Saturday, May 8, 2010

Is Onscreen Text (OST) A Must For e-learning Courses?

Few months back i was watching the Hindi movie Page 3. I had turned on the subtitles in English as i do not understand Hindi. Most of the time i was busy reading the interesting and important subtitles and missed out on the actor's expressions and nuances. I am planning to see the movie again without subtitles to enjoy the acting in detail! Even though the subtitles or Onscreen Text(OST) helped me in understanding the story or context, it sure distracted me from enjoying the picture to the fullest.

This incident led me to think of Modality Principle. Modality principle says that you should not overload the visual channel simultaneously with different types of information. Sometimes, e-learning courses have an animation running and you have Onscreen Text(OST) supporting the animation. The OST is like a transcript of the audio. In such situations, the learner can ignore OST and focus on animation along with audio. Or the learner is distracted by OST very near or on the animation.

There are four options to deal with OST:
  • The replay and pause buttons are there. So, you can replay the animation or pause the screen to read the OST in detail.
  • The OST can appear after the animation or vice versa. So, the learner need not simultaneously view the animation and OST.
  • You can do away with the OST that is a repetition of audio and include text pointers to important parts of the animation.
  • Or you can include a retractable transparent screen with the OST that can be toggled as shown in the TED video below. The subtitles can be turned ON/OFF.
A funny animation on Photosynthesis without distracting OST:

Click here: An animation with a balance of OST and audio.


  1. i think it's much better to minimize the OST....i believe voice overs are better option.....if done in the local language....... :)

    see if the movie was dubbed in Tamil then i would have been a cakewalk for you.... :)

  2. Yeah Hitesh. Thanks for your observations. That takes us to a different topic - translation and localization :)