Tips for Using Audio in E-Learning

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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.

PROS CONS
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
Text-to-voice
  • 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

Avoid These 3 E-Learning Design Problems

You don’t need to be a professional graphic designer to know that yellow text on a white background is a no-no, or that the bright neon orange background is not so easy on the eyes.

However, there are some more subtle design faux-pas that not everyone is consciously aware of. Here’s a look at a few of them, and some tips on how to avoid making those mistakes in your own e-learning designs.

Claustrophobic Slides

White space (also known as negative space) is the unmarked or unused space on a slide/screen/layout. White space is a very important design element and it should be balanced with the objects on the slide. In other words, you should aim to have 50% white space on every slide.

Claustrophobic slides happen when there isn’t enough white space and the objects on the slide are too close together,  touching each other or  touching the edges of the slides. Here’s an example of a claustrophobic slide:

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The elements on the slide are crowded and too close. It just feels a bit too “tight”. The fix: add  some white space! Here is the same slide, with all the same elements but with proper spacing around them.

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Ahhh! Now there’s some breathing room. That’s what white space does. It frames all the elements and provides balance.

Whispering Headlines

Why do you want your headlines to stand out? Because they introduce the slide and let the learners know what they are about to look at. Whispering headlines fail to attract attention, and are not easily distinguished from the text that they introduce. Here’s an example:

ex1

Notice that the headline doesn’t really stand out from the text that comes after it. Headlines should be significantly larger than the text that follows. Here is the same example, except this time the headline is bolded and a larger font size:

ex2

That helps a bit, but it’s still not really popping as much as it should. A few other techniques you can use to make your headlines stand out: make the text bolder, change the color or change the font. Here’s our same example once more, but this time the headline has a different font color and typeface.

ex3

See how much our headline pops now? Your eyes go right to the headline and right away you know what this slide is all about (or at least you would if you spoke Latin!).

Similar Typefaces

When you’re using more than one type of font in your e-learning design choose contrasting fonts. In other words, avoid mixing fonts that have a similar look-and-feel (whether it be in the size or weight of the type). Here’s an e-learning slide that uses similar typefaces:

exA

It feels a little heavy doesn’t it? The fonts used are too similar, too close to the same size, and too chunky and heavy. They compete for attention and don’t balance each other out.  As we looked at in the previous example, your headline should be what grabs attention first. Here’s the same slide, but now I have switched one of the fonts to be a “lighter” style and I’ve adjusted the size of the text.

exB

There’s much more of a balance between the two fonts  in the second example.

These are just a few common design mistakes that you can avoid making in your designs. Some of these “mistakes” are very subtle, and might only be caught by a very detail-oriented eye. That being said, it’s those little details that can make a design that much more pleasing to look at.

The Ultimate E-Learning Design and Development Checklist

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I have compiled several e-learning, instructional design, and web design checklists to create the ultimate e-learning design and development checklist. This list is thorough and covers a broad range of items. Keep in mind not every item will apply to every project.

INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN

  • Training needs analysis is complete
  • Project constraints have been identified
  • Project plan is complete
  • Audience analysis is complete
  • Task analysis is complete
  • Various instructional methods are used
  • Objectives are clearly stated
  • Objectives include measurable criteria
  • Instructional content relates directly to learning objectives
  • Course objectives are met
  • Content is segmented in small chunks
  • Information is grouped logically
  • Major headings are clear and descriptive
  • One-third of the content is presentation
  • Two-thirds of the content is application and feedback
  • There is a summary for every piece of  content
  • Glossary is used to define key concepts  and terms

ASSESSMENTS & TESTS

  • All assessments are relevant and complete
  • Assessments are challenging and realistic
  • Various quiz methods and types are used
  • Assessments are used throughout
  • Final assessment at the end
  • Pass and fail marks are appropriate
  • Feedback is provided for questions   answered
  • Feedback is adequate
  • Feedback presented within reasonable time
  • Post course assessment/evaluation is included
  • New content is not presented in assessments or in assessment feedback

GENERAL DESIGN

  • Total design is uniform in appearance
  • Branding guidelines have been   followed
  • Use of logos is appropriate
  • Colors used are consistent and suitable
  • High visibility and contrast
  • Navigation is consistent throughout
  • There is a generous amount of white space
  • Graphics and icons are used to signify important concepts
  • Patterns and textured backgrounds do not interfere with legibility

FONTS

  • Maximum of three fonts used throughout
  • Decorative fonts are only used for headings
  • Body text uses sans serif fonts
  • Appropriate line spacing is used
  • Paragraph length is appropriate
  • Font sizes are appropriate and easily readable
  • Font colors visible against background color
  • Styles and colors are consistent throughout
  • Emphasis (bold, italics) is used sparingly
  • Body text is left justified

TESTING

  • E-learning has been tested in multiple browsers
  • E-learning has been tested on multiple devices
  • E-learning has been tested in the Learning Management System (LMS)
  • E-learning has been tested in various resolutions
  • All links and buttons have been tested
  • Accessibility features have been tested
  • Course has been tested with a screen reader
  • All audio has been tested
  • All videos have been tested
TECHNICAL

  • Project load time is reasonable
  • Shortcut keys have been defined
  • FAQ document has been created
  • Hardware requirements have been   identified
  • Software requirements have been   identified
  • Dimensions are optimized for target audience
  • Pages can be printed
  • Total time to complete has been timed
  • Contact information available for   questions or problems

ACCESSIBILITY

  • Course can be navigated with keyboard
  • All ALT tags are used
  • Text is provided for non-text   elements
  • Videos have script or dialogue
  • Captions provided for audio
  • No flashes faster than 3 times per second
  • No colors used to convey information
  • Use text with appropriate contrast ratio
  • No fine motor skills required
  • No timed activities
  • No use of hover states to display important information

NAVIGATION

  • Main navigation is easily identifiable
  • All navigation is correct sequence
  • Hyperlinks are clearly identified
  • All hyperlinks work
  • Minimum use of external links
  • Backward links to navigate to previous   screens
  • Number of navigation icons is reasonable
  • Table of contents used to lay out the   content
  • E-learning has guided tour and/or map for   further explanations

VIDEOS & ANIMATION

  • Use of animation and videos is appropriate
  • Files are compressed/optimized
  • Videos and animations are consistent in quality, size and type
  • Videos are legally   owned

AUDIO & NARRATION

  • Narration is not exact text on the screen
  • Narration is clear and concise
  • Audio quality is high (not fuzzy or   scrambled)
  • Narrator sounds confident and knowledgeable
  • Audio synced to the content
  • Audio can be paused
  • Volume can be muted
  • Volume can be controlled by user

TEXT CONTENT

  • Language is clear and concise
  • Spelling has been checked
  • Grammar has been checked
  • Language is culturally appropriate
  • Humor is used with care
  • Tone is consistent and appropriate
  • Text is gender neutral
  • Content is not plagiarized
  • Date formats, measurements, are consistent
  • SME has verified text content
  • Facts, statistics, data are accurate
  • Facts, statistics, data sources are   identified
  • Correct capitalization applies to units and acronyms
  • Correct capitalization is used
  • Punctuation is appropriate
  • Complex sentences are avoided
  • Content has been localized for all required languages

GRAPHICS

  • Images are meaningful and have a purpose
  • Images use appropriate file type
  • Photos are consistent in quality and style
  • Images are legally owned
  • System screen captures are up-to-date
  • Screen captures do not contain personal information

Since you’ve made it all the way to the end of the checklist, maybe you should subscribe to my blog!

20+ Questions To Include in an Audience Analysis

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An audience analysis is a task that instructional designers and training developers perform in the initial phases of planning a training project. Completing an audience analysis is critical because in order to communicate information effectively, you need to understand who your learners are. Depending on the project, you might have more than once audience.

To complete your audience analysis, you will need to interview and observe the employees and management to gather information about your learners. Once you have identified your specific audiences, you can tailor your courses so they are pertinent to the different background, education levels, etc.

Here’s an example of how audiences can vary widely, even within one organization:

You are developing software training for a large organization with a manufacturing facility.

Some of your learners are engineers who work in software development. They are technically savvy, work at a computer all day and are already familiar with the software you are training them on.

Meanwhile, your second audience is the workers from manufacturing facility. They work with machinery all day and barely use the computer. This will be their first time ever seeing this software.

You can already see that, even though these two audiences may need to be trained on the same software, very different approaches will be required for different audiences.

Here’s a list of 20 audience analysis questions to get you started.

General

  • Who is your primary audience?
  • Are there potential secondary audiences?

Demographics

  • What is the average age of the learner?
  • Are the learners mostly men, women, or an equal mix?
  • What is the educational background (high school diploma, PhD)?
  • What is their cultural background, race, ethnicity?

Knowledge & Experience

  • What is their level of work experience?
  • What is the reading level of the audience?
  • How much do they already know about the subject at hand?
  • What tone or attitude is appropriate for your audience?
  • How motivated are the learners?

 Technical

  • What hardware and software do the the learners have?
  • How technically savvy are the learners?
  • What resources do the learners have at their disposal?

Expectations

  • What level of participation can you expect?
  • What kind of syntax or writing style are your learners comfortable with?
  • Why are the learners taking the training?
  • What will the audience expect to learn?
  • What amount of time do learners have available to devote to training?
  • Do any of the learners have special needs or accessibility requirements?

If you know of any other audience analysis questions that I’ve missed, please leave a comment.

8 Best Practices for E-Learning Localization

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Training localization is often an afterthought in training projects. “Oh, we can just translate the course in a few days, no problem.”  The reality is that localization can be a costly and lengthy undertaking if not properly approached. The amount of deliverables is increased for each language you translate the course into. If you have an e-learning course that will be presented in two languages, you need to have double the templates, tables of contents, sets of text content, certificates, etc. You also need to take the time to create the two courses, test each course individually, perhaps publish each one individually, and more.

Here are 8 best practices that you should follow when localizing your next e-learning course.

Consider localization during initial project planning

The localization should be an integral part of your project planning; take it into consideration during every aspect of the design and development. One of the most common and costly mistakes is waiting until the e-learning course has been created and then deciding to translate all the content. This usually leads to headaches, problems and cost overruns. Decide ahead of time of whether or not your content will be presented in multiple languages. Certain components of the e-learning will need to be designed in such a way that it can be easily be translated into multiple languages.

Create a localization-friendly design

Design photos and text placeholders that are easily changed and edited. Ensure that the components that will be translated are easily manipulated without affecting the generic content that will remain the same throughout. Take this into consideration when designing headings and titles, text placement on a page, image placement, as well as symbols and icons.

Be sensitive to cultural differences

Be sensitive and aware of anything that might be offensive to another culture. Images that seem innocent or that represent something for one culture may have a completely different meaning to another culture. Colors also have various meanings for different cultures. For example, purple represents richness and royalty to Westerners; in Thailand it represents death and mourning. Of course certain things, such as the color of your corporate logo, can’t be changed. Nevertheless, it is still a good practice to take cultural differences into consideration when designing an e-learning course.

Consider linguistic issues

Certain symbols and icons represent different things across various cultures. For example, your “Help” section may be represented by a question mark. Certain languages do not use question marks. This means you will need to change it to a different symbol for another language. Certain countries use the metric vs. the imperial systems for measurement. If your e-learning course has measurements, this will also need to be taken into consideration. It is also best practice to avoid using slogans and culturally specific examples that are hard to explain o translate into other languages.

Design for expanding text

When designing for websites it is expected that the text will expand 20-30% when translated into another language; this can also be expected for e-learning designs. Some languages require more words to explain certain concepts or ideas. something that can be explained in one sentence in English might take two or three sentences to explain in French or Spanish. This is because the latter are “wordier” languages. If the text placeholder in your e-learning course only has room for one sentence, it will lead to design issues when content is being translated.

Minimize use of embedded text in graphics and videos

It is difficult to translate text within the spacial constraints of a graphic image such as a flow-chart or diagram. If it is necessary to use images with embedded text, try to use layers in your graphics. It’s a good idea to design the graphic in all the required languages at the same time, to avoid headaches down the line.

Finalize in one language before localizing

Have one version of your e-learning completely nailed down, edited, tested and completed before moving on to localization. There is nothing worse than having a SME tell you that you need to change two paragraphs, and then having to go into 6 different courses and change it for 6 different languages. To save time and money, it’s best to have a final, approved version which doesn’t require any further text edits before sending it off for translation.

Hire professional translators

It’s not enough to say “Lisa speaks Spanish, so she can translate the content.” Speaking a language does not equate to being a good writer. There is a lot involved including sentence structure, grammar, syntax, spelling, etc. It’s also definitely not enough to use Google translator to save costs. While the quality of the translations has greatly improved over the last few years, it is still often riddled with errors and sentences that really don’t make sense. DON’T use Google Translate or any online translation tools to localize your content. It will be obvious and distracting to your learners if the content isn’t properly translated, and your eLearning course will lose credibility.

Key considerations for e-learning localization:

  • Icons, symbols
  • Photos, graphics
  • Text content
  • Fonts
  • Dates, times, measurements
  • Input and output
  • Color schemes
  • Terminology, acronyms, and abbreviations
  • Browser window titles
  • Software application screenshots
  • User interface
  • Table of contents

Did I miss any practices that you think are important? If you have any tips or comments about localizing eLearning, please share. Also, please take a moment to subscribe!

40+ Tips for Awesome PowerPoint Presentations

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PowerPoint. Whether you love it or hate it, we’ve all had to use it before. Personally, I think it’s a great tool. It’s easy to use and I love starting with a blank slide and creating my own masterpiece. You can even link slides and shapes and make really cool branched scenarios. Creating visually appealing PowerPoint presentations is definitely possible.

So, if you need to create a PowerPoint presentation and you’ve decided you want it to be great, check out the 40 tips below and you will be well on your way!

Structure

  • Decide on your goal – what is it this presentation is going to achieve?
  • Select a structure for your presentation
  • Divide your content into small sections
  • Include an introduction, content and a summary/ending
  • Add an agenda or outline slide, to let everyone know what to expect
  • End your presentation with a question slide

Design

  • Use a template or master slides
  • Design a presentation that is basic, simple, and clear
  • Choose a theme of 2-3 complimentary colors and stick to it
  • Select contrasting colors that go well together
  • Don’t overdo the corporate branding
  • Avoid excessive animations and slide transitions
  • Leave plenty of white space on your slides

Text Content

  • Double-check your spelling and grammar
  • Organize your content sequentially
  • Use short sentences, not long paragraphs
  • Don’t use more than 3-4 bullets per slide
  • Incorporate key phrases and essential information
  • Bring in bullets or points one at a time
  • Don’t overload the screen with too much information
  • Align text either left or right (centered text is harder to read)

Fonts

  • Use the same size font on every slide
  • Stick to a maximum of two font styles
  • Do not use more than one decorative font
  • Avoid fonts that are difficult to read
  • Use a sans-serif font for body text
  • Choose a font color that contrasts strongly against the background
  • Use a font size larger enough that everyone can read easily

Visuals

  • Don’t overload slides with too many visuals
  • Use charts and graphics to convey important data
  • Use well-selected photos and graphics
  • Include various forms of multimedia (video, audio, etc.)
  • Use photos with high quality resolution
  • Choose graphics and photos that are consistent in style
  • Use animations sparingly

8 Things To Consider Before You Design an E-Learning Course

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If you’re an e-learning newbie and you’ve been tasked with developing an online course, you are probably asking yourself “Where do I begin?”. While it can be very tempting to some to jump right into the creative development aspect, there are some critical things you should get straightened out first. Here are 8 initial considerations you should contemplate before getting started.

What Are The Timelines?

Determining your timelines is an important first step. The software you use, the level of interactivity of the training and the overall quality of an e-learning project is directly impacted by the timelines involved. If you have 1 week to develop a 30 minute e-learning module for a soft skills training course, you might not have much time to get creative, and you almost certainly wouldn’t have time to do anything remotely fancy like audio narration. On the other hand, if you have 3 months to make a 30 minute e-learning module, you have more time to find great graphics, add realistic scenarios, and maybe even throw in some animations and narration.

Which Authoring Tool Will You Use?

This is an important up-front consideration. If you are using new software, there will be a learning curve. You can make life easier on yourself by downloading a free trial of most e-learning authoring tools. This provides you with an opportunity to try it out first and see how you feel about the functionality and interface.

How Will Learners Access the Training?

The answer to this question might rest on if you are using a Learning Management System (LMS) or not. An LMS is generally used when you want to track scores and quiz results. If you already have an LMS, then the training will most likely be accessed from inside the LMS. If you aren’t using an LMS at all, you’ll  need to decide from where your users will access your e-learning. From an intranet portal? The company website? A shared folder? It’s something to consider early on.

What Resources Are Required ?

Before you get started, identify all the resources that you will need for your e-learning project. Your subject matter experts (SMEs) are one of your most valuable resources. Identify who has the most knowledge on your subject, and who can provide you with explanations and clarifications. Other resources to consider: image or video editing software, visual assets, a microphone to record narration, and the list goes on. It’s a good idea to get a good handle on your required resources and have everything approved by management early on to avoid holdups. 

Who Are The Learners?

One key question to ask: Who is taking your e-learning course? It’s important to assess your audience. Are your learners factory workers who aren’t very computer savvy? Or are they software engineers who are highly technical and very computer literate? Will your e-learning course be taken by highly motivated interns or by people who hate their jobs and don’t want to take the course? Take your audience into consideration. Get an overall idea of their level of education, their work experience, knowledge of the subject at hand, average age, background, motivations, etc. This is a critical step which will really help you create a course that is more relevant and meaningful.

What Are The Technical Requirements?

Requirements can be many things ranging from simple web access to get to an online e-learning course. It’s a good idea to put together your hardware and software requirements, to ensure that the vast majority of your learners will be able to access and view your e-learning course without issue.

What Are The Branding Guidelines?

Some organizations have a thick style guide that dictates exactly which font, color schemes, logos, etc., can be used in e-learning. Find out ahead of time if there are style guidelines. If not, it’s still a good idea to stick to the general look and feel of the organization. There’s no need to overdo it and include a logo on every slide, but using the basic corporate fonts and colors is a simple way to make it consistent with the brand.

Does Content Need To Be Localized?

Localizing content can be time-consuming and costly. Even when using sophisticated software, it costs money to translate content and it takes time to duplicate a course in another language. Some design considerations also need to made when content will be translated. Certain languages, like Spanish and French, have more verbiage and longer words than English. This could lead to space constraints, if it’s not taken into consideration in advance.

Are there any other important initial considerations that I’ve left out? Leave a comment!