Voice Over and Video in Branching Scenarios

A reader asked, “Should you include voice over and video in branching scenarios?” As with all things instructional design, the answer is “it depends.” Most of the time, I don’t use voice over or videos for branching scenarios because it adds a lot of complexity to the development and revision. However, there are exceptions when including voice over or interactive video works better. Therefore, the question isn’t really “Should you use voice over and video?” but “When should you use voice over and video in branching scenarios?”

Voice Over and Video in Branching Scenarios

Risks of including multimedia

Everyone’s time and resources are limited, so you have to consider the risks.

  • Including voice over and video increase the development time for branching scenarios.
  • Any changes you make later will be more complicated to update with more complex multimedia.
  • You may spend time focusing on multimedia rather than more complex, realistic decision-making.

The frequent assumption is that fancier multimedia will result in better learner engagement. Sometimes that’s true, but not always. A text-based scenario that is visually clean and easy to use might get better results because you can focus more on writing realistic challenges.

What would happen if we invested less in eye candy and more in designing deep challenges?

-Cathy Moore

Cathy Moore’s post, What’s the real cost of eye candy?, is focused more on images than voice over and video, but I think the same concept applies.

But sometimes, the potential benefits of using voice over and video in branching scenarios outweigh those risks.

Stable content

If the content is very stable and unlikely to change much over time, voice over might make sense in a branching scenario. Investing in creating video also makes more sense for more stable content and skills than for something that changes every 6 months.

If the content might change because of future updates, including voice over makes that harder. You could add a little voice over in the intro and conclusion without using it in the whole scenario. That would be a compromise to get a little audio without making the entire scenario harder to update.

Communication skills

I have used voice over or video for communication skills where it adds to the realism. Sometimes, the nuances of tone of voice (or body language in video) are relevant to the learning objective.

Counseling women with postpartum depression? That branching scenario was better with a video where the counselors could both hear the tone of voice and see the body language.

Visual skills

In addition to communication skills where tone of voice or body language are important, sometimes skills have a visual component. If the skill involves reviewing an environment and identifying specific items or factors, then video of the workplace environment might improve learning transfer.

For example, I created an interactive video scenario for teaching paramedics to recognize concerning signs in a household (e.g., pill bottles, empty alcohol bottles) while they’re responding to calls. That branching scenario worked well with video. In that case, we wanted them to both listen to the conversation and look at the environment.

Stakeholder requests

Of course, voice over makes the learning experience take longer. It takes longer to listen to voice over than to read the same text. That shouldn’t really be a reason that we use it, but once in a while, a client really is hung up on the seat time. Other times, stakeholders are so used to everything having voice over that they just can’t envision a scenario without it.

The politics of working with clients are relevant, and sometimes you have to choose which battles to fight. Voice over isn’t going to reduce learning, just be more expensive for the client to develop, revise, and update later. If the client really wants it and will pay for it, I’ll choose to fight a different battle instead.

Further reading

For some projects, I use a conversation-driven approach rather than a branching scenario. This approach uses two characters talking about a topic, with scenario-based questions interspersed throughout. My previous post on media options for conversation-driven learning weighs the pros and cons of video, animation, photos, illustrations, and voice over. While that format benefits from more visuals and voice over (and it’s easier to update because it’s linear), some of the same considerations for multimedia apply to both branching scenarios and conversation-driven learning.

Looking for more on branching scenarios? Check out all of my posts on Storytelling and Scenarios.

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