3 things to consider when narrating eLearning

In my role as eLearning Project Manager, I’ve found that planning for audio narration is as important a component as the design and development of the module itself. Here are my top three considerations when working with audio narration within your eLearning project.

Will you be recording in-house or outsourcing?

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is who will be doing the recording. Will you do it in-house or outsource it to a professional voiceover artist and/or studio? Obviously cost could be a major factor but we’ll discuss that in the next section. There are also usually at least two separate instances of recording: the narration “placeholders” for the draft/review versions, and the final recording for the module delivery. Many people record the initial versions in-house and turn to the voiceover artist for the final version. If you do go the professional route, be sure to request a few demos by three or four artists so the client has something to choose from. And the artists will often even agree to record a couple sample paragraphs of your client’s own content to make the decision easier.

What are typical eLearning voiceover rates, and what is involved?

The amount of budget you have certainly plays a big part in what your audio options may be for your eLearning voiceover narration, but if professional audio is even a possibility you’ll need to be prepared to estimate how much it will cost. You can imagine the range is quite wide but it’s helpful to know the typical components of what’s involved. With this information you may be able to adjust at least a couple of the line items. Here are three common charges:

  • The voiceover artist

    Studios often work with multiple artists, and they each often have their own rates. So when inquiring, ask for a range of costs, as well as artists. This will allow you to find someone that fits your client’s voice preference and budget!
  • Studio time, resources and minimum

    Be sure to do your homework and get quotes from various studios. Adult recording speed is generally thought to be around 150 words per minute. Studios either charge by the minute of finished audio (see the final bullet below), or by the word. Most will also have a minimum charge, so make sure to ask about that as well. I typically plan on at least $750 – $1,000 (£500-£700 ) for a 20-30 minute eLearning module with finished audio.

    TIP: Many voiceover artists have their own “home studio” and will offer that as an option. It can end up costing quite a bit less, but I would highly recommend being diligent and asking for samples that they have done using their own equipment.

  • Post-recording engineering and file delivery
    To deliver “finished” audio files, the engineer will go through and cleanup things like audible breaths, pops, clicks, etc. before they deliver the final product. While you’re often able to get the “raw” files, I feel its worth having them go the extra step since you’re paying for professional audio.   I also make a habit of asking for the files to be broken out separately as opposed to getting one long file that I have to splice myself. I provide them the same numbering and naming convention that I use in my storyboard and ask that they name the files the same way. It helps tremendously when integrating the files into the eLearning module.

TIP: When using a professional studio ask if they have a “listen-in” feature during the recording sessions. This is extremely helpful, as you get to call and listen as the recording is being done. Things you take for granted such as pronunciation, sounding or spelling out of acronyms, etc. are things you may not think of, so when questions come up it’s handy to have you there. The artists are also generally very receptive to getting your feedback as far as tone, inflection, etc. After all, you are the client in this case, so you definitely have a say in the nuances of the narration.

How much time should you add in to account for eLearning related audio integration?

Let’s first start with the scenario where you are doing the recording in-house. From a time perspective, this is obviously the least impactful; however, there will always be tweaking of some kind, so don’t minimize this effort.   It’s not unrealistic to add at least a day’s worth of work to account for audio edits and fine-tuning.

As for the professional option, definitely check with the studio to see what their turnaround time is. If you include the post-recording engineering mentioned above, it could take them a day or two depending on their engineer’s availability. And then when you do receive the files, it could also take you at least a day or two to integrate them into your eLearning module, depending on the length.

TIP: If you did a “placeholder” audio, remember that your narration timing will not be exactly the same as the voiceover artist’s; particularly if you have timed animations, you may need to adjust those slides later (which can take a bit of time!)

So, of course, none of this is an exact science but as a solutions provider with a strong focus on customer service, I’ve found the more eLearning content development projects you work on, the better you’ll get at choosing a recording option, quoting cost, and estimating time impact. And that’s good news for you and your client! Plus, now you know some of the options available and the questions to ask!