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ATD Blog

Authentic or Augmented? How Voice Actors Add a Human Touch to E-Learning

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

As technology accelerates and rapidly transforms our approach to e-learning, how can developers make sure there’s a human touch in their online offerings? The short answer: Incorporate a good story that’s told in a compelling way.

Indeed, stories help many of us make sense of the world. And the more authentic and relatable the story, the more we engage with it. Voice actors provide a touch of reality to e-learning by bringing a character to life and enabling us to picture a scene in our mind’s eye.


I recently sat down with Sion Dayson, a professional voice actor who specializes in e-learning voice work. We discussed trends in artificial intelligence (AI) voice tools, how professional voice actors add a human element to online courseware, and what instructional designers should consider when choosing to work with a professional voice actor. Take a deep dive into the voice-over (VO) world by checking out my interview with Sion below.

Can you break down the purpose of VO in e-learning courses and the benefits of working with a professional voice actor?

The biggest benefit of using voiceover in e-learning courses is it’s ability to bring humanity to the content. People respond to storytelling.

For example, in virtual simulations, story-based scenarios, and gamification, VO artists can fully inhabit characters, making them more credible, compelling, and engaging. And we know that when learners are engaged, retention is higher.

But it’s not only obvious character work where voiceover wields its power. Even what might be considered dry information (by some!) can still be brought to life. A trained VO narrator adds spark to the text, unearthing—or imagining—the story within the material. It’s literally our job to care about your script and find the best way to communicate it. We help deliver information, so it sticks.

Importantly, a narrator can serve as an effective guide through complex concepts. Say you need to introduce hospital staff to a complicated new medical procedure. Would a wall of text be the most digestible format? Or would a visual demonstration with a voice that walks listeners through the process step-by-step be easier to absorb?

This brings up a vital point: Voiceover’s purpose is to enhance your course. It is not there to create redundancies. VO that simply reads exactly what’s onscreen adds to the cognitive load and decreases retention.

But VO that complements the other components of your asset elevates it for all the reasons above.


AI voice tools can speed up the course design process and claim to offer studio-like quality. Why do you think an instructional designer should hire a professional voice actor instead of using AI-generated narration?

Juicy question! While AI is improving every day, it still isn’t close to producing the authenticity of the human voice.

Imagine you’ve created a character for one of your story-based scenarios. Does a somewhat robotic voice sound believable? Will a machine-generated voice keep your attention over the span of a long technical module?

Professional voice actors are trained in acting. We can accurately portray the range of human emotions—happiness, doubt, curiosity, uncertainty, frustration, you name it. We can foster empathy and lean into humor.

We’re also trained in script analysis. AI can read words, but it doesn’t understand the true value of them. AI doesn’t pick up on context or nuance or have the ability to discern the most effective way to present material.

Voice actors make decisions about intonation, speed, emotion, and intention. Placing emphasis on certain words, highlighting key concepts, and varying dynamics and pace to ensure content is clear and engaging are all important choices we’re able to make in a way AI can’t.

The human touch connects better with human learners.

What tips or advice do you have for instructional designers and e-learning developers who are interested in working with a voice actor?

My number one tip is to read your script aloud.


Scripts should sound natural, not like they’ve been ripped straight from a dense instructional manual. While voice actors are capable of elevating content, there’s only so much we can do if the source material is too stiff or convoluted.

Ensuring the script reads smoothly is not only a benefit for the voice actor—it’s good for you, too! When you read your own work aloud, you’re able to catch mistakes, clunky phrases, and grammatical errors. If you can’t get through a sentence without stumbling, it’s probably because it’s not as clear as it should be.

Also, make sure the voice actor has the final script. There is of course plenty of back and forth with your different stakeholders and subject matter experts as you’re developing the course; revisions are common.

But it’s to everyone’s advantage for the VO to record the final script after those iterations. The audio can be delivered faster because the workflow is more efficient. And you don’t have to pay for pickup fees because there aren’t any changes.

It’s also helpful to include pronunciation guides. Spell out numbers and dates. (Is 2018 “two thousand eighteen” or “twenty eighteen”?) Clarify abbreviations. For example, if ACT appears in a script, do I say “act” like the verb? A-C-T letter by letter? Or Association of Creative Trainers?

There are so many other useful tips I could share! Check out Christy Tucker’s Voice Over Script Review Checklist for a great list of additional considerations.

The bottom line is you want to improve outcomes via the training you’re offering. The voice actor can be a trusted collaborator in that process.

Clear expectations and communication between you and the voice actor—on everything from delivery requirements to timelines to directorial notes—ensures you’ll have a high return on investment.

About the Author

Jes Thompson is a content manager for ATD's Learning & Development topic areas. As a content manager, Jes creates and curates content on instructional design, training delivery, and measurement and evaluation. Before joining ATD, Jes worked in higher education facilitating training in leadership development skills, conflict resolution, and DEI. Jes holds a degree in Communications with an emphasis in digital media production from the University of Florida.

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