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.