Best Practice-Narration ?

Hi,

A bit of background:  I'm completely new to eLearning and am taking courses and following the articles, etc. on this forum to learn more about it. I manage a number of educational programs and most recently I have two programs that are consist of multiple eLearning modues. My role is to oversee committees of SME's who create our educational content. A separate department is responsible for the instructional design.  

Okay. We frequently have to review and update our courses to determine if they require content changes per our accreditation guidelines. As I'm reviewing these online modules, I'm confused by the narration. 

Should the narrator read all of the text that appears on screen? Is it okay to switch back and forth between multiple narrators? Or, when we make changes is it better to have the entire thing rerecorded? I'm noticing that the IDs are kind of removing certain things, but not necessarily updating the audio. 

I'm happy to hear feedback or even receive suggestions for further reading.

Thank you!

KK

16 Replies
Allison LaMotte

Hi Kandice,

These are all great questions!

To answer your first question about whether or not the narrator should read all of the text that appears on screen: I would say no. Here's an article that explains why.

I think it's okay to switch back and forth between narrators as long as there is a reason for it. For example, if there are multiple characters in a course. If it's just because the first narrator no longer works for the company and the new person only wanted to update a portion of the audio, then I suppose it is "okay" but may be confusing to learners.

Have you tried talking to the IDs about these issues? Have they been able to explain to you what's going on there?

Ray Cole

I agree with Allison on the first point: redundantly reading the text to the learner is more likely to harm than help. Which raises a more fundamental question of whether narration is adding value overall. There is a tendency sometimes to design information-heavy e-learning courses that amount to little more than a narrated PowerPoint presentation. If the course is just a voice reading the screen to the learner, it's unlikely to have much impact on the learner no matter how good or bad the narration is, or how many or how few people provide the narration.

If the voice provides crucial information in a simulation, then I'm all for it. For example, if you're creating a course for call-center employees about how to handle an angry customer, then the voice on the other end of the phone is very important--you can tell a lot by the tone of voice, by the amount and kind of emotion it conveys, and so on. On the other hand, if the voice is just droning on, reading content, that's probably not the best use of narration. If your learners can read, it really might be better to just let them read the information--sans voice.

In fact, if there's a lot of info to read, consider busting it out of your e-learning course and placing that information in a resource like a PDF or Word document, and use the e-learning course to train people how to use this information to accomplish realistic tasks they will face in their actual jobs. When you focus on what learners should do with the information, instead of on the information itself, you naturally end up with a course that's more about giving the learner practice in "doing" those things, and there is then less need to narrate large blocks of information.

Kandice Kidd

Hi Allison!

Thank you so much for responding to my question. I really enjoyed the article with the accompanying demo.  I asked the eLearning Director about this a few weeks ago and she also said that the text shouldn't be read verbatim. However, she's been in the role only about a year and has inherited a lot of older courses that are in need of updating. Updating can be hard because as you correctly surmised some of the narrators are no longer at the company. 

I'm meeting with the ID team soon to ask them if it's possible to create a set of guidelines that can be reviewed with SMEs as they create the content for the courses. My hope is that this would create a consistent approach across courses, even when we are updating them. I'm also going to recommend that we create a file server that houses the original files and scripts. I think it would be better to rerecord than create confusing content.

Thank you!

Kandice 

Kandice Kidd

Hi Ray!

This is really great feedback for me. I hope that I will have the opportunity to create an eLearning course for my company at some point, and this is excellent advice.  I think that in my company's desire to be on the eLearning bandwagon we have used only one approach to designing courses, rather than considering the best method for the course based on the learning objectives.

Honestly, it seems many of our courses are narrated PowerPoints. They contain a lot of information. Sure, the IDs do the best they can with them (including graphics), but with all that I'm learning through this site and my eLearning courses, they fall into that camp. I think the problem is that IDs feel at such an intense disadvantage because our SMEs are pathologists and the courses are clinical and scientific. Again, this is something I should ask the ID team about as I'm just not certain. 

Thanks,

KK

Ray Cole

Hi Kandice,

IDs don't necessarily have to be experts in the subject as long as they have good partnerships with SMEs. What's needed is a clear understanding of each person's role. The SMEs own the content accuracy, but not the instructional design.

That means the IDs need to have the skills to take the information the SMEs provide, and "translate" the incoming information into actual use cases. When a SME says, "Learners need to know XYZ," that's a focus on content. IDs need to ask SMEs for the "why":  Why do learners need to know XYZ? Ask the SMEs: "Learners need to know XYZ so they can...what?" That translation step puts the focus on learner decisions and/or actions rather than on content for its own sake.

There is usually a reason why we want people to know things, and that reason is because it informs some important decision or action. The IDs need to be able to get SMEs to divulge what that decision or action is. Then the IDs can create scenarios, simulations, games, etc. that put the learner in realistic job situations where they can act on the information. That gets the design of your e-learning away from information dumps and toward simulation and practice, which in the long run will be a lot more effective in terms of learners' ability to retain and apply what they learn in the course to their actual work.

Cheers!

    -Ray

Keith Lillico

Kandice,

I am not a fan of changing narrators in the middle of a course. This is mainly because I am stubborn and will just recut the audio for the entire course. However, I do have the luxury of doing it all in-house, so there does not cost to me when I do that. I have seen narrators successfully change if they are doing visibly different sections of the course but it needs to have some sort of feel of consistency when you do it.

Also, reading the slides word for word is a big No No. If you learner catches on then they lose interest in the course. I generally say a lot less in the audio than what is on the screen, or I use a more casual language just to make it slightly different. 

Kandice Kidd

Hi Ray,

I'm really glad you shared this with me because I asked this very same thing in my first course. I felt confused by what it seems the IDs in my division are doing versus what I was being taught.  I think that the IDs on my team are more focused on the visual design of the course than really collaborating with the SMEs to create a strong learning experience. I was talking to one of our IDs and he told me of an instance when he told a SME that he needed more information to meet the length of the course, but when the SME asked him for guidance on what else to include, he chafed at the question. He said that he's just the designer not a pathologist. I was surprised and confused which led to a discussion with my course instructor afterwards.

My gut instinct is that while both of our full time IDs have knowledge of eLearning authoring tools, they don't have a lot of skill in actual instructional design. I do understand that theory doesn't always translate perfectly to real world experience, but I can't see any theoretical principles at use in any of the courses that I'm reviewing. I'm not trying to be critical. I'm just observing and comparing to what I'm learning through courses and reading materials on this site.

Thank you for giving me some great things to consider as I study and eventually begin to start working in eLearning.

KK

 

 

Kandice Kidd

Hi,

Thank you for sharing this information. This makes a lot of sense. You are so right! I am reviewing course evaluations and the learners are noting that the audio is problematic and the reading of the text is boring. I'm looking forward to talking all of this through with our ID team.

I'm curious: do you have courses that are regularly updated? For example, courses that have to adhere to regular guideline updates?

Thank you!!

KK

Keith Lillico

We do. I am actually at war right now with a group of SME's because we have a course that we are updating right now that has only been out for about six months. Their changes will require us to recut the audio for the whole course. Their changes are only on two slides, but this was one of the only time we used an outside voiceover, and it will cost us at least $1000 to recut the audio, or it will take a week of me re-recording the audio for the entire course by the time its been recorded, edited, and placed back in the course. 

We generally have a standard that all compliance courses are reviewed once a year to check accuracy, and then any other courses are reviewed every two years. If the changes are minor and it's before the time, it is due we try to see if it can be fixed with a job aid or a communications plan. There are some courses, however, such as product changes that we have to update no matter what regardless of how long it has been out.

Ray Cole

Hi Kandice,

The situation you describe--"Instructional Designers" who don't recognize that there is a more effective way to train people than to subject them to info-dump-style courses--is a problem that is extremely wide-spread throughout our industry.

You used exactly the right term in your reply to me: "learning experience." The role of a really top-notch instructional designer is to craft learning experiences. That usually means giving learners the chance to practice the new skills they are learning.

Unfortunately, creating e-learning that provides such practice opportunities is significantly more difficult than creating information-oriented courses, and it requires more participation from and a higher degree of collaboration with the SMEs, and extra support from management to demand more than an info-dump. Because all these factors have to align, but seldom do, instructional design departments that are creating truly effective e-learning are surprisingly rare.

It sounds like you are learning the right things in your studies and are asking the right questions of your team. Just realize that many "ID" teams are stubbornly committed to the mediocrity that they are used to producing. They often genuinely do not see it as a problem. Hence, getting them to change can be an uphill battle. You can either stick with them and try to help them improve their ways over the long term, or you might have to leave and find another group of IDs somewhere else who are more interested in creating training that can actually be effective.

Either way, figuring out the best way to create training that actually matters is a lifelong pursuit. I've been at it for a long time and am still learning.

Cheers!

    -Ray

Bruce Graham

I think of Instructional designer responsibilities more as "actors" than "purveyors of mediocrity", (of which there are many!).

As an ID, working with Subject Matter Experts, you have to be able to "get under the hood" of the subject, and create courses AS THOUGH YOU UNDERSTOOD IT. If you work between many industries/sectors, there's no way you can possible understand everything.

When I am creating, (and recording...) a voiceover, I use the on-screen as a clue to what I am going to say, making sure I bring out important points on screen, and expand on them in the voiceover.

Hope that helps add to the mix a little.

Kandice Kidd

Hi Keith,

I'm still not that knowledgeable about what it takes to recut or rerecord audio. I can tell t hat whenever my eLearning Director talks about it, she seems annoyed at the thought (she's wonderful, though)! Does rerecording  mean that you will need to develop a new script, or simply edit the old one?

Keith, I love the idea about a job aid or communications plan! I'm dealing with a module in this program that is requiring that the participants upload an assignment-an executive briefing. The problem with this is that the committee that recommended this is not committed to reviewing the assignment and giving feedback to the participants. This is a major problem in my opinion. So, I like the idea of removing the requirement (it's mentioned in the audio and on some slides) and maybe creating a job aid that provides instructions on how to perform the task of the assignment on the job, but not as a requirement of the course.

What do you think?

 

 

Keith Lillico

Generally speaking, re-recording is if there is a part of the narration that needs to be changed you will have to record new audio for it. With the challenge that we face is that when we use outside contractors to record the audio, we have to pay them for the corrections on the parts of the course that changed. Or, to save money and keep the same voice throughout we can record the audio in one of our voices for the entire course.

I am not the best person to ask about requirements. I tend to be blunt and to the point. If I committee asked me to have an assignment like that and they were not going to grade it, my response would then tell me who it or I am not putting it in there. Not everyone can get away with that.

Kandice Kidd

I absolutely agree and am also straightforward. However, I came on board with this program only a year ago which is two years after it launched.  That would have been the first thing I vetoed because we don't have the tools or people to do something like that. 

A lot of times people don't want to challenge the committees  so they agree with them on everything. I've frequently argued with mine that while they may know the science, they are NOT project managers, that's my role and I will do it. The other issue is that many of our internal leaders don't like to consider risks because they are narrowly focused on what they hope will happen. I can't tell you how many times in the last 6 months I have had to tamper or simply shoot down my Chief Learning Officer's ideas and timelines for new projects because we can't operationally implement them. 

Ray Cole

Rerecording audio is not, by itself, that hard. What can make it frustrating to have to re-record audio for the entire course is that when you do so, the timings inevitably change. Maybe it took the original narrator 5 seconds to read paragraph 1, but it only took the new narrator 4 seconds to do so (or maybe it took her 6 seconds). As a result, all the animations on the page that were previously synchronized with the old audio will be out-of-sync with the new audio. Depending on how many entrances and exits are synchronized to specific parts of the audio, readjusting all these timings in the animation stack can be tedious and time consuming.