« India is Worried about Its Inability to Innovate. | Main | Deadly Fire Truck Accident Blamed on Poor Training. What We Can Learn From the Tragedy. »

Wednesday, 09 December 2009


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Effective E-learning with only Audio and Photographs:


Julie Dirksen

It's a beautiful piece of storytelling, isn't it?

It's very effective at creating an emotional response, and is probably pretty sticky from a memory point of view.

It's probably not the optimal method for skills acquisition, but it might be very good for convincing users that they *want* to acquire those skills.

Thanks for the link, Will.

Jenise Cook

Nice post, Will, thank you!

Julie, good points you've raised, however, I think an ID could build into an actual online course the performance improvement elements and activities to touch on skills acquisition.

My question is... what if my client can't have audio narration? For example, in many call centers, the CSRs' computers don't have sound cards.

Solution 1: They schedule time at a computer in the company training lab.


Solution 2: Put over each photo element and semi-transparent rectangle (the same width as the photos), and then overlay the text in a contrasting, easy-to-read font color. I'd then give the learners navigation control so they could read at their own pace.


Mark Cody

I agree Jenise. As I understand the research, text with pics is a close second in effectiveness to pics with audio, but often the first choice anyway for the reasons you cited. I, for instance, couldn't listen to the audio, so I could've benefited from a "See the transcript" option. Even with the pictures, though, I can seen this piece distills what I've thought for a long time, that we must be able to tell a story about our experience. The narrative has to pop out. It will be interesting to see if the narrative I put together just looking at the photos matches the actual audio storyline.

Will Thalheimer

I actually think it's the audio that brings this piece together, giving it a breath of humanity, helping the story connect deeply with the listener/viewer.

I'm not sure I'd fully trust the research you mention Mark. A lot of that research was done on strict info-presentation, which doesn't share this piece's human resonance. So, it might not be directly applicable here. Also, this research measured information retention and transfer, but I don't think it measured persuasion or emotional resonance.

Here would be a cool experiment.

Take the piece as is. Develop a second version with a really well done text (instead of audio) version. Randomly assign people to groups.

Later, test all the learners for retrieval, transfer, but also persuasion. I might test persuasion on this piece by asking people about their views on the U.S. Health Care system, the importance of universal coverage, how they feel about a single-payer plan or the hotly-debated public option, etc.

My Hypothesis:
The Audio version would be lots lots lots more persuasive and more successful in changing people's attitudes toward health care.

Chris Brannigan

Nice technique. As you say, great for communication, awareness of a message and a call to action maybe in readiness for a skills intervention.

The piece did not resonate emotionally so much for me - Uk based and free healthcare, so I'd go get my new teeth. Might not look Hollywood mind you; basic teeth.

The piece did not use emotional music to a great extent. Mostly real audio and narration. Cinematics in films and cutscenes in games mix emotional music into the scene well. When designing sims we experiment with this alot. Its more art than science to be honest.

Mark Cody

Will, great points and fun idea. Thanks!

Clark Quinn

Interesting that this is resurrecting as a learning conversation. Australia, with great distance learning needs and bandwidth challenges back then, was a leader in 'audiographics' as an effective educational practice: slides with audio. Everything old is new again ;).

Julie Dirksen

Hey Will -- on the topic of audio usage -- are you a Radiolab fan? It's an amazing use of sound design to support complicated ideas or concepts.

There's even a short episode where they explain how they put it together:


Even more than visuals, good sound design seems to skip past conscious awareness, but can enhance the experience so much.

Will Thalheimer

Julie, Yes. I love Radiolab when I get to hear it.

The episode you recommend is great. And I love Anne Fernald's quote: "Sound is kind of touch at a distance."

Or shortened, "Sound is touch at a distance."

All of us e-learning developers ought to spend some time learning about sound, music, etc. and its connection to emotion, etc.

We ought to study movie sound making, movie music, etc.

Elearning Software Solutions

Some photographs or even music will really make anything successful. Most people would love to see colorful and interesting photos and nice music than reading or watching something full of text contents.

Mare Swallow

This is a primo example of storytelling, but no way would I put this -- or anything like this -- in the "training" camp. Sure, you can create an educational slideshow, but there's no way to ensure practical and/or hands-on application.

Will Thalheimer

Responding to comments:

Elearning Software Solutions, you are wrong when you say "photographs and music will make anything successful." Research shows that sometimes interesting graphics, audio, and music can actually distract learners from key learning points. It's complicated, so we should not be black and white about it.

Mare, your words ooze an unseemly abhorrence to the idea that we might be able to draw some wisdom from a well-told educational slideshow. Sure there is much more to ensuring understanding, remembering, and application of what was learned, but might not we be able to generate some ideas?

As someone who audits numerous learning programs every year, I can attest to their general lack of connecting with learners at a basic human level. Training that doesn't connect, is training that (1) doesn't work, (2) alienates learners against future learning programs.

Here's the deal on training. It has to achieve three goals.

1. Learners have to understand the key concepts (and understand how to utilize them).

2. Learners have to be able to remember.

3. Learners have to be motivated when the time arrives to put the learning into action.

Connecting at a human level helps generate attention that can lead to #1-understanding. It supports #2-remembering by helping learners engage more deeply and for longer periods of practice. It supports #3-motivation-to-apply by connecting with people's inherent moral beliefs, by showing relevance, by solidifying people's intentions to act.


It's been proven statistically that e-learning which extends past just audio and photographs provides greater results than those training courses than just contain the preceding.


When you are in a not good position and have got no money to go out from that, you would have to receive the loans. Because it will help you definitely. I get financial loan every year and feel OK just because of it.

Marc by Marc Jacobs Handbag

for his many years in leading the workplace learning

The comments to this entry are closed.

Search Will's Blog

  • Google
    This Blog Web


Notable Books

Sponsoring Ads (vT1)

Sponsoring Ads (vG2)

Sponsoring Ads (vL3)