Steven R. Crawford, Ed.D.
Studies have shown that video presentations are generally more effective than audio presentations (Noetel et al., 2021). But that doesn’t mean you should overlook audio-only elements when adding multimedia to your courses. In fact, there are situations where audio is particularly beneficial. Plus, audio presentations can save you time. They are easier to create and don’t require a lot of specialized software and equipment.
Where Audio Excels
- Providing learner feedback — Researchers found that audio feedback can provide more details. For example, a five-minute recording contains about 625 words. That’s equivalent to more than a page of writing. Audio feedback is also better at providing emotional connection than written feedback. (Killingback et al., 2019). Additional research shows that audio feedback is personalized to the learner and, like written feedback, can be re-accessed when needed (Carruthers et al., 2015). Most importantly, though, learners have shown a preference for audio feedback over written comments (Parkes & Fletcher, 2017). And it’s easy too! Many learning management systems allow instructors to record individualized audio feedback directly to the learner via the assignment feedback tool.
- Interviews — Faculty can help increase learner understanding through the use of interviews. Audio recordings of faculty-conducted interviews can provide additional insight into a subject through free-flowing conversation and the use of probing questions. They’re also easier for faculty because there is no need to include visuals. Interviews can be conducted virtually over a video conferencing platform with only the audio recorded, or in-person using a mobile phone with an audio recorder.
- Reaching all learners — Audio-only presentations are not as effective as other types of multimedia for conveying information or processes. However, they can help you reach more learners, especially students who have limited internet access. That’s because audio files are typically smaller in file size when compared to video presentations. These files can be stored more easily by both instructors and learners due to the smaller size. Also, the smaller files can be transmitted more quickly and at a lesser cost to available internet bandwidth. This is an important factor considering that about 15% of Americans do not have access to home internet access via a wired connection (Federal Communication Commission, 2020). This includes students in both rural and urban areas.
Creating Quality Audio
When recording audio, there are a few simple things you can do to improve the quality of your audio.
- Find a quiet location where you can minimize background noise. Noises from fans, loud machines, and other people can be distracting to your listeners.
- Think about what you want to say before pressing the record button. If your goal is to provide spontaneous comments, then write down a few keywords to ensure you have addressed all your intended points.
- When you are recording, make sure that you wait three seconds between pressing the start button and speaking. Pause again at the end of your recording before hitting stop. Having this space at the beginning and end of your recording will ensure that you do not inadvertently cut off any of your words.
While you can record with any type of microphone, including those built into your mobile device and laptop, make sure you are speaking as close to your microphone as possible to minimize background noise. An external microphone can help improve the quality of your audio, but you need to make sure you get the correct type of microphone.
- Unidirectional — Unidirectional microphones capture audio from one direction in order to minimize background noise. They are best for a single person.
- Bidirectional — Bidirectional microphones capture audio from two directions and are useful for interviews when you can place the microphone between the two speakers.
- Omnidirectional — Omnidirectional microphones capture audio from all directions. This is the type of microphone found on most laptops.
Quality Course Design
To ensure any audio-only course elements work well for your students, make sure your recordings are clear and free of background noises. This can also help you meet Quality Matters Specific Review Standard 8.5 — Course multimedia facilitate ease of use. When recording audio presentations that are intended for all of your learners in the course, provide a transcript of the audio presentation. This will ensure that your presentation is available to all learners as guided by QM Specific Review Standard 8.4 — The course provides alternative means of access to multimedia content in formats that meet the needs of diverse learners. When you are providing feedback to a single learner on their assessments via audio, you may not need to provide a transcript. However, you will want to be mindful to provide the same level of quality feedback to learners who are deaf or hard of hearing via written feedback as you provide to other learners through audio recordings.
One final tip: When preparing for an official QM course review, provide a statement to the Course Review team that alerts them to the fact that you will be using audio feedback in order to meet Specific Review Standard 5.3 — The instructor’s plan for interacting with learners during the course is clearly stated. This should also be communicated to your students in your syllabus.
Carruthers, C., McCarron, B., Bolan, P., Devine, A., McMahon-Beattie, U., & Burns, A. (2015). ‘I like the sound of that’ – an evaluation of providing audio feedback via the virtual learning environment for summative assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 40(3), 352–370. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2014.917145
Federal Communication Commission. (2020, April). 2020 broadband deployment report (FCC 20–50). https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/FCC-20-50A1.pdf
Killingback, C., Ahmed, O., & Williams, J. (2019). ‘It was all in your voice’ - Tertiary student perceptions of alternative feedback modes (audio, video, podcast, and screencast): A qualitative literature review. Nurse Education Today, 72, 32–39. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2018.10.012
Noetel, M., Griffith, S., Delaney, O., Sanders, T., Parker, P., del Pozo Cruz, B., & Lonsdale, C. (2021). Video Improves Learning in Higher Education: A Systematic Review. Review of Educational Research, 91(2), 204–236. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654321990713
Parkes, M., & Fletcher, P. (2016). A longitudinal, quantitative study of student attitudes towards audio feedback for assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 42(7), 1046–1053. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2016.1224810