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Apr 2010

Using audio in elearning

Blog posts



Shaping the future of learning

When should you use audio in elearning? Do you need to include audio to meet the needs of auditory learners? Do you also need to include text for visual learners? What’s the best use of audio?

These questions and more set e-learning teams screaming. So how can you quiet down the storm and provide some sound reasons for when and why to use it? (This, of course, assumes that you have the technical ability to run audio in your e-learning.)

Let’s look at the recommendations put forth by Ruth Clark in her most recent book, Evidence-Based Training Methods. We’ve cut it down to the essentials, but recommend you read Chapter 6: Explaining Visuals for all the details.

Should you use audio to explain visuals?

Yes. Use audio to explain a process flowchart or describe the parts of a car engine. Because you’re directing information to both the auditory and the visual channels, you’re distributing the mental workload.

However, don’t use both audio and text to explain that same diagram. This overloads the visual channel, since you’re now directing both text and image to the visual channel.

Should you use audio to narrate on-screen text?

No. Let’s say you’re presenting the text of a new policy. Please don’t read this out loud to the learner. Let them read at their own pace.

Clark tells us that we have, 'quite a bit of evidence proving that learning is depressed when you deliver the same words in both text and audio!' (p101). Let's not be in the depression business...

What about audio with on-screen text bullets?

Narration with key points called out in text bullets is fine. Just keep your text bullets short and sharp, or you run the risk of redundancy. And don't read out the bullets – elaborate on them in the audio.

Hearing from the experts

We’re big fans of hearing the voices of the experts. Where appropriate, include snippets of audio from your subject matter experts (SMEs) to add authenticity to your content. Using simple audio recording tools to capture these authentic voices (we often use Skype!) makes this an easy win.

Does it matter where you are?

It seems to – our experience is that US clients and learners are more used to, and more expecting of, audio in their e-learning than those in the UK. You could put that down to less robust infrastructure in the UK, or you could make some sweeping statement about cultural preferences to discuss and listen rather than read and reflect – but we're not ones to generalise in that way. We think audio used well is better for any learner, no matter where they happen to be. The UK has some catching up to do on this front.

Other ideas?

How do you use audio in your e-learning? We’d love to hear from you at


Clark, Ruth C., (2010), Evidence-Based Training Methods: A Guide for Training Professionals, Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.



Shaping the future of learning

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