When an individual hears something, sound waves enter the outer ear, are transmitted to the ear drum, and converted within the middle ear into mechanical vibrations that the inner ear uses to convert to electrical impulses that enter the brain (Smaldino et al., 2015).
I would add also, as someone with a slight hearing impairment, that listening can also be very kinesthetic and visual. When in the classroom or meeting room (either physical or virtual) I unintentionally tend to touch my keyboard or desk to feel the sincerity or authority of the tone of the speaker. I don’t realize I do it, it has become a habit. I’ll also closely monitor facial queues to understand the feeling behind the words whenever possible. I often ask for repetition, and ironically, I’m just as often taken as not understanding more because I’m British trying to understand American accents, rather than because I have a hearing impairment, hahaha.
So, let's think about the implications for audio in the work environment...
Since listening and hearing are critical to communicating the learning process, designers need to take great care and evaluation of how they deliver audio to a learning environment. As such, Smaldino et al. (2015) suggests five recommendations to ensure audiences are able to learn from audio resources (p.159):
- The volume of audio should be neither too high nor low. In either case, students may misunderstand the meaning of the audio and disengage or miss on a learning opportunity.
- Monotonous audio can trigger auditory fatigue, causing the brain to filter out what it doesn’t want or need.
- Individuals hear at varying levels, which should result in instructors accommodating needs individually.
- Listening skills levels are varied among individuals, and could affect the impact of an auditory event.
- Contextual backgrounds can affect the impact of an auditory lesson.
For me, this means that a work environment needs to be very intentional. Audio is a critical component, and not a sidekick for visual stimulation. Options should be varied for the listener. As an instructional designer- intentional audio queues should be added to the storyboard, just as much as the visual queues that one paints their learning events with. I’ve grown accustomed to not ever having the luxury of options and so rely again on visual and kinesthetic queues to supplement the audio experience- but it would be lovely to not have to.
Smaldino, S. E., Lowther, D. L., Russell, J. D., & Mimis, C. (2015). Instructional technology and media for learning (11th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.