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8 Tips for Using Audio in E-learning

Learning Pool shares Viv Cole's recent discussion about the use of audio in e-learning. Can it be a vital component in truly effective e-learning design?

Learning Pool’s Content Co-Ordinator, Eoin Donaghy, shares his third blog from the recent eLearning Network event ‘Truly Effective Learning Design’ which covers audio in e-learning.

The eLearning Network conference in Birmingham was a great chance to see what others in the field of Content Development are up to and to see some examples of the work they produce.

Many use high end tools and charge high end prices to match, but few have as solid, as usable and as cost-effective a resource as Learning Pool Authoring.

Using audio in learning

Audio can now be embedded in your e-learning modules and ourselves here in the Content Development team have been using audio in learning to greater and greater effect.

Should audio be using in e-learning design?

The third speaker at the eLearning Network event was Viv Cole, another director of the eLearning Network and another who runs his own e-learning consultancy.

Often mistaken for a woman owing to his name, Viv is ‘proud to have once been ranked the 19th best female UK chess player in the UK and continues to be on the lookout for entertaining typos’.

He spoke at length about the use of audio in e-learning. Can it be a vital component in truly effective e-learning design? If so, what makes good use or bad use of it and why and when should you use it at all?

Viv started off his session by asking the group – primarily made up of Instructional Designers of varying experience – what experiences they had had of audio use in e-learning.

Of the good experiences, many remarked that use of audio had brought the on-screen content to life, adding another dimension to what was being visually received. It can also make the learning more authentic if real-life voiceovers are used.

Indeed it doesn’t even have to be a voice at all – many of the delegates agreed that good use of sound effects can have just as positive an impact in the right context.

How not to use audio in learning

On the other hand, however, delegates agreed that bad examples of audio use tended to be when it merely repeated what was on the screen already.

Everyone reads and digests information at different paces and it is necessarily difficult, therefore, to get the audio to the correct tempo to suit all needs. Having audio standardises how long it takes to complete each slide.

In some cases this might be desirable but it takes away the freedom and control of the learner to work at their own pace. Often too, the tone or the accent of the voice isn’t in keeping with the context of the module   and this can undermine what the learning is trying to achieve.

One of the great luminaries of contemporary e-learning design, Cathy Moore, contends that:

  • Audio + Visual = Persuasion:  a strong image alongside narration helps emphasise a point
  • Text + Silence = Learner Control: the learner can proceed in their own time
  • Narration narrows cultural appeal: this is something to be aware of – visuals can have global appeal but an American or Indian voice, for example, immediately narrows the range of where your e-learning may be effective and you may lose authenticity

So using audio really depends on who your learners are, what you are trying to achieve and how you want your learners to achieve it.

The science behind using audio to learn

Viv Cole went on to demonstrate some of the science behind using audio as a learning tool. Studies have shown that the first thing and the last thing that you hear are what stick in the memory longest, so it is important to bear this in mind when integrating the use of audio into a module.

The context of what you hear is also important – how it associates itself with your other senses.

If you hear an important message alongside a strong visual, then it is far more likely to remain with you. The YouTube clip of Vinnie Jones in the previous blog is a good example of this.

8 tips for effective use of audio in e-learning

Finally, Viv wrapped things up with eight tips for effective use of audio in e-learning. In the spirit of both the eLearning Network and Learning Pool ethos of sharing and pooling ideas, we’ve listed these for you below:

  1. Get the tone right – the type and tone of voice can dramatically affect the message. It should be culturally and contextually appropriate for your audience
  2. Enhance rather than repeat – build on what is being shown on screen rather than just repeat it. Remember Cathy Moore’s Audio + Visual = Persuasion equation.
  3. Keep it short – short bursts of audio are preferable to long stints, where attention spans are likely to wander.
  4. Learner control of playback – if possible, it is advisable to keep the learner in control through use of rewind and pause buttons, so that they can go at their own pace. It might also good to be able to turn the audio off if it is only for decorative purposes.
  5. Keep the balance in context – the relevance to your audience should be a big factor on how much audio you use. For example, if your training was aimed at call centre staff then it might be better to use more audio and less visual as they are more likely to respond to this.
  6. Keep the quality high – an obvious point, but integrating unclear, distorted or in any way dodgy audio will undermine the user experience. You may have to balance this against file sizes however.
  7. Use ‘real’ people rather than actors – most of the delegates at the eLN event agreed that in past experience, learners had been able to tell when the voiceovers used understood the content  and this damaged the authenticity of the learning somewhat.
  8. Consider non-speech – where appropriate, music or sound effects can be used to enhance the learning.


While there is no single recipe for success, these are all factors you should bear in mind before you decide whether to use audio and how to use it. But don’t take it from me – take it from a Chess Grand Master like Viv Cole.

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