It is a common practice to use characters/avatars in E-learning courses. But how do we evaluate the effectiveness of this strategy? Can these characters substitute a classroom instructor? Here are four points to consider for making sure that our E-learning characters make more sense than ever in the learning programs.

1. Ask yourself, do we really need a character?


The first thing to do is ask yourself, does your course really need a character? If yes, why? Is it because your client says so? Or is it because your boss newly purchased an authoring tool that comes with free characters to use? If your reason is one of these, I recommend you give it a second thought. As a learning/instructional designer, every add-on you make to the content should have a purpose and that purpose should be linked to the effectiveness of the program.

Before using a character in your course, ask yourself Why? List down the reasons you come up with and make it a part of the discussion during the brain storming session with your team and then check if it is justified to use one.

Trust me, it is a well spent time. You don’t want your learners to dislike the course just because of the character that’s covering one-third of the screen but doesn’t add any real value to the learning. I speak from my experiences here. I’ve committed some bad E-learning crimes and so had a chance to hear the learners out.

For example:

Characters are relevant if you know that your learners have been attending classroom sessions for a very long time and are new to E-learning. You don’t want to completely take away their comfort level with a classroom training and so you’ll have to use a character which represents the facilitator. This doesn’t overwhelm the learners and makes the transformation easier.

2. Decide on his role. Mentor or an Assistant?

You’re employing a character for your course. Don’t you want to decide his roles and responsibilities? Characters are used for several purposes but can be categorized broadly in to 2 types, the guide or the assistant.


A Mentor is similar to an instructor in a classroom session. He brings an emotional connect in to the digital learning program. It is no secret that everybody wants to learn from an expert. So when you pick a mentor for your course, make sure you give him a right designation. For example, if you are talking about new hire training, you could use the HR as a mentor or if you are developing a course for the sales reps, a sales supervisor or their immediate manager could be used as the mentor. Make sure you introduce the mentor and his designation right in the beginning to the learners so that they could see the connection and take him seriously (At the end of the day, we are talking about a virtual character here).


An Assistant on the other side, is an avatar used to guide the learner through the course. He is more of a mentor than an expert. He will be helping the learner navigate through the course smoothly and communicates with him in times. Here are some of his duties:

  • He welcomes the learner to the course and provides him an overview of the course
  • He will help the learner understand how to use course controls and inform him what is the criteria to successfully complete the course
  • He will communicate the feedback on learner’s actions in the course. For example, during the assessments he will inform the learner if he is writing or wrong and guide him to the right path

If you are using an assistant as an avatar in your course, you need not make him look like an actual character. In fact, fictitious characters make great assistants.

main-qimg-930a03fd33ce687efc97da61aa98cc7c-cRemember this guy from the 90s? He was the office assistant ‘Clippy’. He used to help the users of Microsoft Office on how to go about with the software.You could pick an assistant for your course depending on your subject and your target audience. For example, if we are talking about training sales reps, we could personify a clock or a calendar to be the assistant. Since the reps are usually connected to sales targets that are time bound, it works great.

3. Looks do matter


The appearance of the character is an important factor to attract learner’s seriousness towards him. Especially, if we are using a mentor in our course, it is very important to do our research before creating one. We are not talking about the realism here but your character should possess a few traits to look authentic. To start with, you can begin your research on thinking “if this was a classroom session, who would be the mentor and how does he look?” You can even go ahead and collect a few photographs of such people from your client and recreate them. It doesn’t matter if the folds on the blazer are neatly detailed are not, but the expression on the face and the overall attire needs to be convincing.

4. Do not hire a character if you cannot pay him a suitable voice-over


I’ve recently taken a course where a character of a young lady is used (probably the one that comes with the authoring tool with default poses). It took me by surprise when I heard the audio playing. The voice-over sounded very serious and machine like while the character on-screen is with all smiles. Trust me, this pisses the learner off.

It is very important to select a suitable voice-over for your character. Therefore, it is recommended to use a character only if you can afford a suitable voice over for it. If we are talking about a mentor here, the voice needs to be authoritative and authentic.  You can’t have a middle-aged man on-screen with the voice of a freshman or a young adult. The voice of the mentor needs to be gentle and a little serious similar to a classroom trainer. A few voice modulations here and there to engage the learners wouldn’t hurt, but the seriousness needs to be maintained.

While on the other hand, assistants need to have voice over that is very friendly. It can also be a little informal to create a bonding with the learner. The voice needs to be more expressive since assistants are used to communicate with the learner. For example, if the assistant can put up an excited tone while giving the feedback to the learner on performing well in the assessments.


thank-you-515514_1280There are some more points you need to keep in mind such as the frequency of appearance (you may not always be able to allocate 1/3rd of the screen for a digital guy), building a story for the character (which is required sometimes to blend him in). How do you go about using characters in your courses? Do your learners recognize the value the character brings in?

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“Thanks for reading! “