Audio for eLearning is Only As Good As the Tools You Use
We live in a multimedia society. Most of the people entering college today, to give you perspective, have never known life without a cellphone or the World Wide Web. We have to have not just pictures and words, but captivating audio and video as well. Without audio for eLearning courses, today’s courseware will not be very engaging or effective.
The sounds we use make a difference. Particularly, the voice over narration is a critical part of the instruction. From an instructional design standpoint as well as an engagement view, it makes a huge difference. Good audio can create a great course. Bad audio can distract and disengage. Make a point to do it right.
Go Professional Audio for eLearning When You Can
For this reason, when budget and time allow, your best choice is to opt for having your audio professionally recorded by a voice actor. The professional voice actor, either male or female, has trained their voice to provide the right kind of sound. They know how to use their voice for emphasis and to command attention. They can create connection with the learner which will make the course more alive, engaging, and persuasive.
In addition, the professional voice actor will most likely have the tools available to be able to record the audio in an optimal environment. Many of them have their own studios built into their office (which is likely just a room in their house). The walls are soundproofed. There is recording equipment and a computer for processing the audio. They can usually send it to you in whatever format you want. Just send them a script and let them know when you want it.
DIY Can Be Done If You Commit to Do It Right
You may choose for any of variety of reasons to produce your own audio for eLearning. Perhaps you don’t think your budget can handle paying a professional. Maybe you think over the long-term it’s better to do it yourself. It could even be that you believe you have a velvet voice that the world is yearning to hear.
Whatever the reason, choosing to do it yourself does not release you from the need to produce high quality narrative. If you choose to record your own audio, be prepared to invest in doing it right.
For that reason, let’s look at some of the tools you will need to invest in to create high quality audio for eLearning.
A Few General Tips for Recording Audio
First, before we talk about hardware and software, here’s a few things to keep in mind to make sure you get the most out of the tools you invest in. The narrator is crucial. No amount of good tools will make up for a bad narrator. And even if you are good, you want to make sure you stay consistent.
- Choose the Voice Wisely
Will your intended audience respond best to a male voice or female voice? Both? In general, one study suggests that people view female voices as more soothing and male voices as more authoritative. When it comes down to it, however, go with your instincts on what voice you think will connect best with your learner.
- Keep water handy
If you are narrating, all that talking is going to dry out your mouth and your throat. That in turn will change your voice. Keep room temperature water handy at all times so you can keep those pipes well oiled.
- Give yourself cutting room
Record your audio into a single file if possible. It saves time and makes it easier to keep the sound consistent. If you do, be sure to pause between “screens” or “pages” of content so that you can more easily splice the audio and divide into separate files after everything is processed.
- Record at roughly the same time of day
Did you know that your voice changes throughout the day? If you want consistency in your recordings try to record around the same time each. If possible, avoid recording in the morning and the afternoon for the same project.
Software You Should Have
Your primary software tool for audio for eLearning is going to be an application that lets you ideally record and edit. Here are three of the best ones on the market today.
Adobe Audition is a powerful tool for recording and editing audio. It’s been around since 2003 and Adobe has added a lot of great features to it. It has built-in tools for doing noise reduction and evening out volume levels. You can record directly into it. It has support for both single- and multi-channel audio. It’s disadvantages are that because it is so feature-rich it has a higher learning curve and is more expensive. Yet once you master it, you will likely consider it worth its price.
Audacity is open source software, so it is essentially free. It has many of the same features as Audition has, such as noise reduction and volume normalizing. It’s a little easier to use, but it doesn’t have all the features of Audition and technical support, like with most open source products, is sketchy.
The newcomer on the block is Ocenaudio , although it actually is a few years old. Like Audacity, it is basically free although you are asked to contribute or donate to keep development going. It offers real-time preview of any editing changes. It’s really cool feature, however, is called Multi-selection. It allows you to select multiple sections of an audio file and apply changes all at once.
Hardware You Will Want
You will want a good microphone. Since you are recording directly to your computer, a USB type microphone is the best choice. Most podcasting microphones fall into this category. Here are two of the better ones that provide good quality but are very affordable.
Audio Technica AT-2020USB
The AT-2020USB is a workhorse. It offers uni-directional input so you can eliminate some extraneous sounds, mounts up easy on its own stand, and travels well.
Blue Snowball or Yeti
Blue makes several models of podcasting microphones but the Snowball and the Yeti are the most popular and easy to use. They are also uni-directional (also called cardioid) and come with their own stand.
In addition to the microphone, here’s a few other items you must have to ensure good audio.
A pop screen, also sometimes called a pop filter, keeps the puffs of air from your mouth being recorded. When you make sounds with B and P in them, strong puffs of air will make a popping sound in your recording. The pop filter prevents that. They are very inexpensive but if you really don’t want to buy one you can make one with a wire coat hanger and pantyhose.
You need something to hold your script and let you turn pages quietly. A music stand can work, although ideally you want your script at eye level and you don’t want to have to look down when you read it.
Soundproofing or Sound Box
You want to be able to block out as much ambient noise as possible when you record. While you could invest in building a sound proof studio, your best option is to buy what is called a Sound Box. This concept was originally introduced by well-known voice actor Harlan Hogan. Now a few companies make models of it, some for less than $50. Check out the Pyle Pro. You just place your microphone in the center of the box.
That’s a good start right there. With just a little time and investment, you can be ready to produce high quality audio for eLearning in no time.