From Articulate by Tom Kuhlmann
When designing the visuals for an elearning course there are only so many things that fit on the screen and one of the most important of those things is a character. Here’s why.
E-Learning Characters Initiate Engagement
Adding the right image initiates engagement because it draws the learner’s attention, communicates the general topic, and can generate a visceral reaction. Review the images below. What response do they elicit? What do you think the courses are about? Are they serious? Funny? Do they seem interesting?
Suppose you can only put one image on your screen, what would it be?
Many of the courses I see use bland, corporate branded templates coupled with generic stock images. The imagery is boring and does nothing to engage the initial interest. That can all change when coupling the right characters with good content.
Simple Ways to Use E-Learning Characters
Obviously this is a challenge because most of us aren’t illustrators nor have access to graphic designers who can create custom characters for us. If that’s true for you, here are a few simple solutions:
- Choose characters that map to the context of your course. You may be stuck with generic stock photos, but choose the ones that align to your course content. For example, if you’re creating a medical course, select medically-themed characters. Also, instead of cut-out characters, select a character in a contextual background. Seems obvious, but it’s the first step.
- Select a consistent visual style. You’ll notice in the first image above that the characters range from photographic to illustrated vectors. Find a style that works and use it consistently. If you use photos, select the same type with similar backgrounds. If you use vectors, use the same style. Or flip it. If you always use photos, try illustrations. And you may be able to edit them to meet your specific needs.
- Shoot your own photos. At least two of the images above are not stock photos. Here’s a post with tips when shooting your own stock photos.
- Don’t use humans. Characters can be animals, icons, etc.
- Try some that are more dramatic or in your face images. Humor and drama go a long way to initiate engagement.
- If you need some examples of how people have used characters in elearning courses, check out this weekly elearning challenge.
- These two books discuss characters/avatars in course design. Some people call them pedagogical agents. Those are the people I tend to avoid. In either case, these two books discuss how they may add value to your courses: E-Learning and the Science of Instruction and The Gamification of Learning and Instruction.
Characters add context. Medical characters say it’s a medical course. People in suits suggest something more corporate. Someone dressed as a clown probably means executive training. See how that works? Adding the right character is a step in the right direction for your visual design.
Step away from bland, generic templates. Find ways to add characters to your screens. It’s one of the easiest ways to engage your learners visually.