When a new eLearning project is in its initial stages, the idea of adding audio (in this case, I’m referring to voice recordings rather than sound effects or music) may come up. However, clients don’t always fully appreciate what it means, and it’s up to you as an instructional designer to help them consider all the pros and cons.
Let’s start with some drawbacks. First of all, ideally, the audio should be recorded in an appropriate environment by a voice actor whose voice and mode of delivery matches the content. Needless to say, arranging high quality recordings demands extra time and money.
You also need to take into account that adding audio to your training will result in additional development time, as it’s not just a matter of inserting the files – the developer also needs to make sure that the audio starts and stops when it’s supposed to on every single page.
Another additional feature that may accompany audio is subtitles, which is a must if you want to respect the needs of different learners. The only case when you could do without subtitles is if the same text is already visible on the screen.
Finally, audio makes you less flexible in terms of editing content. Whenever you make a change in the text, you need to check whether or not you need to redo the audio for that section.
So, when is adding audio a good idea? I believe that audio is most beneficial when it adds to the learners’ immersion into the situations that you’re trying to recreate. For example, instead of reading a lengthy dialogue, you can simply listen to it. This way, the situation seems more life-like and easier to perceive.
Furthermore, a listening experience can expose the learner not only to words, but also to various intonations, accents, non-verbal sounds etc. This can be particularly important if the skill that the learner is trying to master has to do with languages or communication (e.g. in a call center).
You could also consider having audio if your needs analysis shows that your learners might have a preference for listening instead of reading, either due to their learning style or the circumstances under which they consume the learning content.
Think, think, and think again
If used thoughtfully, audio can help a lot in terms of learner engagement and understanding in your eLearning. However, I believe that, although the idea of having a lovely speaker voice in your eLearning course may seem tempting, it’s really important to think about whether the particular training will benefit from it to the extent that it would be worthwhile for you to invest additional time and resources into making it a reality.
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