eLearning TrendWatch: Characters and Avatars

Learning professionals are always looking for ways to jazz up their eLearning and other corporate training content, and making good use of characters and avatars is a great way to do that. This article will cover some of the basics as well as latest developments in eLearning trends for leveraging characters and avatars into learning content for greater impact and personalization.

eLearning TrendWatch: Characters and AvatarsGamification has already become a proven tactic for increasing the engagement of learners with your content, and making use of characters and avatars is traditionally seen as an aspect of gamification. There are at least six different ways to use characters in your eLearning efforts, including the following:

  1. Avatar: This kind of character in eLearning acts as a companion guide through the content.
  2. Presenter: A presenting character is made to look like they are sharing information with the learner.
  3. Conversation: Two or more characters talk to each other, thereby imparting the content.
  4. Scenario: Character interactions create a scenario in which the learner chooses among options, afterwards receiving custom feedback based on the choice made.
  5. Storytelling: More elaborate than a scenario, with content embedded in the story.
  6. First Person: Screens seen through the eyes of a character.

One of the most important things to keep in mind with characters is diversity, and by that I mean lots of different poses, angles, facial expressions, and so on. Because you’re often super-imposing the character onto screen content, you want to be sure there is never any background at all in your character images. You’ll want to create your own custom characters, but in the meantime you can experiment using different sources of characters. Many authoring tools such as Adobe Captivate and Articulate include stock characters available to you from within the software. You can also visit eLearning Art’s free images page. The best overall format for character images is the .ping format.

Using avatars has become pretty common in eLearning. They basically “speak” directly to the learner to guide them through a course or module. Although some people only use the avatar at the beginning and end of a course, it makes more sense to have the character pop in and out throughout the course. You might have the avatar ask quiz questions and provide the feedback, provide pop-up tips, and so on. Keep in mind that if your avatar is conveying important information, you want to keep the backgrounds simple so they don’t detract from the information.

When characters are used as presenters, you have all kinds of flexibility to take this in whatever direction feels right for your content, such as a television talk show setting, a teacher at a chalkboard, and HR trainer with a clipboard, and so forth. Characters as presenters layer in an additional vehicle through which the information is conveyed (board, TV, clipboard, etc.). It’s a little more complex because you have to manipulate both the character and the item selected to convey the content, but the effort is worth it.

Once you’ve mastered using characters as avatars and presenters, then you’ll be ready to go to a much more advanced level by incorporating multiple characters in conversations, scenarios, and full-blown stories that help get your content across to learners. Again, the complexity involved here takes real time and effort to execute, but you’ll be ratcheting up your learners’ engagement with your content by several levels as well.

There are lots of different ways to come up with your character images. If you’re artistically gifted, feel free to just draw or sketch what you need. There are also lots of ways to pull characters out of stock images, manipulate clip art, modify authoring tool characters, learning how to create illustrations in PowerPoint (not as hard as you might think), and many other methods for finding and creating your characters, especially if you don’t have the resources to just buy everything you need.

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