Interactive online characters are also known as avatars, actors, learning agents, pedagogical characters, or pedagogical agents. But whatever you call them, can they actually help make your e-Learning course more effective?
Advantages of Using Characters
Studies find that we tend to subconsciously interact with computers as if they were people. After all, our brains are set up to interact with other humans, not with 21st-century technology. Interactive characters take advantage of this fact, and make the user's "social interactions" with the computer more familiar, comfortable, and successful.
Characters can give you control over the "social performance" and "social intelligence" of the program you have developed. Byron Reeves of Stanford University explains that this social intelligence:
- 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 adds that characters can show social intelligence by expressing appropriate emotions with facial expressions, responding to feedback from your learners, referring back to previous conversations, and even apologizing when problems arise. A character can have a consistent personality that matches the course's theme and goals. Characters that are always available if the user clicks in the same place can be a reassuring presence. An animated character will also never get tired, have a bad day, or be unavailable!
Roles for Characters
You can also give the character you create a social role. Learning Solutions Magazine online reports on three common roles for characters to play that have been found effective in e-learning courses:
Expert Instructor - A character who looks, dresses, and is introduced as a trusted authority on the subject, such as a teacher, doctor, or manager. The effective instructor character interacts conversationally with the user and gives feedback when the user answers questions.
Peer Coach - A character who is in the same situation as the user and who teaches them the material. This is the most popular role for a character, because it creates an immediate connection between the character and the user.
Co-Learner - A character who is taking the course along with the user. Studies found that any co-learner helped students, but that one who interacted with the user increased the user's performance on multiple choice tests by as much as seven points.
How to Start Creating Characters
iSpring Suite comes with a built-in character library. You can find photographic images of male and female characters of different ages, backgrounds, and costumes, and each one is available in many different poses. Even more characters can be downloaded from our partner’s website. You can also use the special character wizard to create your own character from any image you upload, or build your own image library by adding images you use regularly.
Dalton, Audrey, and Brian Friedlander. “Animated Characters in e-Learning: The Benefits and Social Roles.” Learning Solutions Magazine. The eLearning Guild. 2010.
Reeves, Byron. The Benefits of Interactive Online Characters. The Center for the Study of Language and Information. Stanford University. 2004.