Using audio in teaching and learning
This guide looks at the rationale behind the growth of audio in education and provides examples of how audio can be utilised for a range of teaching and learning activities.
Microphone on a desk / Gavin Brockis for JISC Digital Media
The use of audio is well established in education and has been used for decades. From the humble audio cassettes of the 1970s, to accompanying nearly all video recordings, audio has a long history as a teaching and learning aid. Audio as a format has great breadth and depth which means there is great potential for its use in education.
Audio...demonstrated a capacity to facilitate authentic engagement, allowing students to connect in various ways to the outside world, both as listeners and publishers. The ease and speed with which digital audio can be deployed was used to support timely interventions and in some cases promoted information currency and responsiveness."
The diversity of activity that takes advantage of audio hasn't changed much in many years. However in recent years there has been new exploration into 'digital' uses for audio, which were anticipating taking advantage of the potential that is unique to digital audio.
The majority of uses for digital audio, to date, have been replicating traditional activities ( e.g. recordings of lectures), yet this digital medium has the potential to offer much more. As use of digital learning technologies continues to grow around infrastructure (e.g. the virtual learning environment) and as teaching and learning pedagogy evolves within 'uniquely' digital contexts, we have begun to see new methods for using digital audio recordings within teaching and learning.
The widespread popularity of audio is due, in the main, to its ubiquity in our culture and ease of use both from a listener's perspective and more recently in the creation of audio. The tools have gotten easier to use and better documentation has lowered the entry barrier. Furthermore, affordable recording devices are readily available, particularly with most mobile phones now able to record audio to an acceptable standard, giving the majority of people the means to create and use audio.
Some examples of using audio in education
Audio is a flexible medium which means that there are many applications within an educational context. The examples of audio uses below show that audio can be used both directly for teaching, e.g. an activity is formed around an audio resource, or as incidental activity where audio plays a minor role:
- Providing student feedback using a voice recording that is sent to the learner either to supplement written feedback or as a replacement. An example is the ‘Sounds Good: Quicker, better assessment using audio feedback’.
- Student generated recordings which may be used as part of a learner activity or to record evidence.
- Interviews with subject matter experts which can be listened to and used as primary sources of information or smaller and incidental uses. The Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice at the University of Nottingham has made a selection of their recordings publicly available.
- Public lectures are enjoyed live and face to face. The recordings can be repurposed for teaching material and used for different contexts and subjects. The University of Oxford has been making many of their lectures publicly available.
- Live online discussions can be conducted via audio tools and platforms between two or more people and this facility is frequently used for distance learning.
- Audio source materials from the past and present which can be used as part of a teaching activity. Oral history materials for example may be used by students to get a rich description of a past event.
As a demonstration of the ability for audio to play a significant role in education, Diana Laurillard lays out a scenario around live online discussion centred around audio as a vehicle for activity:
Pedagogical uses for audio
In order for students to benefit significantly from the provision and creation of audio resources, they should be at the heart of the pedagogical design.
An example of a common audio tool ‘feature’ that supports a pedagogical use, is timeline based comments. Many online audio players allow comments to be tagged along the timeline so that the listener can skip to parts that the lecturer suggests. This commentator could be the teacher or fellow group members.
Professor Tony Bates, an expert in distance education, provides examples of contextual uses for audio such as ‘to bring students primary audio resource material, recordings of naturally occurring events, e.g. political speeches, to present, analyse or critique complex arguments’, see 'Pedagogical roles for audio in online learning'.
Once you have chosen a teaching and learning context you can combine it with any one or more of the following pedagogical applications:
- To define teaching activity (typically task driven)
- To support learning through acquisition “what learners are doing when they are listening to a lecture or podcast”, Laurillard (2012) Teaching as a Design Science. Routledge p105
- As a basis for an argument
- To support learning through discussion – which are recorded for evidence
- To support assessment through media enhanced feedback
- Audio submitted student evidence - e.g. proof of collaboration
- To summarise previous teaching
- To enable students through repetition and practice to master certain skills or techniques
- To make recordings of naturally occurring events, e.g. political speeches
- To represent concepts and ideas
- To update the course when the knowledge base changes
- To facilitate discussion for distance learners, collaborative learning
- For language teaching helping to develop listening and speaking skills
Many people prefer to find and re-use audio materials rather than create their own. There are many guides that are available for you to discover suitable audio resources and we have a number of helpful resources to get you started.
- JISC Digital Media finding section - collection of our guides about 'finding' materials
- JISC finding video, audio and images online - how to find materials including links to digital collections and some helpful guidance
Creating basic audio recordings is relatively easy to get to grips with. Our creating section encompasses many of the popular areas of audio creation that will help you create your own materials.
- Creating an Audio Podcast
- Free Online Audio Editors
- Audio Feedback - A How-To Guide
- Recording Audio Voiceovers for Teaching and Learning Materials
- Basic Audio Editing
If you can't locate what you are looking for then get in touch with us using our helpdesk service.
For audio to make a lasting impact, an institutional approach to the use of audio may be a helpful consideration. We are seeing more institutions specifically include digital media as part of their teaching and learning strategies. Often relatively small investments, such as kitting out all teaching spaces with speakers to allow multimedia are commonplace and providing access to centrally available audio kit for portable recording and playback with staff development to improve audio uptake and appropriate utilisation.
Length of a recording
JISC Digital Media is regularly asked how long an audio recording should be in order to support teaching and learning. The answer is that recordings should be as short and concise as possible.
An interview recording would typically be the full length of the session rather than only part of the recording as the context dictates that an interview is provided in its entirety. It is the job of the interviewer to shape the direction and depth of the questions and answers.
Is the recording of the full one hour lecture useful in its entirety within the context of supporting revision? Salmon and Edirisingha found that ‘In short, the shorter podcasts help students to engage more often and less formally – just how they listen to their music…’ (Podcasting for Learning in Universities, Open University Press, p164).
To make the recording as useful to as wide an audience as possible you may wish to provide the full recording to cover all potential uses and an abridged version that may be helpful as a revision aid for example. Tools that facilitate ease of playback and the addition of comments may be particularly useful for students who prefer to listen carefully in small chunks, using the comments as a guide.
Use and Re-use of audio recordings
Once an audio recording is ready you will need to make it available for distribution to the students. Typically you will either make the recordings downloadable to the student’s device or embedded within your chosen online platform such as a VLE or blog. There is no definitive view on which method is better so it may be helpful to make it available for download and embedded so that the student can immediately make use of the asset by either method:
- Podcasts allow students to ‘subscribe’ to your audio recordings which will either notify them of new recordings or automatically download them to their chosen audio player
- Virtual Learning Environments (VLE’s) are commonly used to give students access to audio recordings. Depending on how the VLE is setup the students will be able to listen to the audio directly within the VLE or download the recordings. It is possible to setup podcasts within the VLE.
- Third party hosting providers are a popular option for sharing audio. Services such as audio boo and iTunes allow you to share audio to public and sometimes private groups.
- Websites are another option, either personally hosted or using third party services such as Wordpress, a free blog tool. These tools often provide plug-ins that allow you to setup podcast services or play audio within the website.
- Social tools are starting to be used such as Google Plus for live group audio and video sessions.
You should also make the recordings as easy for the student to find as possible which will mean appropriately ‘tagging’ the recording with keywords. For small projects choosing file names should also be human readable for the end user, yr1-module-unique-ID is often better than random numbers or generic names such as file1. At this point you may also wish to include information such as the creator, institution, and copyright holder information. Our guide ‘Metadata and audio resources’ covers the topic in detail.
Popular tools that are well established for audio in education include:
- Communication tools such as Skype allow live online chats (and video if you choose). Frequently used between students due to its cost advantage over other telephony options but some teaching staff commonly use Skype for one-to-one sessions or live seminars.
- Using mobile devices to listen to audio and to record audio which can then be used for a wide-range of activity such as recording student group meetings as supporting evidence.
Once you have produced the final assets you should consider keeping them safe for later re-use (if appropriate). If possible you should retain all of the objects used in the production, as this will enable you to update final assets in the future. A common problem is that people discard key files and are unable to update assets, retaining the master files and objects will remove this problem.
JISC Digital Media
Copyright Term in Sound Recordings to be Extended
This article examines the potential impact on HE and FE institutions of the EU Directive that extends the term of protection for performers and sound recordings to 70 years which was adopted on 12 September 2011.
A 10 step model developed by the University of Leicester IMPALA project, is a guide for developing Podcasting for learning in Higher Education.
Available at and in full in: Salmon and Edirisingha (2008) Developing pedagogical podcasts in Podcasting for Learning in Universities. Open University Press p153
Media Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group (MEL SIG)
A special interest group for the use of digital media, particularly audio and video in education.
Podcasts have become an accepted one-way channel of communication between teacher and student within higher education. Academics continue to explore how they can be used to enhance student learning experiences. This paper presents the findings from an empirical study that sought to evaluate students’ perceptions of the potential of podcasts to deliver formative feedback and the impact on their learning experience. The research identifies that most students perceive that podcasts have a positive impact on their academic performance when used in this manner. As such, podcasts can be an efficient way to provide formative feedback. However, not all students have the same perception of podcasts and some experience difficulties when using them. The paper identifies four key considerations for academics when using podcasts for academic purposes.
Beyond podcasting: creative approaches to designing educational audio. Middleton, A (2009)
This paper discusses a university-wide pilot designed to encourage academics to creatively explore learner-centred applications for digital audio.
This free site from the University of Oxford features public lectures, teaching material, interviews with leading academics,
IMPALA: Informal Mobile Podcasting and Learning Adaption
Presentation by Professor John Fothergill about how he incorporated Podcasts and E-tivities into an e-learning course for an engineering audience.
The effectiveness of educational podcasts for teaching music and visual arts in higher education, Cheung On Tam
This paper reports on a study that investigated the effectiveness of using podcasts to learn music and visual arts in a teacher-education institution.
The use of podcasts to enhance research-teaching linkages in undergraduate nursing students.
An evaluation of a introduction to podcasts in a nursing research module. The purpose of this paper is to present an evaluation of the introduction of podcasts in an undergraduate research module to enhance research-teaching linkages between the theoretical content and research in practice and improve the level of student support offered in a blended learning environment.
Audio Feedback for the iPod Generation, Anne Nortcliffe
Faculty of Arts, Computing, Science and Engineering, Sheffield Hallam University,
This paper compares a study of using audio for providing students with feedback versus traditional written feedback and includes students’ reflections.
Audio Feedback: timely media interventions
Andrew Middleton, Sheffield Hallam University
Findings from a study that introduces 5 models for introducing audio feedback.