When it comes to audio in eLearning, my experience strongly suggests that adding voiceover audio to your project enhances the learner experience. Does this mean that you need to hire professional voiceover talent? Absolutely not. If you’ve got the budget, hiring professional talent is the best way to go. However, home-grown audio featuring you as the voiceover talent works great. I know, I know, you hate your voice. Most of us do! (Yikes, I mean we hate the sound of our own voice, not yours.) Rest-assured that your voice is far better than you think and, it’s perfectly appropriate for eLearning. Nevertheless, there are times when you simply don’t want to use your own voice, and you cannot afford to hire professional talent. In these instances, Text-to-Speech (TTS) is a wonder.
Some of the top eLearning development tools include TTS for free. But what if you don’t like the free voice choices or quality that come with your eLearning tools? Worse, what if your eLearning tool doesn’t include TTS at all? The good news is you can search the web and find vendors that create TTS. The price ranges from free to expensive. One of the best tools I’ve found is provided by Amazon: Polly.
Once you click the Get started with Amazon Polly button, you’ll need to either sign into your Amazon Web Services (AWS) portal or create a new account. Once logged into your AWS account, you'll find Amazon Polly grouped with Machine Learning.
Using Amazon Polly is as simple as typing your text, selecting a language, picking a voice, listening to the results and, if satisfied, downloading the file as an MP3. In this example, I wanted to see how well Polly handled a tongue-twister so I typed out a portion of the famous Peter Piper tongue-twister most of us learned as children. Then I selected Matthew as my voice.
I listened to the audio and it sounded great (far better than I was expecting and, in my opinion, better than the Speech Agents that are included with Adobe Captivate and NeoSpeech).
The ultimate test was adding the voice to my eLearning tool so I tested Adobe Captivate and TechSmith Camtasia. The results? A+ for both. What about Articulate Storyline? A+++++ Why? While Adobe Captivate ships with NeoSpeech for its TTS (and the voice quality is okay), Storyline’s TTS feature uses Polly and it’s built-in. You will need to have internet access to use Polly in Storyline but you won’t have to login to the AWS site (a great time-saver).
Polly is great and I'd suggest giving the service a try. As mentioned, Polly is included for free with Storyline. But if your want to use Polly with Captivate or Camtasia (or with other tools like Presenter), here's a pricing chart you might find useful. (Note that thanks to the Free tier, you can create a signficant amount of TTS without having to pull out your credit card.)
If you'd like to hear how awesome Polly does with TTS, here's a short video clip for your listening pleasure.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on Polly and TTS in general. Good? Bad? Which tools/vendors have you found that work the best? Please post your comments below.
Kevin Siegel, CTT, COTP, is the founder and president of IconLogic. Following a career in Public Affairs with the U.S. Coast Guard and in private industry, Kevin has spent decades as a technical communicator, classroom and online trainer, public speaker, and has written hundreds of computer training books for adult learners. He has been recognized by Adobe as one of the top trainers world-wide.