Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Audio & Learning Solutions

I was reading through someone's Blog not too long ago and noticed some concerns about client requirements for audio. It was an interesting discussion as this is a topic that I've followed closely since 1999. So, was that an unreasonable for a client to make? What is the value of audio in Learning solutions?

Well, back in the day, say the 1980's, audio in learning conjured up fairly different images - I'm reminded of the configuration of 'language labs' used to help students though audio reinforcement using tapes of native language speakers or tapes designed to elicit learning through various type of audio repetition drills. For all I know that may still be the way it's handled today at various schools. However when we refer to 'Audio' in this Blog we're speaking of E-learning which means web-based or web 2.0 media capability. Is web 2.0 audio worth the trouble, what value does it add?

I think it is. But the value that it adds depends upon its application. Let's examine this in more detail...

Generic Value of Learning 2.0 Audio:
  1. If used properly it allows for quicker content development (i.e. it is usually faster to talk and record than to develop formal content).
  2. It can provide a sense of personalization to web-based learning that would otherwise be absent.
  3. It is much easier to produce than video.
  4. The Podcast format and various support mechanisms for online syndication have matured quite a bit and have largely eliminated concerns regarding hosting and streaming media.
  5. Within online course-rooms, it represents the best method for verbal communication from teacher to students.
Having said all of that, it must be noted here very strongly that most people are simply doing it wrong. Think about it for a moment - current audio formats don't lend themselves well (or at all) to internal content / meta-data tagging. What if your audience is only interested in one specific sub-topic, but the presenter rambles on creating a 25 minute long audio file. Now if you've used a web meeting service that records both audio and slideshow together you might be able to traverse that content to find the subsection you're looking for. But not everyone has access to those tools or may want to combine their audio with a slideshow.

The habit we need to get into is a very simple one - developing audio files based upon topical sections within a taxonomy (or potential taxonomy) with each file 3 minutes or less in duration. There is basic ID3 metadata that can be assigned to any Mp3 file so that content can be combined (or recombined into infinite combinations) into Playlists using any Mp3 software (like itunes). For those who care to provide their content as podcasts also can simply combine the smaller files for a Podcast which includes whatever combinations of content sections they like. All of this makes it easier for learners to exploit the content and for learning providers to produce it (and this approach applies many other authoring environments as well) .

Copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

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