Tips for Using Audio in E-Learning


Using audio in your e-learning is a great way to bring content to life and introduce another type of multimedia. There are several things to consider when adding audio, including what type of audio you want, how will you record it, and more. Read on to learn some key things you should know about including audio in your next e-learning project.

Types of Audio

There are various types of audio you can include in your content:

  • Narration (which has four “subtypes”)
    • Elaborative  (on-screen text summarizes the audio)
    • Paraphrasing (audio summarizes the on-screen text)
    • Verbatim (reading exact words on-screen)
    • Descriptive (audio describes image on-screen)
  • Music
  • Sound effects

The kind of narration you will use in your projects depend greatly on the specifics of the project (time, talent, budget) as well as what the subject matter is.

Which content should be narrated? There are a couple of scenarios where it might be more worthwhile to use narration. For example, when you need to explain a complex definition or process, or when demonstrating situations such as interview skills or emotional interactions between individuals.

Narration Options

The next question you might ask yourself is, who will narrate? 3 ways to narrate your course include:

  • A professional narrator
  • An employee narrator
  • Text-to-voice software

There are both pros and cons to using any type of narration in your project.

Professional Narration
  • High quality sound recordings done in a professional, sound proof studio
  • Has knowledge about compression rates, “clean audio”
  • Has a variety of consistent voicing styles, pitch, intonation
  • More expensive (they typically use a pay-per-minute model)
Amateur Narration
  • Less expensive than going to a professional
  • Adds realism and a personal-touch (especially if the narrator is an employee the learners know)
  • Lower quality (there may be breathing, lip smacking, background noises, etc.)
  • Inconsistent voice styles
  • Can be very difficult to match audio quality and have the same voice talent if updates are required in the future
  • Likely the least expensive route
  • Consistent quality
  • Consistent voicing style/intonation
  • Over the last few years quality has improved and it is now more common alternative
  • May sound robotic, unemotional and fake
  • Less personal

Other Resources

In addition to “the voice” you will likely need a couple of additional people to be involved in the audio recording process, likely:

  • A scriptwriter
  • A producer (this depends on the technical skill your narrator possesses, and if he/she can do the actual sound recording themselves)

General Tips and Tricks

Here are some additional tips and best practices for using audio in e-learning:
  • Narration rule of thumb is 1 minute of talk time = 100 words
  • Try to keep audio clips to 20-30 seconds (to retain learner attention)
  • Find a balance between what learners should read vs. what they should listen to
  • Allow users to have control over volume settings
  • Have an instructional reason for using the narration or audio (not just because)
  • Add a transcript or closed captions to keep your content accessible
  • Audio might slow down some learners since they have to go at the pace of narration
  • Adding narration will impact on the amount of time it takes to complete your e-learning course

20 thoughts on “Tips for Using Audio in E-Learning

  1. Ellen says:

    Thanks, I really like your post.

    We only create eLearning with Professional narration because of the quality aspect. Especially when you create long courses (4 to 20 hours) a real voice is a must. Otherwise it requires too much (reading) effort for the learner.

    Also interesting to investigate is the use of multiple voices for the narration. Some courses offer a choice in male or female voice. I’ve also seen courses with different voices for different topics. I am not sure what the benefits are…

    Rg, Ellen

    • Nicole Legault says:

      Thank you for your valuable comment Ellen! Those are two really good points… using narration in long courses to prevent reading fatigue and using different voices … Thanks for sharing!

  2. Cedric Smith says:

    Great post!

    I am speaking from the perspective of working at an educational institution, so my comments may not apply to everyone. As an instructional designer for a university, I believe I have experienced all of your pros and cons at some point over the past three years. We mostly use subject matter experts (SME) or content experts (CE) to record narrated PowerPoint lectures and other audio, but we have also used professional narrators and text-to-voice when using software like Articulate Storyline and Xtranormal. As mentioned in one of the articles you listed, the form of narration (e.g., professional, employee, text-to-voice) is not as important as the quality of the narration. If the quality of the audio is not good, it will be more distracting than helpful.

    You should always consider the subject matter, target audience, and available resources when deciding whether or not to use audio and the type of audio to use. Audio may not be as beneficial in a technical or financial course as much as it would in a history or English course. Also, think about presenting the content in alternative methods to address different learning styles and ADA standards. If you use a script to record your audio narrations, you can provide a PDF or Word document of the script as an alternative. If you do not have the resources to hire a professional, see if someone in your office is willing to do the voice-overs. Some people possess this talent and don’t even realize it. I find those instructors who are used to giving lectures in a face-to-face setting are usually better at recording narrations.

    This blog post has a lot of good information and tips. I plan to reference this information in the future when working on projects that require auido.

    Thanks for sharing!


    • Nicole Legault says:

      Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment and for sharing your personal experience using audio! 🙂

      You are so right that sometimes you might have some terrific undiscovered voice-talent right within your organization! (That happened at the company I work for, turns out their Instructional Designer has a great voice for narrating!)

      Glad you found the post useful. 🙂

    • Nicole Legault says:

      Chris — After doing User Acceptance Testing with some test learners, and after having compiled my research, we decided not to go with audio in that project. We just didn’t think that the time and money we’d need to put into it would be justified in terms of instructional value.

      However, I’m currently in the initial design/storyboarding phases of the next project I’m working on and I think we’ve already decided that audio will definitely add value. So we’re planning on incorporating it right from the get-go which should make things much simpler down the line!! (fingers crossed, anyways)

  3. David Sprouse says:

    Nice post. Very informative, and I love the pro/con comparisons. One thing to note however, is that your reference links do not work if you click them. Instead, one has to select that text and paste it into a browser. (Also, it appears the 3rd reference is no longer available).
    I really appreciate those references as well. They are excellent resources.

    Keep on Blogging!

    • Nicole Legault says:

      David — Thanks for the feedback and for letting me know about the hyperlinks that aren’t working. I’ve fixed the links and everything should be working now. Thanks again! 🙂

  4. Mark says:

    Really Great article 🙂 this is actually going to be very useful to me as we are looking into this at the moment at work! Thank you Nicole!

  5. Kevin Stall says:

    I wonder about the arguement for audio to suplement for those who might be semi-illiterate. As a person leaves school, a certian percentage never picks up anything short of a magazine or newspaper to read. Is there reading skill really up to following a half hour course on a technical subject? And also what about the old adage ofremembering a higher percentage of what you hear over what you just read?

  6. Vanessa Maynard says:

    Hi Nicole,

    I am looking for a canadian company (I’m in Toronto) to provide voice narration on my eLearning courses. Do you have any recommendations where I should get a quote from?


  7. Kim Handysides says:

    Great article Nicole! As a professional voiceover artist who specializes in eLearning, you hit the nail on the head several times in this post. One thing I think is interesting is the growth in pro VO’s becoming virtual resources by creating their own home studios which really has helped to bring the cost of hiring a pro to more reasonable realms.

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