Girl sits by a tree with headphones looking at a tablet

The task of creating engaging elearning content is no small feat. Everyday, you have to balance creating content that makes it fun and easy for your audience to learn along with incorporating tried and true methods in order to improve learner retention.

Aside from the actual content of the learning management system (LMS) you are creating, there are other factors to consider in the creation process. Should you include vocal narration to go along with visuals in your elearning material? How do you take potentially complex information and create easily digestible pieces of content for the learners you are trying to target?

Before you dig deep into these questions, it is important to be aware of the different ways that people retain and process information and the best way to teach a wide range of people the same information. Also, it’s useful to become informed on why providing vocal narration along with other visuals can greatly enhance the learner’s experience.

The Science Behind Learning Retention

In 1992, Mayer and Anderson conducted experiments to determine if people learn better when they are able to get information through seeing and hearing. They reported their findings in a report titled The Instructive Animation: Helping Students Build Connections Between Words and Pictures in Multimedia Learning.

In their study, they created an instructional video depicting the operation of a bicycle tire pump. After watching the instructional video, the participants then had to operate the bicycle tire pump on their own.

There were four different test groups.

  1. Animation alone, then narration alone
  2. Narration alone, then animation alone
  3. Both animation and narration at the same time
  4. No instruction at all (the control group who had to perform the task without any visual or audio instruction – they had to figure out how the bicycle pump works by doing)

Through the series of experiments, they came to a few conclusions applicable to today’s learning process. They discovered that those who viewed animation alone either before or after narration alone performed no better on the task than those who had received no instruction at all. However, students who were presented with animation at the same time as vocal narration were able to problem solve much more efficiently.

These findings led them to develop the contiguity principle  – which essentially states that the effectiveness of multimedia instruction increases when words and pictures are presented together, rather than in isolation.

So what does this mean to you when you are creating a LMS? And how can you ensure the content you are creating will be an effective tool for learning?

By including both visuals and narration, you are setting all learners up for achieving success. Keep in mind that there are going to be different types of learners engaging with your elearning platform, so you will need to appeal to those senses. With audio and visual information presented in tandem, your content will connect well with all kinds of learners – whether they’re visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. For example, kinesthetic learners need to be active participants, which often involves taking notes. They are much more likely to succeed if they can listen to narration and write notes, instead of having to describe what they are seeing in the visuals alone.

Do I Really Need Voice Over Narration in My Elearning Video?

The short answer is yes. Elearning accounts for 5% of global voice over work and with the increase in popularity of technology in the workplace, this number is likely to grow in the future. Take it from companies like UNI-Learning who create elearning courses for various clients across the globe. Instructional Designer from UNI-Learning, Christophe Jacobs who wrote a report on voice over in elearning, notes that “a person is much more likely to absorb information when this information reaches them both visually and audibly.”

This is referred to as the dual coding theory, which discusses how humans have two very different information processing systems in their brain: one that represents information verbally and one that represents information visually.

Since the dual coding theory came to the forefront of elearning discussions, many higher education institutions now offer online classes, and many elearning courses are being incorporated for children and adults alike. To date, the elearning industry is estimated to be worth over 48 billion US.

Ultimately, if you want end-users to engage with your elearning content , then you have to find a way to appeal to as many senses as possible. The challenge is taking (sometimes) complex information and making it easy to retain by different types of learners. Voice over can help auditory learners grasp difficult concepts. “The more logical reason to utilize a voice is because during the design phase, the instructional designer finds the use of voice over will add value for the end users,” says Christophe.

How Should You Incorporate Vocal Narration in your Learning Management Systems?

Vocal narration should complement any visual references you are using. Using audio narration effectively helps the learner better retain the concepts that are being taught.

However, you should be conscious of how you use vocal narration in your training material. Often times, along with animations or other visuals, each module or slide may have some copy displayed on screen as well. When you’re creating your script, keep in mind that it’s best to not to have the narrator read every word that you have placed on the screen, but rather use narration as a means to explain processes and concepts. Narration should enforce what’s on screen. Think of it in the same way you think of hosting in-person training. Instead of reading the same copy that appears on your slides (which can be boring and redundant), you’re more likely to take a more in-depth and conversational approach. Your narration script should be the same.

Audio narration in elearning also helps to reduce some of the strain learners experience as they absorb a lot of new information, and helps to encourage them to become more active learners. However, Christophe Jacob notes that “knowing when to apply the right amount of voice over is a valuable skill in the elearning business.” This means using voice over strategically in a way that will engage users and not just using voice over for the sake of using voice over. This is where instructional designers, like Christophe, can help out.

What Type of Voice Should I Use to Improve Information Retention?

Studies show that a human or natural sounding voice is much easier to listen to for longer periods of time versus a more robotic sounding voice. In a recent Voices.com study, respondents agreed that the human voice is more powerful than a synthetic voice, especially in terms of conveying important messages and information.  

Hiring voice actors to do the job for you is an efficient way to ensure that you get the most engaging read for your material. People like to learn from a voice that sounds friendly, and like their peers. So keep your audience in mind when selecting a voice to narrate your elearning materials, including their age, language, accent and dialect. And as a rule of thumb, always avoid any text-to-speech programs. You should aim to connect with your audience through the elearning voice you cast

How Can I Take Complex Elearning Material and Improve Learner Retention?

There are many different ways you can take difficult information and make it easy for your learners to engage and interact with. There are several approaches you can take to creating your learning content based on the targeted audience and the ultimate goal of your module.

  • Use shorter segments – scientifically speaking, humans have a limited capacity to process information at one time – it’s just the way our brains are wired. Information can be more meaningful, if it is broken down into smaller chunks. Learners often find it hard to retain information after 20 minutes, so if you break down modules into smaller parts, it is much easier for learners to absorb this information. It also makes it easy for them to access the information, should they ever need to go back to a specific part in the course at a later date for a refresher.
  • Incorporate Gamification – this style of elearning modules is becoming increasingly more effective in engaging learners with the content. Gamification involves utilizing typical elements of games (scoring, competition etc.) to encourage engagement with the material.
  • Speak to your learners – it greatly helps your learners retain information if you add vocal narration to accompany any on screen visuals. As the experts over at UNI-Learning note, “voice over actively helps the learner to acquire information.”

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