Advantages of using characters in elearning courses

Nov 15, 2013

Hi guys,

I am the only L&D professional in my organization and I constantly need to educate the business on education. My newest battle is the following:

I know that using characters in elearning certainly increases engagement and in my opinion retention. The business thinks, we should work without any characters at all as it doesn't fit our branding guidelines.

The topics I have to create elearning for are very theory heavy which makes it even more important for me to use characters.

I am looking for some published research or examples of elearning in the financial industry that shows that characters make all the difference. Does anyone have some good tips for me on where to find the above?

Thanks so much,


6 Replies
Kevin Thorn

Hi Bianca,

While I don't have any readily available research to point you to, may I offer a different perspective.

I don't think using characters in elearning is an "all or none" approach. Using characters should be more about subject-driven and if the instructional design calls for a character to be used as a narrator, characters used in a scenario design, storytelling, or characters added as emphasis to a topic. 

I don't consider character usage as "how can I use them in this design" as they are part of the overall visual design and theme of the instruction. Rather, if during the visual design phase of how I want elearning to 'look and feel' calls for character usage, "then" I'll incorporate them.

Design first. Characters later.

Others may have more input and provide the research you're looking for. 

Rebecca Fleisch Cordeiro

Hi Bianca,

Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer have done a lot of research on and developed principles around effective eLearning, one of which is the Personalization Priniciple. Try googling their names with "personalization" or "characters" or "avatar."

Check out this article Six principles of effective elearning by Clark...especially scroll down to the Personalization principle (you may need to click to go to page 2).

Perhaps you can get ahold of the book eLearning and the Science of Instruction by Clark and Mayer. Here's a Barnes and Noble link to the 3rd edition (I THINK it's the most recent, but be sure to check)

 (it's also available in Nook format)

Note the TOC for Chapter 9

9. Applying the Personalization Principle: Use Conversational Style and Virtual Coaches 179
Personalization Principle 1: Use Conversational Rather Than Formal Style 182
Psychological Reasons for the Personalization Principle 183
Evidence for Using Conversational Style 185
Promote Personalization Through Voice Quality 188
Promote Personalization Through Polite Speech 189
Personalization Principle 2: Use Effective On-Screen Coaches to Promote Learning 191
Personalization Principle 3: Make the Author Visible to Promote Learning 197
Psychological Reasons for Using a Visible Author 200
Evidence for the Visible Author 200
What We Don’t Know About Personalization 201

Would love to hear how you make out. Good luck!

Diana Myers

Hi Bianca!  I stumbled upon this thread, and was very curious about the book that Rebecca mentioned.  After a quick search, I found an online article by Ruth Clark in which she briefly discusses the Six Principles of Effective e-Learning.  The entire article is a very good read, but if you go to the 6th principle (page 2) she specifically addresses the use of an "instructional agent" or character in e-Learning.  If used properly, a character can improve learning. 

I hope you find it as interesting and helpful as I did!  Good luck, and let us know if you are able to sway your company.

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