Audio Cues In eLearning: How To Use Them Effectively

Visually impaired fans can watch and enjoy a movie in a way that the hearing impaired can’t. When you can’t see the screen, you can still feel what’s happening. You can mark the inflection of actors, the pregnant pauses, the background sound. Hearing-impaired viewers are restricted to lip-reading and body language, which can be ineffective in the age of show-don’t-tell movie-making. In this sense, audio can add a world of nuance to your eLearning course, but only if you use it right. Here are 6 suggestions for audio cues in eLearning.

6 Insider Tips To Use Audio Cues

1. Use Sound With Purpose

You may have read that multimedia courses receive the best response. That doesn’t mean you should use sound just for its own sake. Think about where, how, and why every decibel is placed. Are you looking to create a certain emotion? Are you simplifying a big chunk of text? Does the sound deepen the context of your scene? Before you record a single note or scale, justify its existence. Also, short clips work best, so it should be two minutes at most. After that, online learners are likely to zone out. And if the audio is a speech, use the right inflection for added context. Robotic monotones only work for GPS, and even then, it’s pretty annoying. You should also avoid alarming audio cues in eLearning, as they catch online learners off guard. You want them to pay attention, not be stressed out by shrill pitches or alarms.

2. Employ The Soundtrack

When writing a movie script or TV series, the soundtrack is a big part of it. It goes along with the storyboard, fitting the plot and characters. It’s all pre-planned. Use the same approach in your eLearning course. Think about which chapters or pages need urgency, sharp focus, or a playful mood. Then pick sound clips that evoke these responses. The right audio cues in eLearning – whether it’s an instrumental or a sound effect – can influence online learners’ emotions and, therefore, aid (or prohibit) recall. Be sure to use sound responsibly and with much consideration.

3. Build An Ambience

Try this experiment. Record yourself reading a few paragraphs of text. You can use your phone mic. Now open any web page and listen to some audio, whether it’s an online video or an audiobook. Their sounds are more engaging than yours. Why? Ambient noise. It doesn’t have to be a background tune laid under the speaker. Sometimes, it’s dishes clinking, the wind blowing, fingers tapping a keyboard. They add context, enhance realism, and subconsciously make you focus on the voice. So, whether it’s a car parking outside the window or the echo of an empty office, plug in some ambient sound.

4. Don’t Distract

A lot of us like to work with music in the background. If we’re listening to a podcast or interview rather than a song, we feel like we’re multitasking. Studies show our brains can only really focus on one thing at a time and everything else is an eLearning distraction. Good multitaskers aren’t running mental functions simultaneously. They’re just really good at juggling. They swiftly switch from one task to another. You’ll realize this if you’ve been ‘listening’ for a while. Then you suddenly sit up when you hear a song or lyric you like. At that moment, your brain switches from the task and focuses on the song. The sound element of your eLearning course shouldn’t jar online learners in this way.

In fact, the entire purpose of using audio cues in eLearning is to draw attention to specific aspects of the eLearning course design. Online learners need to remember this idea or concept. And the audio makes them take notice so that they absorb the information and create an emotional connection. Remember, audio cues are all about striking a balance between blending into the background and standing out enough to catch their attention.

5. Apply Easy-Listening Tools

This seems like such an obvious thing that you’re likely to ignore. Audio cues in eLearning are useful for visually impaired online learners, or for studying while you do something else (chores, commuting, exercise, etc.). When you’re reading, you can go over a previous sentence or flip to an earlier/later page. Ensure your audio is just as easy to navigate. Include pause, stop, play, rewind, and forward functions. Online learners should be able to go back to certain sections of the eLearning course to improve understanding and pick up on cues they missed. The cues clue them into takeaways they may want to revisit to commit them to long-term memory.

6. Draw Up An Audio Storyboard

Develop a storyboard for every eLearning module or activity to determine which topics and tasks you need to cover. Then decide where you want to add the audio cues in eLearning to achieve the most impact. For example, you’re going to include a subtle background music each time you recap the takeaways. Online learners will automatically know that this is a point of interest. Something they need to pay close attention to, in order to truly benefit from the eLearning course. Something like this on the storyboard allows you to keep track of which audio cues you use and how often. Which also helps you maintain consistency throughout the eLearning course design.


Audio cues are an important part of any eLearning course. Unfortunately, they’re frequently over-utilized, or at least applied in a less than helpful way. To get the most from your audio features, plug them right. Decide why, where, and how you want to use them… don’t just rush to the ‘when’. Plan your soundtrack beforehand, ideally right at the storyboarding stage. Focus on ambiance rather than distraction, and make it easy to playback and review relevant sections of your in-course audio. It makes all the difference.

Are you looking for ways to keep your adult learners engaged during your eLearning course, and meet the needs of your adult learners by using the correct Instructional Design processes? Download our free eBook Designing eLearning Courses For Adult Learners: The Complete Guide to discover the adult learner characteristics, the obstacles they need to overcome, ways to engage and motivate busy adult learners, and some amazing adult learning facts and stats you need to know as an eLearning pro.

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