Combining text and video in eLearning – Adventures in media synchronization

As we mentioned in previous posts, HTML5 enables Technical Authors and courseware developers to synchronize different media. One of the key areas where this can be applied is in eLearning, where users are now able to toggle between text-based content and video tutorials.

As a consequence, Technical Communicators will need to decide which form of text to provide with the video.

Should it be:

  • a transcript, faithfully documenting every word that was said in the video?;
  • an edited, but still conversational, version?; or
  • text written in the minimalist writing style we normally see in User Guides and Help files?

Let’s look at the case for and against providing an exact copy of what was said in the recording.

The case against a transcript

The manner in which we speak and the way we write are often significantly different. Hugh Lupton, from The Company of Storytellers, once said:

It’s a very different journey from the eye to the mind as from the ear to the mind.

In oracy, the artifices of the speech are very important. These are what Marie Shedlock called “the mechanical devices by which we endeavor to attract and hold the attention of the audience.” They are the gestures, the pauses, the repeated phrases that a good presenter will use.

For example, in this performance by Daniel Morden and Hugh Lupton, Daniel repeats “not for you” as a way of keeping the audience engaged (from 0:13):

If we make a transcript, we retain these artifices in the written word. Instead of improving the comprehension, when published in written form, they can make it harder for the user to understand. For example, if the user searches for a key word or phrase, the repetition of those key phrases by the speaker is going to make it harder for the user to find the right instance.

The case for a transcript

  1. Unlike the storytelling examples above, eLearning is rarely delivered in audio form only. In most cases, the presenter and the audience has a shared visual image to view. This helps ensure there is shared understanding.
  2. A transcript gives a true representation of what the presenter said.
  3. If a user remembers a key phrase or word in the presentation, then they may want to search for that moment to replay it. If the text has been edited, or is significantly different, then that phrase may have been omitted.

Which approach should you take?

We suspect over time that the text provided in synchronized elearning courses will follow the minimalist style that works in User guides and Online Help, where the subject matter is technical in nature. A more conversational tone may work where the material is non-technical (e.g. easy to use consumer goods), providing an overview, or where there isn’t the time to do anything more than provide a transcript.

As they say, time will tell.

What do you think?

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