business people group with headphones giving support in help desk

What About Sound?

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Back when I was working on video games, we used sound effects not only to make game play more engaging, but also to make it more difficult—even if sometimes those effects helped cue the player to dangers ahead. My favorite example was Lady Bug, where merely increasing the tempo of the music suddenly made the game more intense, harder, and caused the players to make more mistakes. Insiders knew they could master the highest levels and top the leader board just by playing the game with the sound off.

How might this relate to designing scenario-based e-learning modules? Seasoned designers already tick most of the boxes for good design:

  • Center training on task-oriented interactions.
  • Mirror the real world in terms of resources available to the learners—job aids at a click, or access to other real-time resources via the company intranet or web.
  • Use task-oriented visuals—whether 3-D environments, realistic characters for the scene, or even actual data read-outs, x-rays, raw research, CAT scans, and so on to approximate as closely as possible the real-world setting the training attempts to replicate.

But sometimes we forget one more:

  • Incorporate the very real soundtrack, if relevant, to the task to be taught.

We are better at including crucial sounds needed or helpful for successful completion—breathing sounds for medical diagnosis, voice inflection for training on customer service or interview skills, or mechanical sounds of whirring, grinding, and sparking essential for mechanical exercises.

However, we sometimes neglect the sounds that add complexity and increase difficulty. These are the background noises that are all too prevalent in the real world, but often absent in our scenario-based learning courses. Yet, they are just as much a part of the task as the lab reports and the customer service memos. Such sounds might be chatter that can interfere with hearing a customer question correctly, phones ringing, or other interruptions the learners need to negotiate to do the job. In a good design, these sound effects would be added gradually as the exercises increase in difficulty and verisimilitude, perhaps culminating in a capstone exercise that completes the course.

Incorporating these noises into your training design can help your learners successfully transfer their new skills to their jobs—because in the real world, it’s difficult to play with the sound off.

If you want help drafting a course structure diagram and storyboards (and sound ideas) for your next e-learning lesson, join the Scenario-Based E-Learning Certificate, a preconference program at the ATD 2018 International Conference & Expo.

About the Author
Chopeta Lyons has created award-winning print and online learning products during 26 years of developing training solutions. Beginning in 1983 with the design of electronic education software, she has directed teams of designers, writers, programmers, audio talent, graphic designers, and artists to create custom solutions for the training needs of numerous international and national corporations, government agencies and organizations. She is the author of several articles on e-learning and the Graphics for Learning from Wiley/Pfieffer, as well a college textbook, Discover Writing, from Prentice Hall.
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Great suggestion Chopeta. This adds to simulation.
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Really great thoughts here! Thank you for sharing!
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Agree sound can add an important element. But PLEASE do not use the sound of a typewriter :). When was the last time anyone heard that sound in real-life?
However, the sound of loud keyboarders (guilty!) and mouse clickers can add another slice of reality...
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So true!
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