Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Characters in eLearning

I read this interesting post on Have you thought of Character Driven Stories for Your eLearning? by Rupa (@ruparajgo). I was tempted to blog about it myself (thanks for the inspiration, Rupa).

What role can a character(s) play in your eLearning porgram?

1. Expert: This is probably the most common use of a character in eLearning.
Type 1: This type takes you through the course and is a constant feature. You can design an expert who will take the learner through the course. This expert simplifies information or provides useful tips drawing from his experience.

The character takes on the role of a mentor. The character symbolizes wisdom and is always present to see the learner through tough situations. He/she could encourage and motivate the learner through the course.

Type 2: This type "pops up" when necessary. The role could be defined such that he/she makes an entry to challenge, guide, provide useful information, and so on. This character supplements the content when necessary.

2. Peer: The learner is introduced to the world of a peer. We define the environment and then ask the learner to observe the peer in action and help when the peer gets stuck.

Peer is the 'damsel-in-distress' (not necessarily a damsel). The peer depends on the learner to help him/her through a tough situation. The learner has to make the right decisions to get the situation under control.

3. Guide: The guide is a another common character in eLearning. I have seen several online courses that have an animated character on the top left corner that lip syncs the audio (Her eyes follow your cursor. It is a little freaky.) I have never understood the value these characters add to a learning program. They are neither experts, nor peers. They are the host, who accompanies you through the course.

4. Trouble maker: This could be a boss, an expert, a peer, a competitor, or an enemy. This character challenges the learner at specific instances. Their feedback is blunt, even rude at times. They reprimand the learner if he/she goes wrong and grudgingly accept if they get it right.

The relationship is that of power. The character throws a challenge: Let us see how to get past this hurdle. The learner has to make the right choices to save face or 'win'.

Like Rupa mentions, characters make the course more lively. Remember the following when creating a character:
Give them a personality: I love building a persona for the character. Give him a name, a background, prominent traits, and so on. When creating such a character, I think to myself, what impression do I want this character to make on my learners. Do I want my learners to admire him? Do I want them to empathize with the character? Do I want them to respect him?
Ensure Consistency: It is important to ensure that the character is consistent in behavior across the course. You do not want a timid character being very bold in another scenario. The learner will get confused.
Weave the storyline well: The storyline must blend in well with your theme. Do not introduce characters in an abrupt fashion. Build a simple storyline. Ensure that the storyline is in sync with the theme. Also, ensure that the storyline will flow smoothly through the complete course. Some become too forced if not thought through.
Do not use characters as decorative elements: Characters must aid to learning and the overall learning experience. These characters are not meant to be eye candies.

Sharing some great resources on this:
Learning Agents Part 1: Why Learning Agents
Learning Agents Part 2: Learning Agents Done Well
Learning Agents Part 3: Done Poorly

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