6 Tips for Creating Audio for E-learning Podcasts, Screencasts and Online Presentations

Filed Under (Audio, e-learning, instructional design, Video) by Chris LaBelle on 26-01-2010 and tagged , , , , , ,

Recording audio for E-learning contexts is a straightforward process when you use the right equipment and adhere to some basic steps to optimize your recording environment. When was the last time you heard a poorly recorded E-learning course, podcast or online presentation?

You know of what I speak. Close your eyes and let the hissing, cracking, and muffled notes course through your auditory cortex. It’s unbearable and you long to hear a stereo-balanced, amplitude appropriate MP3 file. Let’s roll up our sleeves and talk shop in this post. I’ll discuss basic techniques for audio recording and highlight some equipment that will help ensure your message is communicated loud (but not too loud) and clear.


1. Microphone

Use the best microphone your budget allows. Microphones come in many different shapes, sizes, and prices. If you are on a more conservative project budget, I suggest that you invest in a USB Plantronics headset with integrated microphone as I’ve generally had good luck with this brand. Using a USB microphone ensures that your recording is transferred to your computer digitally (analog microphones use your sound card and must convert an analog signal to digital—resulting in sound degradation).

Here’s a good “starter” USB microphone from Plantronics that can be purchased for under $40.

If you are willing to spend more than $100 and are looking for a higher-end USB microphone, the Samson C03U USB Condenser Microphone is popular for audio screencast recording.

2. Beware of the Buzz

Buzzing, humming and other audio degradation can be caused by a number of issues, but electrical interference is the most common. Of the different forms of electrical interference, ground loop problems are perhaps the most noticeable and difficult to control. Ground loop is generally due to uneven levels of current being picked up on your power cables.

You will want to be careful to pay attention to nearby TVs, overhead fluorescent lights, and anything else that emits an electrical current when using a microphone. This is just as important when using an external microphone attached to a video camera. Here’s a good example of why you need to be careful around electrical devices like TVs.

3. Ambient Noise Dampening

In many offices or rooms ambient noise is very noticeable. Fans from heaters or computers are not uncommon in many work environments and what sounds like a very faint hum will oftentimes take on a strong and distracting static or hiss when recording using a microphone plugged into your computer.

Do your best to dampen the ambient noise. Your main goal is to block or absorb this noise. There are some creative ways to do this.

If you have a noticeable amount of ambient noise in your environment, surround your microphone with foam and ensure your computer’s fan and other computer peripherals are behind this dampening barrier. Here are some examples of how this might be accomplished.

4. Recording Basics

Make sure that you keep the microphone on your headset right in front of your mouth and don’t change its location once you decide on the best placement. You will notice a very significant change in audio quality if you move your microphone during a recording session.

S et your audio input and output level at about 3/4 of the maximum amplitude so that when you playback the audio using your speakers (test quality via both your speakers and USB device), your system more closely resembles that of the normal end-user. Double and triple check your initial recordings to ensure the audio sounds suitable for your context. Again, don’t forget to listen to your audio using your USB headset and then remove the headset and listen using only speakers. Be a discerning user and ask yourself if the audio is free of hissing, cracking, and other distractions.

5. Software

There are a lot of choices, and in all honesty, this is one of the least important aspects of ending up with high-quality audio. Audacity is a solid freeware option and will be more than sufficient for most. If you have some money to spend, Sony’s Sound Forge is a sophisticated audio editing tool. Soundtrack Pro for the MAC is also very popular. I tend to use these more pricey software options when editing audio files that need buzz or hum reduction or more filters applied. I also enjoy Sound Forge’s ability to open video files and edit the soundtrack of that file using their audio editing tools.

6. Attitude

Before you begin recording your audio, spend some time thinking about what type of tone or personality you want to project when narrating your content. You obviously want to sound energetic and excited about your content area. You also want to make sure that you sound clear and intelligible.

Do your best to record audio files for a module in one sitting. Your voice changes as the day goes on and mornings are usually a difficult time to record for many as their voice is still raspy. Additionally, make sure you have some water nearby and take care of your throat as you log the hours required to complete your audio files.

Do you have some other helpful tips?

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12 Comments Already, Leave Yours Too

Katrina on 27 January, 2010 at 7:02 am #

You have listed some really nice tips here. It is also good to have someone critique your audio.


Chris LaBelle on 27 January, 2010 at 9:45 am #

Thanks Katrina,

I couldn’t agree with you more. In some of the “how to record audio” handouts we make available, we write into the sequence of steps several checkpoints where one is required to send their audio files to a “3rd-party” who can ensure the quality is acceptable; especially early in the process. It’s quite common that the those who are using substandard mics or recording equipment also have a sound system that seems to mask the audio issues. Thanks again for the comment.

Mark Anderson-Wilk on 28 January, 2010 at 6:48 am #

I’m curious what you think about \the death of high fidelity\ that’s been talked about so much in the last few years:

Chris LaBelle on 28 January, 2010 at 1:44 pm #

Really interesting article. I enjoyed the quote, “Analog sound to me is more emotionally affecting.” Pro Tools has gotten a lot of attention as it really resembles the “athlete on steroids” analogy when you realize how much correction is applied to a singer’s voice. The other point I liked in this article was the thought that much of the MP3 music is no longer played on decent speakers, but via small compact speakers, ear buds and other devices.

Josh Lewis on 26 May, 2010 at 11:01 pm #

Mark- The death of fidelity is very real phenomena. The “loudsness wars” of the last 2 decades have reduced dynamic range.

Chris- I truly believe that what you are describing has a lot more to do with the mixing methods than the actual equipment (software). The push by everyone with a financial stake in making records is MORE, MORE, MORE (11)

Chris LaBelle on 27 May, 2010 at 7:33 am #


Very timely comment. I would agree my post here is more about low- to middle-range technique for podcast, slideshow, screencast audio recording. Like video, much of our web-based audio seems to have been stripped of its fidelity in deference to efficiency, i.e. speed. There are some interesting articles out there that point out this issue even at the level of the high-end recording studio. Here’s my favorite article on the topic. I’m sure you already ran across it:


small electronic on 9 June, 2010 at 7:40 pm #

Very professional advice, but making a youtube video is difficult to get good sound quality unless you speak close to or directly to a mic. How far is the mic from you in the youtube video?

Merudh on 24 June, 2010 at 1:52 pm #

I used this guide to create my youtube video. Thanks a lot for your hard work for putting this up.

communications templates on 8 July, 2010 at 2:28 am #

Thanks, this is great advice, many big corporates are utilising this sort of technology to revolutionise staff and workforce communications.

Per Bristow - vocal coach on 27 July, 2010 at 1:51 am #

Good advice,

I would also add that in addition to reflecting on, as you say, what tone to project, really focus on who you are talking to. Many fall into the trap of thinking about how they sound and the delivery therefore becomes self-conscious and lacks life. Speak to the listener and not to the microphone.

The voice does indeed change during the course of the day. Many speakers prefer mornings as the voice is naturally deep. The only thing is that we need to do some exercises to make it flow freely so there are less restrictions and thus you get a deeper, more resonant and more influential voice.

And for those who feel they don’t have good speaking voices, you should know that the voice can be improved dramatically.

QTP Training on 4 February, 2011 at 11:41 am #

I “ll add some of my screencasting tips here which I have found useful personally.

1) Use an app called Sizer (Just google for it) it helps in resizing windows effortlessly.

2) Try to do audio first and then video.
You can always sync them later. I have personally tried this and the final output is way better than if you were doing the two together.

Foto Bugil Ngentot Memek on 5 February, 2016 at 9:34 pm #

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