This week the discussions around the edublogs are about the role of audio narration in eLearning. Both Cathy Moore and Ethan Edwards re-enforce the research that audio narrative that is the same as the text presented on the screen actually hurts learning. One reason for this is that learners are forced to go through the material at the pace of the narration, which slows the learner down. It doesn't allow the learner to skim past content that they may already know.
The recommendation in Ruth Clarke's book, E-Learning and the Science of Instruction recommends the use the audio, but in a different manner. It recommends that audio be used instead of text on the screen – so the text is not duplicating the audio, rather the audio is the script which is backed up by graphics on the screen. The specific recommendation is "we recommend that you put words in spoken form rather than printed form whenever the graphic or animation is the focus of the words and both are presented simultaneously." [p. 86, 2003 edition]. But it makes me wonder, does this not also slow down the learner?
Personally, I think there is a place for audio in eLearning. I agree that it isn't about duplicating the written word – it is about presenting the information in a different way. When I've done audio-based eLearning it was because the modules where short (5-15 minutes), and we needed to ensure the learners did not skip content. Everything that we presented was important, and even if the learner "thought" they knew the content, we needed to ensure they heard it. This is a case where the instructional design called for the use the audio.
Another place for audio is the telling of stories. A story told with audio, or better yet a simple animation and audio, just feels like a better learning experience than one that is strictly written. Perhaps learners could be given the option of reading the transcript or playing the audio? That solves learning control problem (that is allowing the learner to progress at their own pace) while at the same time providing a richer learning experience for anyone wishing the auditory experience.
Or is the real reason not to use audio a cost one? Good audio isn't cheap – good enough audio might be. With the ability to easily outsource voice talent and audio recording (using online contracting firms like odesk), you can create audio for as little as $3/minute (less if you don't need an American English accent).
So I agree that we should not use audio to simply read text that is on the screen – but there is a place for audio in eLearning. Are we dismissing it too quickly?