Audio in E-Learning

Audio is a powerful and impactful tool, but it is often used incorrectly within e-learning courses. I recently had a discussion with Dan Bliton in his role at the Metro DC ASTD chapter about this topic, here is a small part of the interview.

A common question is “Should we have audio in the e-learning module that exactly matches the text on the screen?”

The general answer is no. It’s not that you can’t learn from audio and text, it is just that the learning is more productive if the two are separate (audio that enhances what is on the screen not repeats it word-for-word). I think people tend to report that they want the audio with matching text together but if they sat through that type of instruction for a long time, they would eventually tune out. And research show that is not the best for learning. Here are some reasons why.

According to the cognitive theory of learning, people have separate information processing channels for visual/pictorial processing (sometimes called Imagens) and for auditory/verbal processing (logogens). When learners are given graphics along with onscreen text, both must be processed initially in the visual/pictorial channel which can overload the working memory and make it difficult for the learner to take in all the required information. Essentially, the learner is overloaded with information. He or she cannot simultaneously be looking at the graphic and reading the text. Thus the learners many not be able to adequately attend to all of it because their visual channel becomes overloaded.(Clark, Mayer, 89-90) So having text with programmed audio reading word-for-word is not a good design technique (although, you might want to have audio together to help those with certain disabilities).

Is it good to have audio to describe graphics on the screen?
We know from research that the meaning of visual messages are often ambiguous and subject to personal interpretation. The use of verbal words to direct attention can be essential. It has been found that with visuals, some verbalization is better than none, but no optimum amount has been found. When displaying animations or video with audio, learners tend to want the audio a little slower than the typical 150-100 words per minute provided in a typical classroom lecture (contrasted with the average speed of thought for colleges students of approximately 400-800 words per minute).(Clark and Mayer, 90-95)

Appropriately, we did a podcast about using audio in e-learning, here is a link to the audio interview I did with Dan Bliton about using audio in e-learning.

Dr. Kapp And Daniel Bliton Discuss The Role Of Audio With Elearning, the topics we discuss include: When To Use Audio in e-learning; The Affective Domain Of Audio, The Role Of The Voice And Many more tidbits. We discuss Cue Summation Theory and other theories of using audio in e-Learning.

I had a lot of fun with Dan and Charles who helped with the technical aspects and some of the logistics.

Here is a book that describes the appropriate uses of audio. I highly recommend it.


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Posted in: Out and About

Leave a Comment (3) ↓


  1. Karl Kapp November 4, 2009

    Michael-Thanks for the link and your broadcasting background really shows up in the information you provide about preparing podcasts. Thanks.

    Rakesh-Agreed. Audio in most e-learning modules is mis-used. At times it can be valuable but more often than not it is implemented poorly offsetting any value it could have had.

    Maybe audio works better as a separate podcast and not mixed with images and such in e-learning, although, the entertainment and video game industries seem to know how to intermix images and audio. We need to "steal" from them.

  2. Rakesh Poddar November 4, 2009

    Hello Karl,

    I am not a big fan of audio in eLearning for the simple reason that it forces learners to learn at the speed of audio, thus nullifying the self-paced nature of eLearning, and thereby offseting any learning support it may provide.

    Besides, as you have noted,audio causes cognitive overload, if not used judiciously.

  3. Michael Hanley November 3, 2009

    Hi Karl – good post: Colvin Clark & Mayer's work is always worth highlighting. If you're interested, I recently wrote a comprehensive series of articles about audio and podcasting for e-learning starting here:

    Best regrds,
    Michael Hanley

Karl Kapp
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