May 2017

Narrations Can Make Your E-Learning Come to Life

By The Briljent Team

E-learning, if done right, can be a fun, engaging, and interactive training method. E-learning narration, if done right, can add an extra layer of interest to keep the learner engaged.

However, if your e-learning narration is not done correctly, it can distract your learners. In fact, learners may become so annoyed with your narration that they cannot pay as much attention to the actual course content, which can lead to lower knowledge retention. They may also be more reluctant to complete the course, or any other course you create. Instead of drawing the learner into an immersive multimedia learning experience, “bad” narration can turn them off.

At Briljent, much of our e-learning contains narration. This is done to either create a more immersive multimedia experience for the learner and/or ensure greater compliance to Section 508 standards. As you may know, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires federal agencies (and those projects receiving federal funding) to make their Electronic and Information Technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities. While additional development strategies/workarounds are needed for full 508 compliance, narration is one component that could help make our e-learning courses more accessible to learners with low vision or sight disabilities.

So, how do you create good narrations? In this blog, I will outline some major narration missteps and tips to avoid making them. Then, I will outline steps to create engaging narration that can transform your course from good to fabulous.

Poor Audio Quality

Poor audio quality is distracting and annoying. This includes narration with the following characteristics:

Ambient noise, such as random voices recorded in the background, paper rustling, or coughing

  •  – Narration that is not leveled so that audio volume jumps up and down during the narration
  •  – Hollow-sounding narration (room reverb sound)

Audio Quality Tips

The following describes how to avoid these poor audio quality mistakes:

  • Ambient noise:
  • Make sure there are not any meetings in progress around your recording room. For example, in Briljent’s Indianapolis office, our recording room has the least amount of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) sound. It is also physically located away from the rest of the office, resulting in very little noise pollution. However, it is right next door to another Conference Room. If there is a loud meeting next-door, we cannot record narrations, as our sensitive microphone picks up these voices.
  • Narration is not leveled:
    • Audio leveling software is a narrator’s friend. At Briljent, we use software from The Conversations Network called The Levelator. Sure, a narrator can try to keep the volume of his or her speaking voice the same level throughout recording, but it is difficult to do, especially if there are a lot of narrations to record! Also, narrations sometimes must be recorded on different days. How do you make sure that you sit at exactly the same distance from the microphone and speak at exactly the same volume on both days? The answer is: you cannot. This is where The Levelator software can help. Once installed, all you have to do is drag a group of audio files over to the CN Levelator icon on your desktop, and the software automatically adjusts the volume levels throughout the recording(s) for you.
    • When recording, speak about 3 – 6 inches away from the microphone to get a good signal-to-noise ratio. The signal-to-noise ratio is the level of a desired audio signal (narration) compared to the level of the background noise (HVAC and other noise pollution).
    • If you are farther away from the microphone, the recorded sound of your voice will be quieter, while the background noise sound will remain the same level. The Levelator process will increase the volume of a quiet/distant voice in the recording, but will also increase the background noise by that same amount, resulting in an audible “hiss” or “hum” in the background.
    • It is always better to speak close to the microphone in the first place, as this will result in a better signal-to-noise ratio, and The Levelator will not increase the background noise as much.
  • Hollow-sounding narration:
    • You should record in a decent-sized room. In smaller rooms, the narration audio bounces off the walls quickly and reflects directly back to the microphone. This effect is called reverb. The excessive reverb caused by smaller rooms will make the voice sound hollow, as if it was recorded in a tunnel or bathroom. Also, be aware of the diaphragm location within the microphone that you are using. For example, when speaking into a microphone, address it from the side, not the top, as illustrated in the picture below:

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