This article was inspired by a presentation given by Jeff Goldman at the DevLearn Conference. Jeff’s presentation, titled Adding More Character to Your eLearning, featured his creative approach and personal experiences with using varied characters and stories in eLearning courses.
Benefits of Characters
Jeff demonstrates how compelling characters can add value to a course. When characters are engaging, they may help learners feel emotionally connected to the content. Also, characters and the stories built around them make learning more appealing, because our brains are wired for stories. Characters can also be interwoven into games and challenges. Jeff demonstrated a course with a detective theme in which learners search for clues and enter secret codes to complete the course.
Other Uses for Characters
If you find that your audience enjoys certain characters, get more mileage out of them by re-using them in job aids and for information dissemination, such as featuring them on a related website. For example, characters used in a new hire orientation course can also point out important policies on the company Intranet or provide tips to new employees.
Another idea Jeff presented is to use eLearning characters in an internal marketing campaign to announce the release of a new course. When presented as part of a challenge or as a teaser for a story, these characters may create buzz and improve motivation.
Try Out a Character Chart
If you want to dive in to story development, Jeff recommends that eLearning designers create detailed profiles of the characters they plan to use. This is similar to the process used by fiction authors prior to writing a story. Jeff has developed a Character Chart for download on his website that you can use for this purpose. See a sample of the chart below.
Advantages of Building the Profile
You can probably imagine the benefits of building out your characters ahead of time. First, you can rely on the profiles as you script the course, freeing some mental space for writing the story rather than having to remember the details about the people or creatures in your courses.
Second, developing a character profile ensures you will use characters in a consistent way throughout a story or scenario. It’s important that a character experiences consistent challenges and has a consistent personality. If you’re working with a team, it’s a good way to keep things straight among the writers.
Third, if you juggle multiple projects, a character chart can help you hit the ground running when you return to the storyboard or script. And finally, you can build a collection of characters that recur in course sequels or to re-use with different clients and audiences. It will become your personal character portfolio. They may even become your best friends.
What to Add to the Character Chart
According to the chart, you can add demographic information, how the character speaks and gestures, the character’s appearance and style of dress, and his or her work relationships and wider network. Unlike the charts that fiction authors use, the chart also provides a space for adding the Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSAs) that the character will be able to present.
Types of Characters
Every story needs a protagonist. This is the central character who is faced with a conflict that must be resolved. The antagonist, on the other hand, presents the challenges that the protagonist must overcome. Depending on how you develop your story, a central character may be all that is needed.
Some characters that Jeff has used in eLearning include:
- Novice who asks lots of questions and the all-knowing mentor
- Detective who must report back to supervisor (Jeff used a Mission Impossible theme for this)
- Superhero with a smart sidekick who solves problems but the superhero gets the glory
- Robot or machine (if you must use text-to-speech software)
Some additional character ideas that might spur your imagination:
- Person who lacks confidence and gains it through increased knowledge
- Hero who sacrifices in order to gain something (perhaps a super power)
- Weak character who continually makes the same sorts of mistakes
- Absent-minded scientist or professor who needs reminders
- Evil twin who wreaks havoc
- Science fiction characters who have super intelligence
- Difficult boss or coworkers
Where to Purchase Characters
You can draw or photograph your own characters or purchase royalty free stock eLearning characters from the sites listed below.
- The eLearning Brothers: Collection of photo and illustrated cutout characters.
- eLearning Art: Collection of photo and illustrated cutout characters for a variety of careers (get an extra month with your subscription by mentioning “The eLearning Coach” in your form.
- eLearning Stock: Photo and illustrated character sets.
- Nuggethead Studioz: Great collection of illustrated character sets by Kevin Thorn. Kevin also does custom illustrations.
- DIY eLearning: Illustrated character sets.
- Presenter People: Collection of illustrated characters.
- Character Chart for eLearning by Jeff Goldman
- eLearning Cyclops (Jeff’s blog)
- Stock Characters List in Wikipedia
- How to Write Compelling Stories
- Why You Need Scenario-based eLearning
- Creating a Comic Style for Learning
- Why You Need to Use Storytelling for eLearning
How do you use characters in eLearning? Comment below.
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