When you include narration in e-learning, how can you make most of it? The presence of the narrator, that guiding voice of story or instruction, is an element of multiple media. Many factors determine how and when to apply narration, but you'll need to decide on a couple of things first.
Make sure it’s essential
In earlier eras of comic books, writers added narration to a lot of panels that didn’t need it. Comic books were a relatively new medium, and also generally thought of as disposable entertainment for children, so the writing came as an afterthought. Back then, scripts were often written after the art was completed. So, on a panel that shows Batman swinging down into a dark alley to stop a robbery, you got a caption that read, “BATMAN SWINGS DOWN INTO THE DARK ALLEY TO STOP A ROBBERY!” What does the caption add? Nothing, other than it covers up the part of panel depicting what it is describing, pulling focus from it.
A similar rule is in effect in e-learning. A strong visual element is not elevated by redundant narration. Even a writer will admit that a good picture really is worth a thousand words. Just because you can add narration doesn’t mean you should.
Find the right tone and style
So, assuming you’ve determined where your essential narration is going to be applied, what’s next? Rather than comic books, let’s look to another medium to see how it relates to e-learning.
Voice-over in film is a technique that goes in and out of fashion. Detractors view it as a crutch, propping up what should be handled by the movie’s audiovisual elements. (Sort of like that old-timey Batman caption in the section above.) Despite that, there are certainly times when a film’s voiceover enhances the experience. Let’s take two example first lines of film narration. There’s this, from Stand By Me:
I was twelve going on thirteen first time I saw a dead human being. It happened in the summer of 1959. A long time ago. But only if you measure in terms of years. I was living in a small town in Oregon called Castle Rock. There were only 1,281 people, but to me it was the whole world.
And then there’s this, from Goodfellas:
As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster. To me, being a gangster was better than being President of the United States. Even before I first wandered into the cabstand for an after-school job, I knew I wanted to be a part of them. It was there that I knew that I belonged.
Both of these establish that we’re going to hear something told from a narrator looking back on his life. The first has a nostalgic, personal, emotional tone, welcoming us to a story about a formative event in the speaker’s childhood. The second presents a narrator who is not so much explaining a formative event but proclaiming the sort of person he is, and why. One lets us know that we’re going to hear about a single summertime; the other implies we’re going to hear about a way of life.
Let's switch things up.
For as far back as I can remember, I wanted to see a dead human being. To me, it would be better than meeting the President of the United States. When me and my friends set off to find one, I knew I was right where I belonged.
I learned what means to be a gangster when I first walked into that cabstand for an after school job. I was twelve going on thirteen. It was the summer of 1959. A long time ago. But only if you measure in terms of years. I was living in a little corner of Brooklyn, never leaving those eight square blocks, but to me it was the entire world.
Pretty different stories, right? There’s now an ego and toughness to Stand By Me, and a layer of introspection and nostalgia to Goodfellas. The personalities of Gordy from Stand by Me and Henry in Goodfellas are conveyed not only by their situations, but also by what they say and how they say it, a combination of tone and style that informs not only these characters but also the movies themselves.
Try it out
To make sure everyone’s in agreement with the narrative voice of a NogginLabs course, all clients get a Tone and Style Sample before production begins. Conversational or formal? Quirky or direct? We make sure narration is a good fit for its content and presentation, and then we make the most of it.
E-learning, like comic books and films, is made for a variety of audiences, and e-learning narration reflects that. Each course is custom-built to provide a unique experience, with the perfect voice to match.