Multimedia gimmicks were overly (and poorly) used in the early 2000’s in e-learning modules. These gimmicks were often represented by over-excited and childish characters that have nowadays become out-dated. For some of us, they have even symbolized poor and inefficient pedagogy and therefore, we may ask to ourselves, why embed characters, and should they be virtual, or real in e-learning modules?
Why Embed Characters?
In spite of the unsuccessful start of “virtual coaching” in distance learning (we’ve all wanted, at least once, to destroy the Office companion, please, do not deny it ;-)), it is a hard fact that today’s e-learning content features a rapidly increasing number of characters “that look like ourselves.”
One major explanation for the strong interest in embedding virtual characters in e-learning environments is that the newest generations of avatars are not embedded as multimedia gimmicks. They have become the central component in the pedagogical approach. These characters are automated virtual experts and trainers, or characters featuring clients and mascots, or even professionals simulating real-life situations that we guide and control in simulation games.
They rely on professional storyboarding and are produced and animated with advanced production techniques.
It’s dramatically enlightened by the spectacular development of serious games sessions, in which the pedagogy relies mostly on the immersion of the learner in a virtual simulation world inhabited by multiple characters that he has to comprehend and maneuver to successfully validate his training.
Typical Roles for Avatars
In order to ensure a full acceptance of the virtual characters by the trainees, it is very important that each avatar plays a comprehensive role, and that this role is fully understood by the trainees. What roles can be given to avatars in e-learning content? We have identified 4 principal functions / roles for avatars in e-learning modules:
– The presenter
– The expert
– The client
– The trainee
|The Presenter or “Master of Ceremonies”||
The presenter greets the trainee, explains « the rules » and the duration of the training and also paces interaction by providing content in manageable chunks and encouraging the learner.
As opposed to the expert, he does not transfer knowledge to the trainee but rather acts as a professional entertainer.
|Humanizes the module by being the recognizable “face” for voice only content|
The expert speaks occasionally and when needed to explain or impart knowledge. The avatar must be perceived by the trainee as credible in order to get his full attention. The avatar may also provide feedback, evaluations, and explanations about the trainee’s performance after the trainee has completed test modules.
Creates a visual reference for the expert. It is possible to create a group of experts that help the trainee to determine the field of expertise in question.
This avatar is the virtual “third-party” that is designed to interact with the learner to address the trainee with a very concrete problem, in plain language. This role is essential in simulations and serious games as it immediately immerses the trainee in “life-like” situations.
|Makes it possible to design and execute common third-party requests or objections for the purposes of reinforcing learning
This avatar is the virtual representation of the trainee herself in serious game sessions or in e-learning simulation scenes. In the latter of the two, the trainee observes a situation enacted by multiple avatars (e.g. sales professional and customer), so the trainee can direct or orient the actions of the avatar of the professional’s as if she were making them on her own.
|Immerses the trainee in a professional situation where he has to make decisions or take action. Very efficient use of avatars to involve trainees.|
Of course, many additional features in addition to advanced production techniques are key success factors to reinforce the efficiency of avatars in e-learning modules. Among them, let’s mention the choice of their physical appearance (graphical style, looks, age…) or their behaviors and emotions. I’ll go through these aspects in a subsequent post.
And you? What roles do you give avatars in your training modules?
What do you think their benefits and limitations are?
I’d like to hear from you. Speak to you soon!
This post is also available in: FRENCH