a Kineo partner with over 25 years experience in learning design, about some of the differences between eLearning in the UK and in the US.

In the UK, Mark tells me that audio is used sparingly. In the US, Mark sees (or rather, hears) a heavy use of audio.

So why this difference, if it's indeed true? Is there something cultural going on? Do Americans just like to talk way too much? Is there some historical background here that I'm missing, like computers in the UK didn't have speakers until 2002 so they never bothered?

What about eLearning in the US has led to such an excessive use of audio? What about eLearning in the UK has led to such an excessive lack of audio in their courses? What about in other countries?

For instance, you Canadians? What's up with audio up there?

Do I hear India?

Photo credit: Walls have Ears by laverrue


Archana Narayan said...

I never thought about the cultural differences in audio usage. Thanks for sharing this!

In India, most courses have no audio but I suspect this has more to do with costs rather than learner's preferences. If audio is used, clients insist that the audio read text off the screen. Audio has been a favorite topic. Sharing my thoughts on audio in elearning: Audio in elearning-A Gamble

Kate Foy said...

Hello ... Australia calling ... I'd be taking a wild, generalised stab if I tried to extrapolate cultural differences as a factor in the use (more or less) of audio in elearning - so I won't even start.

I suspect, however, that it also has as much to do with the topic or subject matter being taught, with the access to and experience of well-designed audio tools by the developer of the learning materials, and and to the confidence and/or expertise of the person providing the voice over. On this last point, most teachers/instructors are not good at this, and it's most often that theirs are the voices accompanying their materials. Students are used to good VO on television, and a boring vocal accompaniment can distract or kill concentration stone dead. Maybe it's also a generational thing i.e., we'll see more audio and video as they become commonplace for users, and learning organisations produce better learning materials.

Kirsten Reichelt said...

Hi Cammy,

let me add a German voice. :-) In my experience, audio is used sparingly in German courses, for a number of reasons: costs, more trouble in case of text changes, learners may be sharing office space and not have / want to use headsets...

But again, that's only my experience – like Kate, I would not want to make assumptions about cultural differences based on that observation.

Andrew Middleton said...

In UK higher education we tend to be more interested in transforming learning with digital technology than replicating the traditional teacher-centred approaches that are typified by the centrality of the lecture to the curriculum. For this reason there is quite a creative community growing around digital audio as a device to facilitate learning. There are some central questions underpinning the work of the Podcasting for Pedagogic Purposes Special Interest Group, for example, which are 'what can educational podcasting be?' and 'what can we do now that we have digital voices that we couldn't do so well before?' I am aware of others in Australia and in the US interested in seeing audio as a transformative learning technology. If this rings a bell with you, I occasionally blog about such things at: http://podcasting-for-lta.blogspot.com

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Cammy!

New Zealand calling, or should I say Middle-earth to be precise. At TCS we have used audio where appropriate. The most culturally appropriate use of audio is in the teaching of languages and music, and in social studies.

While there has been some research done on the usefulness of audio as means, we tend to use it where audio as a medium is necessary and appropriate.

More recent research has indicated that the way the sound is used is significantly important. This applies particularly where text and sound are likely to be used (notably the studies on PowerPoint and speech).

Catchya later

David Andrew said...

There are lots of cultural issues about the senses and their use/importance.

There is a literature on the anthropology of the senses which people could look at - in some societies and at different times the internet would not have taken off at all because you can't smell people on the internet and how can you possibly have anything to do with someone if you don't know what they smell like!

irasocol said...

My trans-Atlantic observations indicate that UK/Ireland courseware is more likely to be accessible and media-switching software more generally available. Combined with higher uses of handheld technology, students there are more likely to make their own audio choices. In the US, where instruction remains completely teacher-directed, school controlled, instructors add audio as a method of trying to keep students awake through unbelievably boring exercises in PowerPoint abuse.

- Ira Socol

Steve Flowers said...

Audio, like everything else, should be strategic in my opinion. I personally can't stand the 'read it to me... bit... by... conveyer belt... bit' audio use.

'Echo the text with audio' also causes some serious maintenance issues down the line that are avoidable in a lot of ways.

I might recommend a heavier use of audio where the gap between the learner and the understanding of complex concepts is pretty vast.

Other than that - pretty much no way (unless it's strategic - 'the best way to teach a concept is by audible lecture or story). And a double-dog-no-way to audio pamphlet screens.

I can read, thank you very much. Just give me a reading assignment, I can handle it. Follow that up with some activities and let me go my merry way.

Linda Öberg said...

Adding a Swedish voice here... I have never thougth about cultural differences in audioi use, so thanks for the alert!

Judging by the comments, it seems like audio is clearly not used as default, and it shouldn't be. But what is everybody's take on text in combination with animation? My point is, no matter what culture you're from, you will never be able to read and follow an animation at the same time.

Amit said...

Cammy, Thanks for raising this. It set me thinking as our experience suggests there is no 'real' cultural difference on this aspect. I just put up a post: Audio in eLearning: Do American and British customers differ? - to share our views.
Look forward to your & others' thoughts.

Jacco said...

This is the Netherlands, we like a well balanced mix of audio and text. No excess of anything and keep content dynamic.

Margaret Kelsey said...

Hey Cammy,

This is a great topic and I'm glad you've written about here. Just after attending the Articulate user conference in March in Orlando, I wondered the same. Every time I make it to the LT in London, audio takes a back seat; yet here in the states audio seems to be in the driver's seat. Why is that?

I believe this is in large part due to our TV conditioned minds. The US has been infiltrated with TV, commercials, films, far and above any other culture. How often do you here someone in the states say: "does the film have sub-titles? Oh dear, I don't want to watch one that does."

Alas, in my humble opinion, I think Americans are growing more and more accustomed to being "told" information, rather than having to read or research it. Sadly to say, by comparison, I believe we're becoming lazy learners. And, interestingly, we're designing more and more e-learning to support this trend.

Any time we're designing any kind of engagement, we must remember who the audience is. Not having an audio track at all can make it hard for audio learners to fully engage: having limited copy/text and full audio with images could make it a bit challenging for a highly visual reader. God for bid, you've lost your headset these days with the overuse of images alone.

Suffice to say: in my book, it's always a balance. One achieved around understanding the audience.

Cammy Bean said...

Great comments, everyone. This seems to have struck a chord (ha ha) with people all over the world. Is it a cultural issue or rather a prevalance of good/poor instructional design choices? If we read Ruth Clark's e-Learning and the Science of Instruction we learn that audio can be a great way to aid learning -- when used effectively. Alas, it's been so often abused...Poor, misunderstood audio.