The Principles of Animation teach us the importance of emphasizing aspects of the real world in creating believable animation. In many respects, sound can be used in the same thoughtful ways. But the thing is, sound in digital learning experiences is often forgotten or discarded as unimportant and eliminated due to time or budget constraints. Yet sound is a critical component to the learning experience:
- Memorization – Just as images can support text to improve comprehension and memory, sound can also be used to support an image or to supplement text as a dual learning component. If it is used thoughtfully and to add meaning, it can help a concept “stick” in long term memory.
- Reminders or Alerts – Sound can be used as a reminder where a visual cue may not be sufficient.
- Narration – Sound can supplement the written word as narration to aid in thought processing. A narrator can purposefully emphasize words in a sentence that support intended meaning.
- Rewards and Motivation – Sounds can be used as an audible achievement of sorts. A positive, happy sound can reward a correct answer or completion of an activity. Sounds can also be encouraging and motivating where a user may not quite have it right or are nearly there. Think of how audio is used in games in this way.
- Engagement – Sound can be used to add believability and increase engagement. For example, if you’re learning concepts of water resources and the importance of spring ice melt in the Sierra Nevada mountains you may come across an image or short video clip of a waterfall. If this is supplemented by the sound of a waterfall, for example, you will likely give greater focus on the concepts than if conveyed through image or video alone.
- Mood – Sound and music can be used to stimulate a desired mood. This can be particularly effective when juxtaposing sound or music to create different feelings at different times, moving a learner through content.
It is important not to use sound in ways that distract the learner from the intended learning material. As with all forms of technology, consideration should always be given to the learning goals and sound should support those goals in intentional ways. Give the learner the option to turn sound off, and don’t rely on sound alone to communicate important concepts for accessibility reasons.