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Martin Blazey The power of sound and vision in eLearning

When watching a film, for me, the most powerful element of it is often the sound rather than the image; so much so that Woody Allen pointed out that it “can hide a multitude of sins”.

Though sound can be overused, without it film is nothing - literally empty - with no soul and no connection, to you as a person with emotions. Filmmakers know this and manipulate the viewer’s feelings through the use of specific sounds to tell their story. One classic example is the music in Jaws – you know something is coming.

In eLearning the use of sound seems to be the least regarded aspect of eLearning – almost an afterthought, be that through extensive overuse of spoken word or through the lack of engaging atmospheric sounds throughout the course.

But the same principles apply to eLearning as they do to film. Sound is vital to make the learner engage appropriately. Here are my five important considerations for sound in eLearning.

The Power Of Sound In E Learning


An extremely important concept, through the use of harmoniously layered sounds a sense of depth and atmosphere can be created. Soundscapes adds tone and texture as well as personality to the eLearning. Soundscaping affects us on an emotional level and, in doing so, engages the learner to a level not possible without it.

Audio Cues

As sound is such an emotional trigger, using audio cues can be an impactful way to draw attention to various elements throughout an eLearning course.

Contextual audio cues can be used to prepare the user for an impending event, increase/decrease tension, highlight interactive areas like buttons, signal positive and negative feedback or signify new on-page information and indicate learning points.


Soundtracks can be bad, but they can also be very, very good. The wrong background track can distract the user and cause them to lose focus by not ‘working’ with the content. Soundtracks however can be used with creative risk – using an unexpected soundtrack juxtaposed with the visual content can create something unexpectedly sublime that just ‘works’.

Generally soundtracks should have a recognisable beat to give the learner a structural hook to tell a story, and in most instances soundtracks should also be completely relevant to the context of the particular piece of eLearning. For example, if a learner is attempting an exercise against the clock you might add to the sense of pressure with a countdown.

Pace and BPM

Pace and Beats per Minute (BPM) makes music distinctive, it gives music its ‘feel’ and character.

In general, 35-50 BPM is calming and lends itself to a reflective thought process; 55-70 BPM is used for more moderate ‘seatwork’ and increased focus; 100-160 BPM is for high points like celebration, rewards, or intense activity.

Just like there can be perfect audio for listening to at the gym, there is perfect audio for learning situations. Studies have shown that listening to music faster than 144 BPM begins to be less effective as a learning aid, whereas when listening to music at 120 BPM memory retention is ‘consistently higher’.1

Say it without words

If you don’t need words, don’t use them. Music and imagery together can tell a story with far more immediate emotional engagement that reading the written form of the same story.

Here are two excellent examples of this in film:

Patlabor 2

Mamoru Oshii (Director)/Kenji Kawai (Music)

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Sergio Leone (Director)/Ennio Morricone (Music)

The last example of how to use music and video is something I think is not explored very much in eLearning but I have made it my goal to find a way to use it. I will post the results of these experiments at a later date.

If you'd like to see some examples of how we can integrate effective sound into eLearning, get in touch now.



Martin Blazey, Senior eLearning Developer, Bray Leino Learning

In my blogs I will be talking about what to look out for in eLearning, what good eLearning might look like now and in the future, and what some of the most interesting ideas might mean for eLearning as well as a fixation on game-like technologies and how they might be good for eLearning.

Follow @BrayLearning

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