Consider Audio for Learning

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

In the March issue of T+D magazine, I argued that learning professionals will increasingly need to add the skill of media production to their professional toolkit in the coming years. Training executives won’t seek only staff with superb classroom or virtual classroom facilitation skills, they’ll search for professionals who can quickly create engaging media to make learning available anytime, anywhere, and for anyone.

While the “train-the-trainer” classes 20 years ago taught people how to write on flipcharts with the right colored pens, tomorrow’s learning professionals need to learn how to create engaging video, audio, and screen content in a way that truly aids learning.

As internal and external clients look for more flexible ways to deliver learning to their workforces, they will turn to our profession to create media content that any learner can consume anytime, anywhere and on their own terms.

Tech makes this future possible

The good news is that anyone can build his own online video channel or create her own radio station. Indeed, equipment is cheap—and it’s much easier to use.

In this new bright-eyed media world, it won’t be enough just to create media content. Content will have to be good. It can’t be boring; it will need to be engaging. More important, it will need to use editorial and production techniques that support learning—just as training programs need to be well-planned and professionally delivered.

On top of this, media content will need to be produced fast and efficiently. And you can bet that it will likely need to be produced on a low budget.

Yes, there will be a role for content with high production values. But the six-branch credit union in Ohio or small retail chain in Nevada will not have this luxury. Nor will many divisions in Fortune 500 companies that are seeing their budgets slashed.

Enter the audio option

I have found that when I talk about “media skills” some people automatically assume I’m talking about video. To be sure, learning professionals need to be able to make engaging video fast and affordably. But audio is an equally powerful sensory method for learning.

Audio is the sole sensory tool for podcasts. It is also a secondary sensory message in videos, screencast videos such as those captured in Camtasia and other e-learning content.

So, as much as we need to understand video and how to create videos that are engaging, we also need to understand how to create crisp, clear audio that will help our clients as we deliver learning.


Making audio that’s worth hearing

A lot of practitioners are already creating audio. But it’s not always that good. Voices are muffled, the air conditioner is loud in the background and when music is thoughtfully included, it overwhelms the spoken word. Worse still, some audio is just plain boring.

Audio in learning media needs to be polished and engaging. Just as learning professionals pride themselves in their presentation, facilitation, instructional design and evaluation skills, we need to pride ourselves in our media skills and develop them just as we develop ourselves in other competencies of our profession.

I’m part of the ASTD Master Trainer faculty that facilitates its popular Master Trainer Certificate designation. A good part of the program involves discussing and practicing the techniques we use as facilitators. These techniques are highly developed in our profession, and when used well, they come across seamlessly as we strive to create supportive learning environments.

I’ve noticed a lot of participants on the Master Trainer program both here in the United States and internationally focus carefully on things like body language as they present, words they choose when they construct questions, and how all these things work together to create supportive learning environments. This is good after all it’s what our profession is all about.

Good facilitation does not happen by accident—and neither does effective learning media. The same level of expertise and effort required for facilitating good learning situation is required for making media. Every nuance in your production from where you place the microphone to the intonation of someone’s voice can be used powerfully to achieve specific learning objectives. In video, it’s the same principle only these skills extend to things like shot sizes, camera angles, and camera position.

As a profession, we are leaving out what I call the “Gee wiz look what I can do” phase in media production, in which the goal is more about simply being able to record content. You remember how that started, right? Colleagues were merely impressed that you could hold a camera and put something together. Or you could put together a podcast that was playable on someone’s computer.

A new era for audio

We’re now entering an era where being able to create something will not be good enough. Just being able to record will not work – you will need good microphone technique and understand how to use EQ and compressors to give the voice more punch. You’ll need to use music in a way that it supports rather than over-shadows your spoken word content.

Being able to create something that is well produced, performed professionally, well programmed, and appropriate for the platform is where our profession needs to be.

The transition to making media for professionals is not difficult. Nor is it easy, but it takes focus—and it’s worth doing. Fortunately, we can learn a lot of these skills from professional media production.

So, what makes good audio? My next blog, will discuss the four Ps of quality audio.

About the Author
Jonathan Halls is an author, trainer, and coach. He wrote Rapid Video Development for Trainers (ATD Press, 2012) and was a contributing author to Speak More (River Grove Books, 2012) and the ATD Handbook: The Definitive Reference for Training & Development 2nd Edition (ATD Press, 2014). He is author of the ATD Infoline, “ Memory & Cognition in Learning” (ATD Press, 2014) and has written numerous articles for T&D magazine. Jonathan is an ATD BEST Awards reviewer and has sat on the advisory committees for the ASTD International Conference & Exposition and TechKnowledge.

The former BBC learning executive now runs workshops in media, communication, leadership, and creativity. He is on faculty at George Washington University and facilitates ATD’s Master Trainer Program ™, Training Certificate and Rapid Video for Learning Professionals Certificate program. Jonathan has been training, speaking, and coaching for 25 years in more than 20 countries. He describes his work as “at the intersection of media, communication, learning, leadership, and innovation.”
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