Can ambient sounds be used to enhance elearning scenarios without negatively impacting instructional integrity?
There’s been some great conversation around the use of audio narration in elearning. Both Tom Kuhlmann and Cathy Moore have offered up some excellent examples on the appropriateness of audio narration in courseware.
But what about incorporating background sounds to create a connect from the story to the learner? Can interactive narrative techniques be applied to elearning courseware?
Of course it’s possible!
It can be effective for
- drawing the learner into the content;
- changing up the course flow; and
- communicating course or module objectives without directly listing them.
After NPR pulled back the curtain, we learned how they’ve successfully incorporated sound effects and background tracks into their narrative programming. As elearning designers, you can leverage NPR’s engaging format to enhance your courseware without having to change your elearning model.
Consider the following example:
The audio was recorded and edited with Apple’s Soundtrack Pro which comes with thousands of loops and ambient sounds. If you’re using another audio editor, you can find dozens of sites online that sell loops, foley and ambient sounds.
Some other possibilities could include:
- Safety training: Open the scenario with ambulance sounds, anxious voices calling in the emergency. This could be a black screen (no images) for dramatic effect;
- Automotive Service Training: Begin with a door chime then a car engine turning over; drill sounds in the background with conversation loops in the background;
- Customer Service Training: Open with “audience” or people talking loops, telephone dial tones and keyboard typing. Next fade in some of your own narrated greetings (“May I help you?”, “Thank you for calling [Company], my name is Walter, how may I assist you?” and so on.)
While I am advocating the use of ambient sounds and loops for intros and scenarios, I am not suggesting you use such formats for all content screens.
Research suggests that such use can negatively impact learning.
Clark and Mayer:
“Background music and sounds may overload working memory, so they are most dangerous in situations in which the learner may experience heavy cognitive load, for example, when the material is unfamiliar, when the material is presented at a rapid rate, or when the rate of presentation is not under learner control.”
So much of our corporate elearning is predictable. We go with one (or two) rapid design models, become efficient and crank it out. From the learner’s perspective, once they’ve seen one course, they’ve seen them all. There’s probably a greater risk of cognitive “underload” in most courses:-) I realize this effect won’t be appropriate in all courses, but it’s one way to leverage multimedia learning in your courseware.
So give it a try, run it by your team and customers and be open to feedback. While we might not always have the influence to change our company’s elearning model, it is possible we can affect small parts of it.
Narration: Robert Rue Voice