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Can You Hear Me Now?

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I have an interest in voiceover and narration to say the least. I have spent some time over the last few months researching (and to a degree learning) the voiceover aspect of things because I figured it could only add to what I do as an eLearning developer. Now, in looking at a lot of the eLearning examples I have come across, many are narrated. Some are definitely done by professional voice talent. Others are done by a person with a computer and a mic. If you are that person, I hope you were not offended by my reference.

One of the things that I noticed in some of the examples was that the voice was saying the same thing that I was already reading on the screen…verbatim. At first I rationalized and thought that it might have been for the same reason that closed caption is included in some presentations. Then I thought it may have just been a personal pet peeve or preference. Then I began to look around and found that others had the same personal preference. But I am not one to write off ideas or methods so easily. Maybe there is a reason for this technique. Although Chris over at eQuixotic quoted some stats from Richard Mayer’s book, Multimedia Learning, in which he notes that removing spoken text from screen increases learner retention by 28%. But then, for every technique that proves a point, there are others that reach another conclusion. Another blogger refers to this on-screen narration technique as a means of fulfilling the obligations to SENDA (Special Education Needs and Disabilities Act). Of course, that is the British equivalent of Section 508.

My personal preference is to have the audio be a bit different from the screen text in most cases, even if the differences are only slight. Of course, I don’t have any specific challenges that might cause me to need another technique. I might even be ignorant in that way. So I am searching for enlightenment. Is there someone who can explain the other side for me?

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5 Comments to “Can You Hear Me Now?”

  1. I don’t think you want the audio to be ‘slightly’ different from the text.

    “Research” (and I say this without providing any citation — probably from Ruth Clark’s e-Learning and the Science of Instruction) shows that if the text and audio are different, then you’re really confusing the learner. Definitely get that book!

  2. avatar

    Can you be a bit more specific Cammy? I’m not talking about the type of thing here where the text says “the sky is blue” and the audio says “the sky is red”. I am talking things like the audio saying “the sky is blue” and the screen showing the word blue with an arrow pointing to the sky. Prob couldn’t hurt to read the book though :-) .

  3. Thanks for the example. I think that’s just fine. I was thinking in terms of audio narration with onscreen text bullets. But if you’re using text tags to effectively callout a graphic, I think that’s a different story. And do get the book!

  4. avatar

    In my user tests, I’ve noticed that learners generally are unfettered by audio that doesn’t exactly match onscreen text as long as (1) the order / arrangement of presented elements is parallel to the audio (2) the content onscreen is consistent with the audio. This counts for pictures as well.

    In fact, if the audio is identical to the onscreen text in every way – the learners typically respond with ‘why is this thing reading to me?’. I feel the same way.

    Audio is a strategic element. I’ve always been more successful thinking of audio elemnts this way. If I don’t need audio to articulate the idea, I won’t use it. And I ALMOST never use it to echo onscreen text — sometimes there’s strategic advantage to emphasize rules or ideas by paralleling up modes.

  5. I agree with Cammy – making the on-screen text just “slightly” different than the narration is a bad idea – probably the worst option of the bunch. You end up with learner ear/eye confusion. The slight difference will make them decide whether they should be reading or listening – an either/or proposition.

    Regarding making on-screen text match the narration verbatim, my experience echoes Mayer’s findings: learners don’t want to be “read to.” And as a learner myself, I agree. If you need to provide a transcript for accessibility requirements (which in my work I do), use another method. Articulate includes the narration text in the Notes section, which is hidden from view by default.

    I find that the best approach is to stick with simple on-screen *reinforcement* of the spoken text, whether it be a few words, a single word, or just images with no words at all. Similar to what a good instructor would do in a classroom. He/she won’t write down every spoken word on the chalkboard, obviously, but a simple word (or picture) here and there for emphasis.

    The best years of classroom-based learning may be behind us now (or soon will be), but we can’t overlook centuries of lessons learned. :)

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