Listening to Learn

In Learning Circuits,
The Auditory Advantage
By Lenn Millbower

The abstract: E-learning often lacks instructionally designed audio. And yet history suggests audio is critical to success. Given a choice, people fled video-alone formats for audio-video combinations. Films and video games have created audio parameters applicable to e-learning. E-learning programs that establish emotionally warm environments through integrated audio will gain competitive advantage. Here’s how to enhance e-learning with sound.

I am such a zealot for visual learning, my heart leaped when I saw the title of this piece in Learning Circuits. Another arrow in the meta-learning quiver?

Of course audio is important. eLearning without sound can be unbearable.

Unfortunately, this article covers only music. It describes the importance of the live music to silent films. Which leads me to wonder, What about the talkies? What other ways can sound increase the effectiveness of learning?

Back in the days of CD-ROM training, everyone had sound. After all, it helps keep the multi- in multimedia.

Every developer seemed to miss one element in their soundtracks: ambience noise. The working environment is not as quiet as an isolation tank or the middle of the forest. Most eLearning featuring dialog would be well served to put a few barking dogs or distant sirens or modem squeals in the background. It would make things less sterile and more real.

I wonder who is studying this stuff?

Posted by Jay Cross at January 24, 2003 08:49 PM | TrackBack

There're some interesting research on sound in the User Interface field. Bill Gaver did his Ph.D thesis (with Don Norman) on the auditory properties of sound (why he got into Gibson's affordances). He spent a summer at Apple creating audio icons for actions (I still keep mine turned on).

There's more than voice and music, and I'd love to hear some examples. I turn off audio when it's repeating text (I can read faster than they talk, and it interferes). Not sure I'd like background noise, unless it either helped 'situate' learning, or was a soundtrack.

An interesting paper at the Amsterdam CHI/Interact conference talked about how sound was used well in games but not other applications. Classic example, the resounding chord when you turn on your computer (Windoze or Mac), and then nothing else even equivalent (unless you play music in the background).

Posted by: Clark Quinn at February 6, 2003 06:25 PM

I'm really interested in this area, infact I am writting my MSc thesis on how cinematic audio techniques can be used to enhance learning materials.

There doesn't seem to be much out there on the effect of using sound to present content. Lots of stuff on audio interfaces design, audification, sonification, earcons etc. If anyone can point me in the right direction it would be appreciated.

Posted by: Pete Whitton at February 20, 2004 06:13 AM

I don't have any references for you, Peter, but I will note that multimedia scenarios seem more realistic when there is some background noise.

Our ears are less forgiving than our eyes. The eyes are happy to overlook imperfections and fill in the blanks as required. Get one note wrong in a symphony and it jumps out at you.

Posted by: Jay Cross at February 20, 2004 06:31 PM

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