Adding characters to your e-learning courses is an easy way to provide a “human touch” that draws learners in. Characters are often used as avatars or guides who walk you through the e-learning module, explaining things along the way and pointing out important information. E-learning designers also use characters to act out scenarios, like a customer service interaction between an employee and a customer.

When the time comes to select characters for your content, it’s important to make a thoughtful decision so your learners will find the characters—and therefore the content—relatable. But narrowing down the options can sometimes feel overwhelming. If you’ve got Articulate 360, you have access to hundreds of photographic and illustrated characters—each with 100+ poses—in Content Library 360. How do you decide which of those to use in your course? Should you go with a male or a female character? Is an illustrated or photographic style more appropriate? Should they be wearing casual or formal clothes? In this article, we’ll walk you through how to make those decisions.

Complete an Audience Analysis

If you use an instructional design approach for creating your e-learning content, it’s likely you’ve already asked your stakeholders questions about the learners during your audience analysis. Good news! You can also use that information to help you select the right characters for your courses.

If you haven’t done an audience analysis, here are some questions you might want to ask about your learners before selecting your characters:

  • Are they mostly male, female, or a good mix of both?
  • What’s the average age?
  • What’s the breakdown of their cultural backgrounds?
  • Do they wear a uniform or follow a workplace dress code?

Having the answers to these questions will help you choose characters that are more meaningful and relatable to your learner.

For example, let’s say you’re building an e-learning module for a retail store that sells trendy clothing for young women, and the average learner is a sixteen- to twenty-five-year-old female. Which of the two characters below do you think it would make more sense to use?


You picked the young woman on the left, didn’t you? It wouldn’t make sense to use an older male character wearing a business suit in a course for a team made up primarily of young women in the retail industry. However, if you were building a leadership skills course for a male-dominated team of senior lawyers in a global firm, the fifty-year-old character in a suit would probably be a better choice.

Talk to Your SMEs & Stakeholders

When building e-learning courses, you sometimes have to incorporate characters that represent people other than your target learners. For example, let’s say you’re building an e-learning module with a scenario between an employee and a customer. In this case, how do you select a character to represent a customer that feels realistic and authentic to learners? Your best bet is to talk with your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). They’re the experts for a reason, and should be able to give you a detailed profile on the typical customer.

The questions you should ask them are similar to the ones you asked about your learners during your audience analysis. For example:

  • Is the average customer mostly male, female, or a good mix of both?
  • What’s the average age of your customers?
  • Does the average customer have any important characteristics or traits?

Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list—you might have some subject-specific questions to ask your SME that will help you choose a meaningful and relevant character for your course.

Your stakeholders might also have strong opinions on this matter, so it can be a good idea to survey them up front or present them with a variety of characters and ask for their feedback. Stakeholders sometimes hold strong opinions about what characters should be wearing or not wearing, so it’s a good idea to run that by them to avoid issues down the road. It can be a major time-sink to replace a character on every slide because the goggles or name tag look wrong.

Consider the Subject Matter

The nature of the course content will help you decide which characters work best, as well as whether you should choose illustrated or photographic characters. For example, illustrated characters might work well for fun, playful, and whimsical content, while photographic characters might be more appropriate for a more serious and formal topic. Always consider the subject matter and tone when making your character selections.

Take Color Schemes into Account

Another thing to consider when you’re choosing your characters: how will this character’s clothing and accessories look with your slide backgrounds and course color scheme? If you’re working with rigid branding guidelines and characters in uniform, you might not have a whole lot of choice in the matter.

In many cases, however, you have more freedom to choose the characters you want for your content. In that case, consider choosing a character whose clothing and accessories match—or at least don’t clash with—your course’s color scheme. A character that complements the rest of your course will make a more aesthetically pleasing and cohesive end product. Take a look at the image below, for example:

See how nice it looks when the nurse’s scrubs perfectly match the blue accent color of the course? Now let’s take a look at that same slide with another character.

While the color of this character’s scrubs doesn’t totally clash with the course colors, it doesn’t complement it as well as the color of the other character’s scrubs did. See how much of a difference it makes to the overall course aesthetic when you choose a character whose clothing complements your color scheme?

Let the Learner Choose

Instead of deciding which characters will resonate with your learners, why not let them choose? If you’re using an authoring tool like Storyline 360, you can easily allow learners to choose a character when the course or scenario starts, like in the example below. 

This way, you can personalize the experience for each individual learner. Like this idea? You’re in luck! Hop on over to the downloads hub to grab this template and use it in your course: Storyline 360: Choose an Avatar.

The Bottom Line

Choosing characters that your learner can relate to can have a big impact on the learning experience, so it’s not a decision that you should take lightly. Following these five tips should help you make the right call about which characters to include in your upcoming courses. 

Looking for more tips on using characters in your e-learning courses? Check out these inspiring resources:

Do you have any tips of your own that you follow or take into consideration? Any favorite characters you love to use? Let me know in the comments below.

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Jason Fletcher
Jason Fletcher