eLearning is gaining in importance, and that has sent organizations and individuals scrambling to learn the best methods to attract and retain as many members of a knowledge-hungry society as possible. Among frequently asked questions is this: Is audio narration truly necessary for effective eLearning?

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The answer may surprise you.

Making an eLearning video seems to be a fairly standard procedure. A video generally should have both visual and audio elements. Visuals can be as simple as curated stock photos flashed one after another, or as involved as a creatively illustrated narration birthed from the mind of an artist. Text can and is usually included as a visual element as well. Audio-wise, you’d have both narration and music, to lead a learner on a seamless journey of discovery. Put everything together, stir it up and serve, right?

It’s not that simple.

If you’ve ever encountered videos wherein learners have to listen to word-for-word narration of identical text displayed on the screen, you will know that for eLearning, it isn’t really as easy as audio+visual = content. It is extremely monotonous when the narrator reads out every single word on the screen. A learner has to keep pace with the narrator (they may prefer the narrator were faster or slower). They have to simply sit there staring at the screen. To revisit a key point, they have to replay the video and listen to the narration again.

Studies have shown that while narration has its place in eLearning material, it has to be well-considered and well-executed. If not, it may very well be an impediment to learning.

Why eLearning narration may not be a good idea.

There are several reasons why some do not prefer audio narration in learning material, among them being:

It takes control away from the learner

It may be even harder to listen to boring content than it is to read boring content. Narration is frustrating to a learner in that they cannot control how fast or slow to process the information. The passivity also puts a much greater burden on short-term memory as there isn’t a convenient way to review content delivered through narration, other than to replay the audio. Also, note that we’re actually used to learning and comprehending via reading; that’s why reading a content-heavy PDF might be easier than listening to an hour-long video lecture.

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Not everyone can listen to eLearning narration 

Bear in mind that not all learners’ circumstances are the same. Some may have hearing disabilities. Others may be only able to access eLearning modules from older computers that don’t support audio. Some may be in environments too loud to properly hear the narration. Narration may not be as inclusive as text in this instance.

It’s more expensive and time-consuming to produce

Audio definitely adds another layer to your production process. To do it right, you need to allocate sufficient budget, time, and effort. A script will have to be written, which will need to be reviewed with key stakeholders like subject matter experts, upper-level managers, legal teams, and so on. You will need to find a voice actor who suits the role. Which brings us to…

It might be challenging to find a good voice actor

eLearning is a different field from character or commercial work. It might not be easy to find a voice actor who can both sound good and not be irritating to listen to after a while. Remember, they are a disembodied voice. If they are overly emotive or applying extremely affected inflections to the content, it can be a turn-off. Learn how we can help you out with finding the perfect voice actor for your eLearning needs!

Why you should use eLearning narration?

Clark and Mayer are two influential researchers in this field who found that narration works well with on-screen visuals to help learners retain knowledge.

In fact, mixing audio and visual information can increase information recall by 50%.

However, when there is narration, there should not also be the same text displayed on-screen.

This is because learners process information through two separate channels with limited capacity: one for visual information and one for auditory information. Clarke and Mayer found that graphics and a large amount of on-screen text can overload the visual channel of information processing. Therefore, it would indeed be helpful to use audio narration to explain visuals, thereby sharing the load with the audio channel.

According to them, it would be helpful to reduce text on-screen instead of cutting out narration completely. This is especially so in these instances:

Keywords: Technical terms or keywords highlighting steps.

Directions: Onscreen text should be used for information that needs to be referenced over time, such as directions to complete an exercise.

Complex text: Text that has to be memorized word-for-word or mathematical formulas

No visuals: Text can be used when there are no visuals on screen.

The key takeaway should be that on-screen text should be used in a thoughtful and intentional manner to reach desired outcomes.

In fact, we’ve found that on occasions, a good narration script could be the key to success. 

What you can do to improve the eLearning experience.

Here are some ways to ensure that your learners have the best possible experience:

Keep it brief

Narrations can be effectively used to explain visuals, particularly when the material is more complex. However, it has to be kept as brief and succinct as possible. If you have a long description, you may want to provide a transcript or notes that learners can read at their own pace.

Provide alternative options

Not everyone will welcome a narration. That’s why giving options is always a good idea. Try including a button or tab where the learner can choose to turn the audio on or off. Another option is to provide text versions of the narration, which is especially important to support learners who may either be hearing impaired or learning in a non-native language.

Avoid identical audio and text

Using narration that is exactly the same as the text is very likely off-putting. However, it can be helpful to use narration while only displaying key points in the text onscreen. Studies have shown that this approach can actually increase comprehension. You could use bullet points, or simply short summarising sentences.

Remove text completely

It may be worthwhile to simply remove text and allow the audio and images to guide users through the content. After all, isn’t a picture worth a thousand words?

Stagger the text

If you feel like you absolutely must have all your text read, then perhaps try syncing each paragraph with the narration. This could still overload the cognitive senses but might mitigate the effects. However, this can still be annoying for people who read quickly.

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What to look for in an eLearning narration demo?

If you’ve decided to use narration for your eLearning video, here are a few things you should be paying attention to in the demo to select the best voice for you:

The voice

eLearning typically involves lots of listening, so you’ll want a pleasant voice that is crisp and clear. Bear in mind that female voices are often preferred for eLearning projects as they are viewed as softer, more easygoing, trustworthy, and likable.

Audio quality

You’ll be looking for top-notch quality here especially because eLearning recordings are frequently listened to. using headphones. The demo should be free from pops, crackles, or white noise. It should be clear that the talent has solid recording equipment and the know-how to operate it.

Turnaround time

eLearning projects tend to require a lot of editing and are also fairly lengthy. So your voice actor will need to complete recordings relatively quickly. Added bonus if they can edit the recording themselves!

Proficiency with English

You’ll be looking for someone with exceptional pronunciation and enunciation. Voice-over actors who can handle English well will ensure a professional-sounding read. They may also be able to help you troubleshoot grammar within your script.

Prior experience

Since you’ll be requiring someone who can do good work fast, it would be best to go with a voice actor with prior eLearning narration experience.

Audio technical specs

Your ideal eLearning voice actor should have the ability to save audio in the format needed at the levels needed in the required specs. This is something you have to iron out with them prior to project commencement, to ensure a smooth ride for everyone.

In summary, eLearning narration definitely has its benefits. However, it has to be approached seriously because there are potential pitfalls. The biggest blunder you could make is to match your narration to your on-screen text exactly because this puts too much strain on the learner. You’ll also have to take into consideration that narration takes extra time, effort, and money to produce.

You could also consider other methods to make life easier for a learner – providing text options, allowing learners to switch audio on and off, keeping the video brief and the visuals interesting are all things that you can do to improve the experience.

Finally, if you have determined to use voice over and are searching for the perfect voice-over artist, there are some things you should pay attention to in the demo. Why not consider working with a freelance outsourcing partner, who have taken the time to vet through hundreds of thousands of demos already?

At the Bunny Studio, we’ve partnered with hundreds of the industry’s best voice over actors. From fresh voices to veteran talents, from remote dialects to accent-free specialists, we’ve got them all. If you’re looking for the perfect voice actor for your eLearning requirements, chances are you’ll find one in our extensive library. So don’t hesitate to reach out to us today!