Audio – I never knew it could be so hard.

LINGOs is completing a series of conversations with key stakeholders from our member agencies.  These discussions, formally entitled account reviews, are an opportunity for member agencies  to reflect on their accomplishments in CY2008 and to outline their goals for cy2009.  One of the observations coming out of these discussions is the large number of LINGOs agencies that are adopting rapid e-learning tools to develop  custom e-learning content.  Member agencies are developing courses on project management, fraud detection, GIS systems and development, orientation/induction, IT programs, grants management, staff safety, and much more. 

As agencies increasing move in the direction of custom e-learning development, one of the learning curve challenges they face is how to ensure that their sound files are of consistently high quality.  For anyone who has managed sound recordings previously, you know that sound is one of the most difficult elements when developing courses.  All other elements of the course can approach perfection (design is well thought through, quiz questions reinforce the learning, navigation and style sheets are intuitive, images are appopriate, etc.)  however, sound quality can suffer from any number of weaknesses.  While I do not aspire for technical perfection in the work I do, there are any number of problems I have encountered when recording sound that have bothered me to the point of distraction:

  • varying volume levels between slides;
  • ambient noise;
  • high-frequency humming;
  • and… that general feeling that sound quality is “inconsistent” between slides.  

That is why I was pleased to see that the learning designers at www.commoncraft.com had blogged on the topic of managing sound quality and I wanted to be sure to pass on some of the tips they provide in their post:

Consistency is the holy grail and until just recently, we had no way of creating a consistent sound. Now, thanks to some creative uses of bedding, we have our very own sound studio…   …  It’s tiny and stuffy, but it works quite well for us. It reminds me of building forts in the living room when I was a kid.   Remember how the forts would get all stuffy? It’s same feeling…  …

 

As I read this blog post (see it in its entirety here), there were several thoughts that come to mind:
  1. Hurray, I am not alone!  It was good to see that  my challenges when recording audio are common among even the best learning developers (FYI – I think CommonCraft is clearly among the best of learning designers and developers.  There approach (visualization) is unusual, but highly engaging and effective.  If you don’t know their work, be sure to visit their site.  It is inspirational.)
  2. It is good to know that there are some relatively simple, inexpensive, low-tech options to approximate studio-quality sound recording without paying for a studio.
  3. BUT – truthfully, it I set up a tent made from bedding in my cubicle at my organization, management would probably ask me to take it down within minutes AND would then insist that I take a mental health day.   That is why I also appreciated the suggestion in the comments section to the CommonCraft blog post that provided another alternative that does not require building a childhood fort structure from blankets and sheets:  Alternatively, you can almost get the same quality by putting egg crate foam in the corner of a room, face into it, make adjustments to your gain/input, and get some decent results. You might be able to avoid the living room fort claustrophobia. 

What about you?  Do you have any experiences to share concerning developing audio files for iNGOs e-learning?  Hardware?  Software?  Voice talent?  Studio configurations?  Let us know via the comments section below.