Sometimes when creating a course you may get so overwhelmed about all that awesome information you are going to share that you don’t even bother much about the instructional design. Or, other way around, you already presume that reading the same fire regulations every year most probably won’t be much fun. Whatever the case, there is a way how to enliven a different range of courses: adding an interactive character, or, in other words, an avatar, actor, learning agent, or pedagogical character. You can implement one or more into your course by using photo images, illustrations, audio, or video.
Here are some advantages a character might add to your course:
- Emotional connection
E-learning courses may sometimes be impersonal, and adding a character can help users to feel emotionally connected to the content because much of what people remember from a learning experience are the feelings of the message rather than plenty of small facts. Just remember that simply showing the character’s image is not enough to create the connection. Learners connect more with the course content when the story and its characters are developed effectively. You can also add various characters and let the user choose the one they find the most likeable and can identify with, this way personalizing the course for them. The personalization becomes very important especially when working with global audiences because cultural differences when user is not able to identify with the character, can make the training less efficient.
By adding a character to the course we are also adding a story of a character to the course. It’s essential to use specific instructional and visual design guidelines that define the story of the implemented character. Characters and the stories built around them make learning more appealing, because our brains are wired for stories. When information is transferred through story, it is perceived in a unique way. Stories help us process and remember information, which makes learning more efficient – up to 70% of what we learn is consumed through storytelling.
- Context of data
Many people perceive data as meaningless numbers unless the data is connected to something important in their experience – for example, other people and relationships with them, as people are more attracted to other people than to anything else. That explains why people tend to remember information presented in stories better than information presented as data only. In order to succeed with data perception we recommend to place data in the context of a story.
- Human touch by adding audio
Audio is an important part of creating both – the story and the character. Without the sound characters may not be as appropriate or effective as they could, and the voice is that special detail adding a human touch to the whole course. Sometimes you can even use audio for emphasis without the character being used on the screen so that the user maintains his or her connection with the character and it’s story.
Can a character turn not so good course into a great one? Not really. But it can be very helpful tool to help your user process the provided information, especially for a user who may not be motivated to learn what you wish to teach. (Remember the fire regulations?) If the user is not motivated, the designer needs to add something extra to create the interest. And a character has such power, as the user gets attracted for reasons that have more to do with emotions than with anything else.
At the end I would like you to offer a small brief of learning benefits added by a character, described by Byron Reeves of Stanford University:
- Increases the amount your users learn and remember
- Motivates your users to keep interacting with the program
- Gives your users a sense of continuity between lessons or sessions
- Increases your user’s positive feelings about the course
- Provides your user with a sense of personalized attention
- Increases your user’s trust in the information presented
- Makes your program less intimidating and easier to navigate
Reeves, Byron. The Benefits of Interactive Online Characters. The Center for the Study of Language and Information. Stanford University. 2004.