Four Tips for Using Characters in E-Learning

I’ll be honest, I haven’t always been the biggest fan of using characters in e-learning. I used to think of them as meaningless and cheesy. Whether you love them or hate them, characters have been used in e-learning for many years to tell stories, help create a sense of personality, and bring learning scenarios to life. Over the years, I’ve realized my issues with using characters in e-learning had nothing to do with the characters themselves—it was about how they were used.

Characters in e-learning

Too often, characters are used in an e-learning course as a meaningless embellishment—a graphic to fill space when no other image can be found. This doesn’t make for positive e-learning experiences for your learners.

Does this mean you need to stop using characters in e-learning? Not all! You just need to change the way you use them. Here are four tips for using characters in e-learning:

Incorporate them into the story.

One of the easiest ways to use characters in e-learning isn’t necessarily about how you display them on the screen, but how you incorporate them into the learning content. One of the biggest uphill battles you face when designing effective e-learning content is learner engagement. How do you create content that draws your learners in and holds their attention?

Characters in E-Learning

To accomplish this, try designing your course content around a narrative, story, or scenario. Once you’ve done this, you can then use characters to represent the different players within that story. Rather than your characters being a meaningless graphic, incorporating them into the story makes them part of the learning. It’s also helpful to give your characters names and titles.

Here are some resources to help you incorporate stories and scenarios in your e-learning, as well as a great tool to help you generate names for your characters:

Use different poses and facial expressions.

Even after incorporating characters into your e-learning content using stories or scenarios, you avoid using a character with a single pose and/or facial expression. Once your learners have seen several slides with the same character, the same pose, and the same expression, they’ll quickly disengage with the character altogether.

characters in e-learning

The good news is: this is easy to accomplish. Regardless of where you get your characters, look for characters packs that offer a variety of poses and expressions. Depending on how your story or scenario progresses, consider having your character(s) change and respond to the narrative. For example, in this course I created on Dealing with Angry Customers, notice how the expression of the customer changes depending on how the learner responds to the customer’s concerns. If you make the customer happier or angrier, it’s reflected in her expression.  

Use more than one character.

As important as it is to give variety to the poses and expressions of your characters, it’s also important to have variety in the number of characters you use. Using characters in e-learning helps your learners connect with the content you’re presenting. If you’re telling a story or presenting a scenario, characters can help your learners see themselves in the same situations. However, this only works when the characters are representative of and relatable to your learners.

Accomplish this by using a set of characters that represents a diversity of ages, ethnicities, and genders.

characters in e-learning

Let the learner select a character.

Finally, the ultimate use of characters in e-learning is letting the learner select his or her own character. This lets the learner personalize the e-learning course by giving them the opportunity to select a character or avatar and having it represent them throughout the course.

characters in e-learning

Although this technique can be used in almost any situation where you might want to use characters, letting your learner select a character is best for interactive scenarios (such as the customer service scenario I shared earlier) or courses that incorporate gamification (as demonstrated in this example).

Using characters in e-learning doesn’t have to be boring, meaningless, or cheesy. When used properly, characters can help bring your content to life and help your learners engage and relate to your content like never before.

How do you use characters in e-learning? Share your tips by commenting below.

Tim Slade

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