When you’re thinking about “avatars” in online training, it has nothing to do with the hit James Cameron movie Avatar, about an organic vessel to inhabit your consciousness on an alien world; instead, it’s about connecting with your online training via a relatable character on screen. Elearning avatars act much more as a personal assistant or course guide, a virtual coach who helps the employee get through their training session.
What is an elearning Avatar?
Simply, it’s a virtual interface personality that can stand in for the course trainer or guide through the information but is generally an “agent” for the course. An avatar is often represented by an image, animation, narrator, or video character that engages the learner and stimulates human activity. In the past, an avatar feature for a program was often a distraction, popping up and asking the user if they needed help in advance while using a program that wasn’t specifically learning. Now, an avatar is ingrained into the training method, often having a human-like quality, adding interest, motivation, and a conversational tone to the training, which in turn makes the employee respond better and learn more easily.
When it’s about improving performance, a custom elearning avatar can often dramatically set the stage for training that does more than simply provide information, taking it into a true behavior change.
For an example of an avatar that assists with employee training engagement, check out “Pinn” in our Trust-Based Communication course demo.
How does an Avatar help with employee training?
When and avatar is added to an online training course, it should be done so with the intent that it gives a human element for the employee to connect with. This is similar to how an instructor, trainer, or mentor interacts with the same person during instructor-led training.
Avatars engage and assist employees in an online training course in a variety of ways, by:
directly speaking, training, and teaching conversationally
guiding them through course material
performing interactions on their behalf
presenting training objective content
providing course tips and monitoring interactive events
asking questions during the training
adding reflective information
helping different employees collaborate on a training topic
In the books The Media Equation (Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass) and E-Learning and the Science of Instruction (Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer), their research has found that people respond better when spoken to in the first and second person rather than more formal language. They have found that a learning agent who brings a conversational tone to a person, engages them to try and better understand their information, and the more human-like they are in personality the more effective the response. The research also included that cartoon and human virtual coaches showed little difference to users, as long as their words were presented via audio instead of just text. Even by voice alone as a narrator the learning results showed better improvement and that multiple avatars worked even better, often with one as a mentor and another as friend.
Adding a Custom Avatar
There are two issues when it comes to utilizing an online training avatar: the know-how to create, animate, sync, and edit the avatar’s interactions and how to guarantee the employee feels comfortable and trusts the avatar to help them through their training. The first problem can be solved by utilizing custom elearning development assistance, while the second means ensuring your instructional design is solid. Without an effective elearning storyboard design, it can be very difficult to utilize an avatar where the employee will learn from their virtual coach and improve their behavior and performance.
Avatars must be relatable to the course material and design; they should be an interactive element that complements the training rather than just a talking distraction. You might have an online training program about leadership where the avatar of former president Abraham Lincoln appears to disperse great tips. This is a great design utilizing a trusted figure but if you just present a small static image of Lincoln with a computerized voice it won’t be as effective as having a design team come up with a high-resolution or animated avatar image with a better matching narration.
Likewise, if your online training course is all about using a technical software program, then it doesn’t make sense to simply insert any talking avatar, even if you want to grab attention, as it won’t fit the material and instruction you are trying to get across. If your avatar is a Mickey Mouse, animated paper-clip, or a rock star, then it just becomes a distraction from the real learning because the instructional design of the media is not efficient. Both competence and trust are lost if your users don’t see the connection between the material and the avatar who’s guiding them through the training. Most people associate an avatar with a person, but if you have a good graphic designer/animator, then the avatar can be anything you want it to be; as long as the user sees the avatar as a trusted agent who belongs to the course, it will help them get through it.
Avatars have moved beyond the gimmicks of marketing like Microsoft’s Clippy, Coke’s Max Headroom, and animated popcorn at the movies, but the engagement and conversational tone of such characters as real agents of learning and behavior change is what’s important to training employees today. By adding a custom avatar to your elearning, you’ll be adding building emotional investment into a cognitive-thinking course, enhancing the material and promoting a recognizable face.