4 Tips for Using Characters in eLearning

I’ll be honest; I haven’t always been the biggest fan of using characters in eLearning. I used to think of them as meaningless and cheesy. Whether you love them or hate them, characters have been used in eLearning 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 eLearning had nothing to do with the characters themselves—it was about how they were used.

characters in eLearning

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

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

Incorporate them into the story.

One of the easiest ways to use characters in eLearning 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 eLearning content is learner engagement. How do you create content that draws your learners in and holds their attention?

characters in eLearning

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.

Use different poses and facial expressions.

Even after incorporating characters into your eLearning 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 eLearning

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 eLearning 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 eLearning

Let the learner select a character.

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

characters in eLearning

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 or courses that incorporate gamification.

Using characters in eLearning 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 eLearning? Share your tips by commenting below.

This post was originally published on elearninguncovered.com.

Tim Slade
Tim Slade is a speaker, author, and award-winning eLearning designer. Having spent the last decade working to help others elevate their eLearning and visual communications content, Tim has been recognized and awarded within the eLearning industry multiple times for his creative and innovative design aesthetics. Tim is a regular speaker at international eLearning conferences, is a recognized Articulate Super Hero, co-author of the popular E-Learning Uncovered book series, and author of the The eLearning Designer’s Handbook.

3 Responses to “4 Tips for Using Characters in eLearning

  • Roger Whitacre
    2 years ago

    We recently completed a project where we developed four online courses and three instructor-led classes. This was for a new procurement system that impacted many employees: requesters, approvers, buyers, and others. Each role represented in each course had a character that was used throughout all of the courses. By the time employees got to the ILT, they knew each character by role and name. This greatly enhanced the students’ learning because each one identified with a character and its role & responsibilities. For the practice exercises in class, each login name had the same first name as the role’s character (and all different last names). As the requests moved through each status (pending approval, approved, etc.), it made it easier to identify who was responsible for the next step in the process. Not only did this make for a good level of learning retention, but we also got a lot of positive feedback that it made the learning more interesting and fun – especially for the online courses.

    • Thanks for sharing, Roger! I think that’s a perfect example of using characters with a purpose! Love it!

  • I hadn’t thought of it, but I don’t think I’ve ever used the drawn characters… A bit too much like clip art. I do use the “real people” graphics, as there are so many poses per person, you can generally find something workable…

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