Tag: multimedia

Media Options for Conversation-Driven eLearning

Rather than delivering eLearning content as a lecture, you can explain it through conversations. While more resource-intensive multimedia may be desired, you have a range of options with this technique. It’s possible to use conversations even with a low budget. In the past, I’ve created conversation-driven eLearning with video, animation, and photos.


You can use video to introduce the characters and the challenge they’re facing. Video is especially helpful for courses where non-verbal communication is critical to understanding. With good actors and production quality, this gives your course the feel of a TV show intro. The next time you’re watching TV, pay attention to how the conflict of the story is introduced via a short segment before the title sequence.

My Story-Based Coaching and Mentoring Course for Cine Learning Productions used this technique with a video introduction. After the initial video, we used cutout still photos of the same actors. This requires a custom photo shoot, but it’s much cheaper than using video for the entire course.


As an alternative to video, you can use illustrated characters with animation. I use full animation only for the intro and closing, similar to how I use video to set up the story in the course described above. After the intro, use stills of the same characters. The animation can be engaging to “hook” learners at the beginning, but it may become distracting once you’re delivering content.

We used animated characters for this professional development course for teachers. In the intro and closing (plus a few transitions between sections), the characters were the focus of the image. During most of the content delivery, the voice over continued as a conversation between the two characters, but the visuals supported the content rather than the characters.

Animated course with closed captions

Photos or Illustrations

If your budget doesn’t allow for custom video or animation, character photos or illustrations can certainly work. I would generally opt for photos from a library like eLearning Art over illustrations, but it depends on your audience.

If using more intensive multimedia will subtract from the resources to create more realistic practice exercises or other valuable learning experiences, you should cut the complexity of the media. Cathy Moore asks “What’s the real cost of eye candy?” Video and animation can be “eye candy” rather than adding value. Think about the trade off for media.

Voice Over…Or Not

While I find voice over to be beneficial, you can do a read-only version. Try a comic book or graphic novel style with conversation bubbles. I created this brief example with photos and conversation bubbles debunking the learning styles myth. This was created in PowerPoint; no rapid development tools were needed. Even on a low budget, you can immerse learners in a conversation rather than a didactic presentation.

Conversation between two employees

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Image credits: Storyblocks, eLearning Brothers


When Is Audio Narration Helpful?

In a discussion on eLearning Heroes, Judith Reymond asked about the research on when or whether audio narration is helpful to adult learners.

Speaker and sound waves

In Clark and Mayer’s eLearning and the Science of Instruction, they say that the research generally supports using narration with on-screen visuals. Adult learners retain more from a narration plus visuals approach than from reading on-screen text. They call this the “modality principle.”

Generally speaking, when you have narration, you shouldn’t also have that same text on the screen. This is called the “redundancy principle.” Clark and Mayer note some exceptions when text should be shown on screen (pp. 87-88, 107-108 in the 1st ed):

  • Complex Text: Complex text like mathematical formulas may need to be both on-screen and in narration to aid memory. (In practical experience, I also do this for text that has to be memorized word for word, such as screening questions for addiction.)
  • Key Words: Key words highlighting steps in a process or technical terms
  • Directions: Directions for practice exercises. “Use onscreen text without narration to present information that needs to be referenced over time, such as directions to complete a practice exercise.”
  • No Graphics: When there are no graphics or limited graphics on the screen
  • Language Difficulties: When the audience has language difficulties. I have used redundant on-screen text for an audience with very low literacy and a high percentage of learners with English as a second language. It might be enough to simply provide a transcript or closed captions in those situations so people who don’t need it can ignore or turn off the text.

In practical terms, I’ve found that if every page has narration and you suddenly have no narration for a practice exercise, some learners think something’s broken on the page. I generally have the narrator say something short to introduce the practice exercise, but leave the directions as on-screen text.

However, it’s also tiring to listen to a voice. I usually don’t provide audio feedback on practice activities to give people a break. I’ll sometimes provide other kinds of interaction or content delivery to provide a break from the audio (tabs or “click to reveal” text).

In the book, Clark and Mayer say this:

“Does the modality principle mean you should never use printed text? Of course not. We do not intend for you to use our recommendations as unbending rules that must be rigidly applied in all situations. Instead, we encourage you to apply our principles in ways that are consistent with the way that the human mind works—that is, consistent with the cognitive theory of multimedia learning rather than the information delivery theory.”

The principle of avoiding redundant on-screen text is sometimes treated as sacrosanct. I’ve seen some big names in the field practically yell that this is a firm rule that should never be broken. In real life, it’s not as clear cut, as even Clark and Mayer acknowledge. There’s plenty of redundant on-screen text that has no business being there. You should be thoughtful and intentional if you’re going to provide on-screen text. Generally, it shouldn’t be there, and you need a real reason to break the redundancy principle.

What are your experiences with audio, especially with on-screen text? What have you found works with your audiences?

Multimedia Projects with xtranormal

A few weeks ago, Dave Ferguson shared Anne Derryberry’s interactive storyboard created with xtranormal. Dave was looking at this as a tool for instructional designers to create storyboards with more pop, but I’ve been thinking about this tool as a way for students to create content.

One of the courses I’m currently working on is about project-based learning with multimedia. We’ve been looking at a number of different tools for creating multimedia. Because it’s also about project-based learning, I also want to help our participants (who are mostly K-12 teachers) see how these tools can be used to communicate topics with real-world relevance. I remember doing a number of projects in school where we researched topics and then gave a speech, wrote an essay, put on a skit, or created a poster. Many of those were very valuable learning experiences, and I don’t think we should do away with those. What if students could do that research and have this as an option for presenting their findings though?

Obviously, this is a really brief example. Student projects could have a lot more depth than this. I spent about 90 minutes total creating this: 30 minutes for research, 30 minutes to write the script, and 30 minutes to create it at xtranormal (including signing up for an account and publishing to YouTube). I used the default camera options; I could have spent a lot more time tweaking the angles if I’d wanted. But as a proof of concept, I think this works pretty well. No technical expertise was required; quick tips guide you through the process and you just type the text for the scripts.

Besides the more informative presentations like this one, wouldn’t this be a cool tool for digital storytelling? You could have your characters act out a dialog. You can only have 2 characters at a time, but you could string together a series of short episodes to create something with more characters and settings.

I do have a few reservations about this though. It’s still in beta, so I’m not sure what the final product will feature. It’s clear that they don’t intend this to be a free product forever; the current unlimited free movies are called a “promotion.” I hope they’ll do some sort of freemium model so that at least limited free animations could be created at schools. K-12 teachers should note that the Terms of Service prohibit use by anyone under 13, as many sites do due to privacy laws. The restrictions on commercial use seem pretty typical; actually, they may be a bit more lenient than some of the other Web 2.0 sites. It doesn’t sound like they’re opposed to commercial use of their product, just that they want people to ask permission first.

With any of these content creation tools, it’s smart to review the TOS first and check what happens to your intellectual property. This was nice to see included: “For clarity, xtranormal does not assert any ownership over your User Content; rather, as between us and you, subject to the rights granted to us in these Terms of Service, you retain full ownership of all of your User Content and any intellectual property rights or other proprietary rights associated with your User Content.” Of course, they do claim the right to license and use your content for the site and their own promotion, but I always expect that from sites like this.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with this tool moving forward, as I think it has a lot of educational applications. I’d love to hear other ideas for projects with this tool. Also, are there any other tools out there that do something similar to xtranormal? I’d like to have a backup if they go down or price it unreasonably high.