Finding the Right Narration Style for an eLearning Course


Before beginning work on a new eLearning course, there are a number of details to hash out.

  • Who is the intended audience and at what level is their knowledge of the subject matter?
  • What is the learning objective and definition of success? (i.e. What do we want the audience to know, do, or believe after training?)
  • What style and tone is most appropriate for the audience to make the training interesting and engaging?

It’s kind of like a trip to Chipotle - a chicken burrito with beans and onions suits some people, while others think a burrito bowl with brown rice is more palatable.

Stylistic questions often include a discussion of whether or not to include narration, and if so, the best method for the content and the audience.

While there are certainly right and wrong ways to add narration to an eLearning course, it can be helpful to guide the learner through the course, emphasize important points, and even provide a little comedic relief.

Nicole Legault, instructional designer and author of the Flirting With eLearning blog, describes four types of eLearning narration:

  • Elaborative, where on-screen text summarizes the audio voice over
  • Paraphrasing, in which an audio voice-over summarizes text on the screen
  • Verbatim, meaning the voice over narrator reads the text exactly as it appears on the screen
  • Descriptive, where the narrator describes what is happening on the screen - an image, chart, animation, video, etc.

While depending on the situation, any of these methods can work. Our instructional design team frequently uses a combination of paraphrasing and descriptive, with a voice over narrator, an on-screen secondary character (usually animated) along with some text-on-screen. It’s an effective style that engages and even entertains the learner. You can see a short sample of our approach by watching our case study videos, like this one for SDMyers, but bear in mind the tone must adapted for each unique audience.

Finally, there are additional considerations that will determine the success of your eLearning narration:

  • Tone and Style - Make sure it’s consistent throughout a module or across a series of modules. And always remember your audience. It shouldn’t feel like a narrator, per se. It should feel like part of the experience, similar to seeing someone live.
  • Script - If you’re going to record a narrator, it makes a difference if someone on staff is familiar with the scriptwriting process. As instructional designer Connie Melamed says,  “Writing for audio is a different kind of writing.”
  • Pace - If the audience feels like they have to sit and listen to the narration before they can move on, the pace is too slow. It should be succinct.
  • Quality - No audio is better than bad audio. Make sure your narrators have access to good recording equipment.

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If you're interested, check out ExpandShare's eLearning Services to see how your program can be an epic success.

Will Holland