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We have an e-learning module that has some nice video animations and graphics, but also some text.

It was been suggested that to "jazz" up the module, a voice over be used on the text pages to keep the users interest. The text would read out the first paragraph (before the user need to do any interaction with the page)

For example the following would be read out AND appear on the screen:

"Jack and Jill are two friends, click through the items below to find out what they do together"

Then the options [go up hills] and [get water] would just be items on the page

What are peoples thoughts on this? Any suggestions on how to do this well?

Note : The module is already friendly to screen readers so accessibility isn't a reason to do this.

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Being screenreader friendly is great, and may not suffice to serve the needs of all your users. Many users simply process text better than audio and would like the subtitles, even if they are not equipped with a screenreader or other assistive technology. –  Alex Feinman Dec 12 '12 at 17:17
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3 Answers

This is not such a good idea assuming your text is reasonably readable for your audience (e.g., it’s not their second language, they’re not kids just starting to read, and you use decent font style, size, and color contrast). There’s evidence that simultaneously presenting the same text verbally and visually increases cognitive load and degrades learning. See:

Kalyuga S, Chandler P, & Sweller J (2004) When redundant on-screen text in multimedia technical instruction can interfere with learning (pdf). Human Factors 46, 568-581.

The problem seems to be that the two text presentations interfere with one another, forcing the user to mentally coordinate them, which detracts resources from understanding the material.

Simultaneous visual and voice work best when they compliment each other, rather than repeat each other. For example, you could graphically represent what the voice is saying, such as showing Jack and Jill sitting next to each other to show they’re friends, and highlighting the links in question when the voice gets to “Click to find out what they do together.”). Or you could provide non-verbal acoustic accompaniment to written text, like maybe playing “friendly” music when introducing Jack and Jill, and sound an inviting chime when showing “Click below to find out what they do together” in order to signal it’s time for the user to interact. I’m guessing the former would work better in your case.

Of course, if you’re really concerned about holding user interest, you probably should work more on the content, not the format. A flashing format for boring content just comes across as ridiculous and I believe can itself distract from what the user really needs to learn. Make the content personally relevant to the user. Make it clear why it’s important to learn this stuff (what’s in it for them?). Make it come alive as a story. Add dramatic tension and conflict. Make them care and be curious about the content and characters.

Jack and Jill insist they are just close friends, and not lovers. But they sure do a lot together. They’re always:

  • Going up the… (click for more).

  • Fetching pails of… (click for more).

And you probably already know that you need to be careful with sound since it can be annoying in certain contexts. You may want to give the user the option of replacing voice with written text.

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+1 for suggesting accompaniment and enforcement, rather than repetition and interference. –  Roger Attrill Dec 12 '12 at 14:14
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My own kids responded well to such voice-over from when they were able to use the computer but before they were able to read (properly).

But at some point the voice-over started to defeat the object of improving their learning to read; laziness meant they didn't need to read it because it was being read out for them.

So while it works well for some it may not be as useful as for others - depending on the intention of the e-learning module. In any case, if you go ahead, I'd recommend a way of turning it off.

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thanks for the input, i should have said (and my example probably threw you) its aimed at people who can read (16-19 year olds) –  Keeno Dec 12 '12 at 13:17
    
ah hah - I'd suggest some user trials might be in order? –  Roger Attrill Dec 12 '12 at 13:37
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A voiceover for your e-learning would be excellent for the following reasons:

The current voiceover industry has about 6700 voice actors working full time. It is a small industry.

The person you hire may in fact be the same voice your child hears on television, and other forms of media. They may already have a limbic connection to the voice that aids your e-learning. This is the result of voice actors working online over the last ten years.

The profession behind voice work involves training in e-learning as well, so those who provide voiceovers are many times, teachers and storytellers themselves.

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