A Narrative Approach to e-Learning: Have we had enough of it?

A Narrative Approach to e-Learning
Summary: The article explores 4 Audio Narrative styles that are followed in e-learning and suggests ways you can mold them to suit your learning needs.

4 Audio Narrative Styles That Are Followed in eLearning 

Along with Text and Visuals, Audio forms the backbone of e-learning delivery. According to the popular handbook to e-learning design – E-learning and the Science of Instruction – ‘presenting words in audio rather than onscreen text results in significant learning gains.’ There are many benefits of introducing the audio  element in an e-course. For one, it inserts an element of interest and engagement for the learner. It also sets the tone of learning and humanizes various characters which take the course forward.

While undoubtedly a strong medium of learning delivery, the question that is often asked is – How much of it is too much? 

The answer to this lies in analyzing your learner and the learning styles which dominate the group. The narrative approach should then align keeping in mind preferred styles of learning and providing options to cater to them all. Here are Four Audio Narrative styles that are followed in e-learning and the ways you can mould them to suit your learning needs:

  1. Audio mirrors TextSome learners prefer auditory learning – especially if the textual content is long and detailed. This style is suitable for such courses, to provide the option of just ‘listening’ to the information, instead of reading it thoroughly.
    • On the upside, it increases options for learners. Instead of reading extensively, the learner can choose to listen and learn.
    • For text-extensive courses, this can be a good option as many learners may skip parts of the text in the course of reading – which audio can re-iterate.
    • However, there are some drawbacks to this approach – the foremost being that when audio mirrors text completely, it becomes redundant in itself as a medium of learning delivery.
    • It can also be a distraction for learners who do not do well with auditory learning and prefer to go through text – however extensive.
    • Thus when choosing this style, make sure that a substantial part of your learning audience will utilize the extensive audio element. For others keep the option of ‘muting’ the audio voiceover, to make sure it does not hinder their learning preference.
  2. Audio narrates selected sections of TextThis is a popular style, adopted by many e-learning developers on account of its flexibility and alignment to multiple learning preferences. Only a part of the text is read out – to increase the impact of learning.
    • Introductions and chosen important sections within the course can be read out to make sure that the information is imparted successfully.
    • Graphics or diagrams can be explained using this style – while the text labels the diagram, the audio reads it out. With the dual impact, the information is well received by the learner.
      Audio_narrates_selected_sections_ of_Text
    • For auditory learners, this increases the impact of learning. Also for learners who do not prefer audio, the small bursts of audio voiceover from time to time does not create a sustained distraction but makes the learning delivery stronger.
  3. Audio runs parallel to TextThis style is adopted when the textual content needs to be drastically reduced without compromising on the depth of information. Textual content is reduced the bare necessities – a word or a line for each point to be made. The point is then explained in details through the audio for the benefit of the learner.
    • The benefit of using this style is that it gives the option of keeping the screens uncluttered and free of too-much-information.
    • Audio as a medium, is well utilized on its own and can be molded to convey in-depth knowledge.
    • On the hind side, this style should also be utilized with care. For many learners, especially if they are new to the topic, the audio description could just be baffling. Others may feel that audio does not serve the purpose of explaining in detail and they would learn better with a text-document.
    • With the option of muting the audio, we can align the learning content to suit learners who do not need the audio voiceover to learn better. In addition, audio transcripts can also be provided for each page – so that the learner can read them when in doubt or utilize them later to revise the course.
  4. No Text, only AudioThis style utilizes audio with images, graphics and animation on screen. Here too, text is minimal or completely avoided. The audio is synched with on screen images or animation, and is the main element which creates the context, narrates events and brings the course to its conclusion.
    • This style is immensely successful when explaining complex topics –especially those which require a change in attitude. So if your course is more about creating awareness than imparting information, this can be your chosen style.
    • While images and animations convey a strong message, audio is successful in explaining them, making them ‘talk’ and come alive for the learners. This is a very impactful way of utilizing images/animations with audio.
    • Here too, the audio narration script can be made available to include the needs of learners who learn better with the aid of textual documents. This also makes sure that the learner is able to revise and refresh concepts from the course later – as per their needs.


Use audio sparingly or use it as the prime medium of learning delivery – use it judiciously. First and foremost, understand the learner needs well and align your strategy accordingly. It is also not mandatory to use just one style for the entirety of an e-course.  It is perfectly acceptable to mix and implement two or more styles to suit the learning needs of the learners. In addition, keep in mind the availability of resources such as good voice-over artistes and recording equipment. Also make sure that the learners have the necessary hardware to best utilize audio. Only then can the strength of audio be truly impactful and directed to enhance learning.

Suggested further reading: Purnima Valiathan (2008): Audio Narration: A Framework