© InnerFidelity, 2012

‘Sounds, such as the noise of certain machinery, or the background hum of daily life, have an associative as well as a pure meaning, which can be used to evoke images or ideas relevant to the main substance of what is being taught. There are, in other words, instances where audio is essential for efficiently mediating certain kinds of information’

Durbridge, 1984

Audio: the unappreciated medium


In an earlier post I complained that video is not being used enough in online learning in post-secondary education, and when it is used, it is often poorly used. The same applies to audio – perhaps to a lesser extent in terms of amount of use (podcasting and audio clips are is now quite common) – but its full potential is still often unrealised.

Again, we can learn a lot from earlier research done on radio and audio-cassettes in the 1970s and 1980s at the Open University.

First, some advantages:

  • it’s much easier to make an audio clip or podcast than a video clip or a simulation
  • it requires far less bandwidth than video or simulations, hence downloads quicker and can be used over relatively low bandwidths
  • it is easily combined with other media such as text, mathematical symbols, and graphics, allowing more than one sense to be used and allowing for ‘integration’. For examples of what I mean take a look at the UK Open University’s OpenLearn site at: http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=398372&section=1.2
  • some students prefer to learn by listening compared with reading;
  • audio combined with text can help develop literacy skills or support students with low levels of literacy;
  • audio provides variety and another perspective from text, a ‘break’ in learning that refreshes the learner and maintains interest
  • Nicola Durbridge, in her research at the Open University, found that audio increased distance students’ feelings of personal ‘closeness’ with the instructor compared with video or text, i.e. it is a more intimate medium.

In particular, instructors can use Skype or the telephone to interview people or draw on OERs to collect information from ‘real life’ that illustrates or amplifies issues or concepts in the course.

There are also of course disadvantages of audio:

  • difficult for people with a hearing disability
  • extra work for an instructor
  • often requires supplementary media such as text or graphics thus adding complexity to the design of teaching
  • requires a minimal level of technical proficiency
  • spoken language tends to be less precise than text.


Pedagogical roles for audio


1.      To analyse or process detailed visual materials, such as mathematical equations, paintings, graphs, statistical tables, rock samples, maps, etc., by ‘talking’ students through the material: (Note: in many of the ‘videos’, the Khan Academy is really dynamic graphics plus audio used in exactly this way).

2.      To enable students through repetition and practice to master certain skills or techniques (e.g. language pronunciation, analysis of musical structure, mathematical computation)

3.      To present, analyze or critique complex arguments or discussion between two or more people (e.g. by the instructor ‘interrupting’ or stopping the discussion to draw attention to a particular concept or idea within the course, or to highlight an inconsistency in the argument)).

4.      To bring students primary audio resource material, either specially recorded or acquired from sound archives, for example:

(a)     recordings of naturally occurring events, e.g. political speeches, children talking, concerts or performances, eyewitness accounts

(b)     a selection of sources of audio evidence for students to analyze in terms of concepts taught in the course

5.      To bring students the knowledge or wisdom of eminent people or leading researchers, through interviews

6.      To record the voices of key stakeholders or ‘actors’ to represent or illustrate concepts and ideas to be discussed within a course

7.      To change student attitudes:

(a)     by presenting material in a novel or unfamiliar perspective

(b)     by presenting material in a dramatized form, enabling students to identify with someone with a different perspective

8.      To provide students with a condensed argument that may:

(a)     reinforce points made elsewhere in the course

(b)     introduce new points not made elsewhere in the course

(c)      provide an alternative viewpoint to the perspectives in the rest of the course

(d)     analyse or critique materials elsewhere in the course

(e)     summarize or condense the main ideas or major points covered in the course

(f)      provide new evidence in support of or against the arguments or perspectives covered elsewhere in the course

9.      To provide corrections to the course, or deal with parts of the course where student feedback indicates difficulties

10.     To relate the course to ‘breaking news’ that emphasizes the relevance or application of concepts within the course

11.      To up-date the course when the knowledge base changes, e.g. when new research is published, by going to the source for a brief summary.

12.      For language teaching, to develop listening and speaking skills


A challenge


As with the post on the pedagogical role of video, I would like provide links from each application to actual examples on the web.  So the challenge is:

Can you provide a link to an open educational resource that would be in your view an excellent example of any of the above applications of audio?

Again I am applying the same criteria for inclusion:

  • the example is well produced (appropriate educational use, good presenter, clear audio)
  • it is short and to the point
  • it demonstrates clearly a particular topic or subject and links it to what the student is intended to learn.

Once chosen, I will add the link with an acknowledgement to whoever provides me with the link. In the meantime, I will look for my own examples.

This list was developed initially from broadcast television.

How well do these functions apply to the use of audio on the Internet? 

Are there other educational applications of audio on the Internet that are not on this list?

Let’s hear it for audio!


References and further reading


Bates, A. (1985) Broadcasting in Education: An Evaluation London: Constables (out of print – try a good library)

Bates, A. (2005) Technology, e-Learning and Distance Education London/New York: Routledge

Durbridge, N. (1982) Audio-cassettes in Higher Education Milton Keynes: The Open University (mimeo)

Durbridge, N. (1984) Audio-cassettes, in Bates, A. (ed.) The Role of Technology in Distance Education London/New York: Croom Hill/St Martin’s Press

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (2005) Seven things you should know about… podcasting Boulder CO: EDUCAUSE, June

Postlethwaite, S. N. (1969) The Audio-Tutorial Approach to Learning Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Company

Salmon, G. and Edirisingha, P. (2008) Podcasting for Learning in Universities Milton Keynes: Open University Press

Wright, S. and Haines, R, (1981) Audio-tapes for Teaching Science Teaching at a Distance, Vol. 20 (Open University journal now out of print).

Note: Although some of the Open University publications are not available online, hard copies/pdf files should be available from: The Open University International Centre for Distance Learning, which is now part of the Open University Library.


Models for Selecting and Using Media and Technology: 7


This post is no. 7 in the series. The others are:

  1. The challenge,
  2. A (very) brief history of educational technology,
  3. Broadcast or communicative?
  4. Synchronous or asynchronous?
  5. Media or technology?
  6. Pedagogical roles for video in online learning



  1. Hi Tony –

    Great article and I’m sure some of my clients have great examples for you to see. I’ll forward this article to them.
    I enjoy reading your articles, particularly when you talk about audio because you see, I’m a voice over talent! So I do a lot of work on eLearning! Keep ’em comin’!


  2. Librivox.org is a wonderful resource of audio material that is filled with public-domain texts turned into audio readings by people (volunteers). Not only can you give students several different renderings of the more popular texts, but you can also push students to become contributors and creators. In terms of substatnive examples, Librivox would certain apply to points 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 12.


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