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Learning & Development Blog

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Elearning Narration and The Sound of Silence

At what point does narration really add anything to an eLearning module, and at what point is it simply being added because “it’s what’s expected?” These are serious questions that deserve serious consideration, but unfortunately they don’t always get it.

The usual rationale given for why eLearning needs both text and audio is that it accommodates multiple learning styles. Some people synthesize material when it is presented in written form, and some just do better when they are free to listen without reading. That’s all fair, and we should seek to accommodate as many people as possible in our pursuit of effective training.

Oddly enough, however, it’s a rare day when you hear people say “I learn so much better when my brain is trying to do two things at once.” Why don’t we hear that?

Because it’s not true.

And yet that’s effectively what is happening when we present text visually and then have someone say it at the same time. Whether you are reading or listening, you’re also being distracted by the option your brain is not trying to pay attention to.

So, why does narration in eLearning frequently do nothing more than parrot back what’s written on the screen? Because that’s what clients have come to expect, and because it looks professional.

Think about it. If you had to choose an eLearning provider solely on the basis of samples, and one gave you a module with just text, and the other gave you a module with text and a voice-over provided by professional talent, you’d be likely to think the latter represented the better product. And you’d be wrong. But you’re the client, so you’re actually right.

So, as eLearning providers, it’s high time that we have the courage of our convictions, and take a stand to say:

“This may be flashy, but retention will be down, time lost to training will go up, and overall costs (especially long term maintenance) will be far higher.”

Because after all, we’re here to provide the best value, and while there is certainly a place for judicious use of narration (for instance, explanation of an imbedded Flash animation), it’s not by just regurgitating what’s on the screen.

And in case you read through this entire article in the hopes of hearing the song by Simon & Garfunkel, and are now really upset, here you go:


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