If you are a human being that has seen a movie before, chances are you’ve heard the smooth and authoritative sound of Morgan Freeman’s voice. Simultaneously world-weary and commanding, the man truly has a unique voice. I truly enjoy the man’s acting, but today I’m more interested in his narration skills.
Narration is an interesting art form, because it involves hearing a person’s voice, but in many cases you never see the narrator’s face. They’re just an omniscient, disembodied voice floating in the ether, cluing you in to important details as the plot unfolds.
Indeed, this follows Richard Mayer’s twelfth and final principle of multimedia, the Image Principle: “People do not necessarily learn better from a multimedia lesson when the speaker’s image is added to the screen.”
Freeman is mostly utilized flawlessly in this regard. If it’s not necessary for us to see him, he is the opposite of the proverbial child: Heard, but not seen. Can you imagine how different the movie March of the Penguins would have been if Morgan Freeman actually showed up halfway through the film in a parka, sliding across the ice on his belly with the penguins and attempting to insert himself into the flock as the alpha male? Granted, that would be a movie I would pay BIG money to see, but the point is this would be very distracting, and Penguins would become more reality show than documentary.
In the eLearning world, we sometimes fall into the trap of inserting the narrator into the story and not knowing what to do with them while they aren’t needed. The rookie move would be to keep that character on screen the whole time, with a blank expression and peering deeply into the learner’s very soul, then suddenly chiming in with instruction whenever they become relevant again.
The problem with that strategy is that it’s needlessly distracting. It forces the learner to focus on more than one thing at a time. How would you like to take a pencil-and-paper test while the instructor stands at the front of the classroom, staring dead ahead with a peculiar smile and only blinking a couple times a minute? Apart from being incredibly distracting, it would make it difficult to focus on the test. It’s the same principle in eLearning.
A little narration goes a long way. But an ever-present narrating character just gets in the way.
12 Principles of Multimedia Series, #12
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