Posted by Barbara Opyt ● March 10, 2016

Using eLearning Audio to Enhance Learner Retention

elearning_audio.jpgDoes the use of eLearning audio actually enhance learner retention? In many eLearning courses, it seems audio was deployed simply because the instructional designer worried that learners wouldn’t bother to read the on-screen text.

If the sole purpose of audio in your eLearning is to read the screen content to the learner, it may not be adding value. The L&D industry must develop better eLearning, and that includes using eLearning audio with purposeful intent.

When done thoughtfully, audio can add value to your eLearning course by engaging additional sensory inputs for the learner, increasing attention and enhancing comprehension. Certain types of learning all but require audio, and certain types of learners really appreciate listening to audio content and genuinely benefit from it.

Audio + Text = Overload

Brain research shows that learners process verbal and visual inputs separately in working memory; simultaneously presenting words and pictures assists learning by stimulating both aspects of working memory. However, on-screen text is unique in that, although reading text requires visual input, it is actually processed by verbal working memory. Therefore, having matching text and audio provides redundant input into verbal working memory centers and can result in cognitive overload.

learning_audio.pngWhile certain situations may require redundant text and audio, there are ways to incorporate the text without distracting from learning. Consider using a transcript or a closed-caption box, and let the learner choose whether to read or hear content. Making the text transcript or the audio optional also helps to account for learner preferences.

Instead of cannibalizing valuable screen space with redundant text, find a graphic representation of the concepts to enhance learning. Studies show that an effective visual will be remembered long after the words are forgotten. Interestingly, keyword listings, short bulleted lists, or word cloud graphics are processed more like visuals than like text, and therefore do not create cognitive overload.

"If I can hear it, I can say it."

For certain topics, audio may be key to effective learning. Subjects where audio is key include teaching skills related to use of language—modeling sales conversations, coaching others, providing feedback, delivering presentations, or any other skill that includes verbal capabilities. Audio in these eLearning courses is necessary to provide examples of using the language skills for the learner to model.

As a practical example, consider the case of onboarding or orientation training. Every organization has its own “language,” including acronyms, shortcuts, jargon, abbreviations, and terminology. An in-house eLearning orientation module that includes recorded voices of co-workers talking about their work can not only define key terms, but also model how people use the terms in the organization.


Give Characters Voices

Host characters are a useful eLearning device to engage learners. The character can be the narrator and speak directly to the learner about the content, drawing the learner into the topic. Or, the character can represent the learner, asking questions about the content that is responded to in the content. Host character dialog should be natural and casual.

Narrator: “The best practice for using audio is to enhance learning, not as a replacement for text.”

Host character: “But I thought multiple inputs help learners learn.”

Narrator: “Not always! Having to read text while listening to narration can overload working memory and detract from learning.”

Using multiple voices can help keep learner interest, and is especially useful to provide meta-learning—learning how to learn about a topic.

Bill: “Rhonda, why would I want to include audio in my eLearning course?”

Rhonda: “Well, Bill, audio can be used to portray a realistic learning conversation.”

Bill: “I don’t know, Rhonda. Isn’t it faster to simply tell the learner what they need to know?”

Rhonda: “Bill, the contrasting voices make considering two points of view easier for the learner.”

Bill: “I see. As I change my mind in the conversation, I show the learner how to grasp the concept.”

Rhonda: “That’s right, Bill! Conversations can show learners the way!”

When using multiple characters, be sure there is enough differentiation between the voices, as learners may not be able to discern between two similar voices. Consider selecting high- and low-pitched voices for this purpose.

You can also bring additional voices into your courses through audio pull-quotes. Having another voice—perhaps the voice of a company executive—can stress the importance of the learning, providing motivation and inspiration.

Using scenarios is a common method to show or assess the application of learning. Scenarios are often written in the third person, presenting a paragraph of text, but a voice that speaks in the first person brings the scenario closer to the learner and makes it feel more realistic.

“This morning, I am visiting Ben, a customer that seems to value low-cost over quality. I need your advice. What can I tell Ben to set up for a sale?”

eLearning audio doesn’t have to be just a crutch to replace reading. Audio, combined with interesting visuals, can markedly improve the quality of the learning and provide instructional designers with creative ways to connect with learners to enhance retention.

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Topics: Instructional Design, eLearning