I’ve downloaded two albums* in recent months that have been marred by poor production. Both albums have songs that run too hot; when I listen to them on headphones, at the loudest parts of the songs I hear a faint static-y noise.
I was sure something was wrong with the audio system on my phone until I brought the mp3s into Audacity and saw the waveforms.
The plateau at the top shows where the waveforms were looped off, distorting them. It’s possible I may have never noticed on regular speakers, but on headphones it is obvious.
What’s worse is that it doesn’t just wreck that tiny second of audio; once I know it’s there I can’t help but listen for it, anticipating it, so I go from enjoying the music (or even ignoring the music if I’m working on something else) to being annoyed at the lack of attention to detail.
The message here for instructional designers is that production details matter. Learners who are distracted by a lack of attention to detail are no longer in the right frame of mind for learning.
That doesn’t mean your instructional materials need to be completely slick. I think learners appreciate a certain folksiness or hand crafted quality to instructional materials (and, potentially, resent gratuitous overproduction), as long as the instructionally important details are taken care of. Errors in case studies, media that doesn’t play correctly, and so forth only make it look like you didn’t care enough to spend the time to do it right. And if you don’t care about the class, why should they?
*Liam Noble Trio’s Brubeck and, especially tragically, Sara Gazarek’s Yours. On a bright note, Google is offering a free live Dave Matthews album for download that sounds great. It’s my first Matthews album and I’m really enjoying it.