Sunday, September 12, 2010

Voice Over in e-Learning, Sometimes


September's Big Question over at the Learning Circuits Blog is regarding use of voice-over in e-learning. The question addresses numerous topics regarding the use of audio. So, I thought I would contribute my two cents. First off, most of the courses I have created do not have narration. Some courses just don't need audio to be effective and it is better to spend the time (often limited time) and effort on improving the course design than adding audio. Cathy Moore addresses the topic of whether narration is needed and a few supporting studies in her post - "Do We Really Need Narration?", which is well worth the read.

So, when have I used narration in e-learning? Almost exclusively simulations (software and web application sims). I have found these lend themselves well to voice overs. The reason being that the step-by-step audio instructions allow the user to focus on the visuals of the task at hand (e.g., which button to click) and less need to bounce back and forth between reading text and perusing the simulated interface.

Here are my tips if you are using voice-over.

  • Keep text as option, whether on the screen or available through a transcript that can open for each page. This also addresses accessibility for the hearing impaired.

  • Provide a mute button for those that find the voice-over to be just a distraction (again, make text available).

  • If budget allows voice-over talent and a studio, great. If not, find the best person for the job at your organization. You want someone with a good voice and a pleasant personality that comes through in their narration. If they know the subject matter, that is a big plus too.

  • Script it out beforehand, but don't be afraid to improv a bit as long as it is still true to the instruction.

  • Do practice runs. This will help everyone get comfortable with the script and reduce the amount of retakes needed.

  • Don't make it redundant. Don't read the text on the screen or transcript. However, make sure both text and narration provide the same instruction, but not exact word for word.

  • Get yourself a good microphone and suitable place to record the narration. Here are some good tips on this.

  • If it works with the design, use several voice talents to narrate. This will add a little more diversity and less monotony.

  • Consider narration as a nice extra touch, but not a priority. Even if it works with the course design, do not sacrifice the time needed for proper design and development. Prioritize what needs to be done to create the course and put narration low on the list. Remember, a well designed course without narration will still be effective.

If you have any e-learning narration tips, I would love to hear them. Please feel free to add them to the comments section.


  1. I think providing narration for training videos is quite a powerful way of improving the efficacy of the material. This is scientifically backed by the "Dual coding theory" which basically says that the human brain processes audio and video separately and hence adding audio to video leads to better understanding without creating too much of a cognitive overload.

    Having said that here is my list of tips for using a voice over:
    1. Try and use software that lets you maintain and process the audio and video tracks separately. (E.g. Camtasia) This means you can easily substitute or edit parts of the audio without worrying about sync issues.

    2. We've found that having a script (or caption text) serves a second equally important purpose. This text can be used as metadata for searching through videos.

    3. We conducted a few experiments to test if the voice over's gender has any impact on perception. We used various parameters such as clarity, kindness, confidence (as perceived by the listener) and it turned out female voices received better ratings than male ones. So I would recommend using a female voice if possible (apologies if I seem a MCP)

    4. Recording video/audio in two stages is recommended for people just starting over. This helps avoid wasting a LOT of time in retakes :)

    5. If you add some audio to cover up something you left out in the video ENSURE that you add a text callout that says the (near) same thing. Remember, there are plenty of people watching your video in the library, loud coffee shop, airport etc… (Essentially places/situations where you may not have earphones/audio support)

    Dual coding theory:

  2. PS: Correction: The dual coding theory talks about images and text, and not images and audio. However I think audio and video work together because of a similar principle. Apologies for the error. :)

  3. Satyajeet,

    Thank you for sharing your tips on using narration with video. They are very helpful.

    As you had corrected, the Dual Coding Theory refers to images and text, but it does remind us that the brain processes different mediums in a different manner. Something we should always keep in consideration even beyond text and images.


  4. I believe the exact reference is "visual" which could include, text, image, animation, etc.
    "Dual-code theory a theory of cognition was first advanced by Allan Paivio of the University of Western Ontario. The theory posits that visual and verbal information is each processed differently along distinct channels with the human mind creating separate representations for information processed in each channel. Supporting evidence comes from research that shows that memory for some verbal information is enhanced if a relevant visual is also presented or if the learner can imagine a visual image to go with the verbal information. Likewise verbal information can often be enhanced when paired with a visual image, real or imagined. " This article goes on to include other scenarios as I mentioned. See


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