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Importance of Audio Strategy in Elearning

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Importance of Audio Strategy in eLearning

My little nephew Noel is a very quiet toddler, till he starts bawling. Toys don’t stop the gutsy cries, nor does showing him cats, dogs and butterflies work. The only thing that soothe him and bring his audio levels down, is playing his favorite collection of rhymes, or his granny’s lullabies. When I witnessed this one fine Sunday afternoon, I thought “Hey! this guy is going to be an auditory learner!!!”

For instructional designers, catering to the needs of auditory learners is a very crucial step in course development. In the eLearning environment, where the presence of an instructor is precluded, the only way to aid auditory learners is by providing appropriate audio support.

The simple word “appropriate” leads to many questions, such as, what should the duration of the audio be, what content should be supported through the audio and so on.

As an Instructional Designer, you may come across clients who demand complete audio support for their courses, which may not be advisable in all situations. If you have a clear idea about where and the extent to which audio will aid the course, you will be able to counsel clients about rethinking their strategy, thereby developing an effective course.

Clients ask for audio in their courses for a variety of reasons, according to their perception of its advantages as follows:

  • Provides significant gains in learning
  • Adds interest and engagement
  • Sets tone and conveys emotions of characters in scenarios
  • Adds authenticity to expert opinions
  • Users expect it as an eLearning standard
  • Adds polish to a course

Through this blog I will to try and highlight the guidelines of using audio effectively, in an eLearning course and provide a framework for the usage of audio narration.

To understand when and how audio narration makes courses effective, we need to know the principles that guide the design of multimedia. Multimedia design is guided by the following seven principles, advocated by Richard Mayer & Ruth Clark.

  • Multimedia principle: Learners grasp faster from words and pictures, rather than words alone.
  • Spatial Contiguity Principle: Learners remember better, when the corresponding words and pictures are close to each other, as a unit on the screen, rather than far apart.
  • Temporal Contiguity Principle: Learners grasp faster when the words and their corresponding pictures, are presented simultaneously, rather than consecutively.
  • Coherence Principle: Learners benefit when extraneous words, pictures, and sounds are excluded.
  • Modality Principle: Learners benefit more from animation and narration, rather than from animation and on-screen text.
  • Redundancy Principle: Learners benefit from animation and narration, rather than from animation, narration and on-screen text.
  • Individual Differences Principle: Design effects should be stronger for low-knowledge learners and high-spatial learners, than for high-knowledge learners and lowspatial learners.

To further our discussion, we will delve deeper into the Principles of Modality and Redundancy.

Audio and the Modality Principle: The working memory of the human brain has limited retentive capacity and processes visual and audio elements separately.

Therefore, when a concept is explained only through visuals and text in an eLearning course, the visual area gets overloaded. On the other hand, explaining a visual through audio, divides the cognitive load and optimizes the working memory.

Usage: According to this principle, audio should be used in situations where a visual overload is likely to occur. For instance, supplementing a complex process visual with text, to elaborate the steps, will confuse the learner as the focus on the visual will be distracted by the text appearing across the screen.

In some situations, it may be desirable to use only text without audio.

For example, for “do-it-yourself” exercises, it is a good practice to provide the detailed set of instructions on-screen, so the learners can view and refer them as per their need.

While developing a course for a global audience, it is better not to choose audio as the primary channel of delivery, as learners may not be comfortable with the audio tenor and may prefer reading the on-screen text, at their own pace.

Audio and the Redundancy Principle: Often, eLearning courses contain the exact audio narration of the whole course. This could be to meet client requirements, but it overwhelms the learner by presenting the same information twice.

Usage: According to this principle, presenting audio support to animations is better, than presenting text, animations and audio.

There are a few situations where redundancy might be beneficial. For example, Some learners prefer listening, to reading detailed text on-screen.

Audio narration is an indispensible tool in assisting visually impaired learners, who have no access to other technology-enabled aids.

I hope this blog was successful in projecting a clear picture of the extent of audio to be used in various situations, by following the Principles of Modality, which states that learners benefit from having audio support to visuals, rather than having visuals and on-screen text; and Principle of Redundancy, which states that learners benefit from audio support as needed, rather than throughout the whole course.

We will learn about the framework for using audio narration in eLearning courses in my next blog.

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