Corporate Training & e-Learning Blog

Tuesday

Avatars in Learning

Immersive learning is one of the most effective learning techniques, and animated characters (called avatars) help to create an engaging, immersive learning environment. Avatars are computer depictions of humans and range from cartoonish characters to photo-realistic representations. Advocates say that using avatars for corporate training combine the best parts of face-to-face training and computer-based learning. Corporations are discovering that these characters, and their audio, visual, and content cues, create an experience that both engages and enhances the learning process. Avatars can be added to online learning courses, websites, and even to PowerPoint presentations.

Corporate trainers and salespeople have discovered that they can capture and sustain attention by using avatars in their PowerPoint presentations. The instructor at the front of a classroom (or break room at a retail store) accelerates learning simply by grabbing learners’ attention, pointing things out, explaining the concepts being taught, and encouraging two-way interactions and discussions. It is human nature for us to pay attention to anyone who is speaking to us. We are all hard-wired to do that. Avatars can accomplish these same results. Avatars can be the presenter, advance slides, demonstrate products, have interactive “conversations” with the audience, and even exhibit a personality. Studies show that avatar technology not only draws people in, but also increases their ability to retain the information included in the presentation. They offer an almost human touch that helps to reinforce learning. An important point is that the avatar has a face trainees can remember, which makes it easier for trainees to recall what they learned from the avatar. People have confidence in these human-like characters because they can provide familiar conversational signals and feedback. They can be perceived as realistic and well-liked social partners in conversations that simulate real-world interactions.

Avatars are less expensive and more efficient than human trainers, can deliver a more consistent message, and can provide training sessions around the clock and around the globe! Avatars also can pull together the knowledge and experience of many trainers and deliver all that collective knowledge identically at each training session for consistency. A telecommunications giant estimates that recently avatar-based training cost them half as much as a comparable “face-to-face solution.”

In addition, avatars can be any race, age, or gender – a huge advantage since research shows that trainers whose age and race reflects those of their trainees will typically achieve better results. In addition, learners can enjoy repeated reinforcement without penalty or fatigue from the “instructor.” For example, avatar-based presentations can be set to “loop” continuously in retail store break rooms and be available anytime sales people and other employees take their breaks!

Business Examples:

SBC Communications gained attention in the Wall Street Journal for training its staff with avatars, while computer products merchant CDW conducted sales training using avatars. Companies like McDonalds and Coca-Cola have been using avatars in online advertising campaigns. United Airlines’ Hazardous Materials Transportation Safety Unit uses a friendly character named Chuck. Security Finance, a financial and loan services company, incorporated an avatar to perk up a customer service training presentation – with much success! Take a page from Disney: Animated characters will be a hit every time.

Stanford University’s Center for the Study of Language and Information published a landmark study called “The Benefits of Interactive Online Characters.” Major findings described in the study include:

  • Research about interactive characters suggests substantial opportunities for them to enhance online experiences.

  • Characters can increase the trust the users place in online experiences, in part because they make online experiences easier.

  • Adding interactive characters to online experiences is an effective method to gain control over the presentation of social intelligence and information.

  • Socially intelligent interfaces increase memory and learning and make online education more effective.

  • Interactive characters are perceived as real social actors.

  • Characters have personalities that can represent brands, and personality is critical in learning and business.

  • Research shows that a large majority of users prefer characters over no characters, often develop a sustained “liking” for a character, and as a result will look forward to returning to subsequent e-learning sessions.

Avatars are extremely well known to players of online games, which includes the majority of anyone under the age of 30. An increasing percentage of the work force grew up with computer games that often involve elaborate simulations of human behavior and fantastical environments. For younger workers in particular, avatar-based training fits right in with growing up with video games.

We know that a classroom instructor is the most powerful ingredient to learner success; the avatar provides the same sort of learning dynamic online. Avatars engage learners and, therefore, lead to enhanced learner attention and increased learning retention. Research shows that avatar-based simulations drive measurably higher rates of course completion, learning, retention, and overall job impact.

Oftentimes, employees may not choose to “seek out” learning opportunities. Consequently, we need to “fool” them into learning. Why not try a charismatic avatar?
Here at CramerSweeney, we have used iclone2 to create avatars for clients, including an avatar we named Ava for Intel's field sales training!

3 Comments:

  • As an experienced online developer and animator I have researched and tried using the these avatars with real audio narration and text-to-audio systems..
    My conclusion is that they improve learning because of the AUDIO with GRAPHIC method. That is where two communication channels are used simulatenously (like video/audio) whch is better than text alone.
    It's not better learning because a cute character bounces around on stage: an arrow can do that. A character is a distractor from the content.
    Cute characters take programming time to develop. Better use your time to make the content and course better designed.

    By Anonymous kevin, at 1:13 AM EDT  

  • Like any technology, done badly, the result isn't good. But, done well, the result is excellent.

    I suspect you may not have seen examples of avatar technology that adds significant value to E-learning. Done well, an avatar can capture and focus the leaner's attention on the material, not detract from it. Audio is good, but when it's coupled with a static avatar (a talking head), it IS a detractor. It's the learning integrity that dynamic avatars provide that's important. Check some of the examples at http://www.NOAHx.com to see how dynamic animated character technology can be a partner, not a detractor. Plus, the NOAH technology requires no programming and is fast and easy to integrate into your projects.

    By Blogger tfreriks, at 8:50 AM EDT  

  • My name is Néstor Ojeda. I have used four avatars in a course about instructional developed under the model of Goal Based Scenarios. They are characters from Ganymede, one of Jupiter's moons, to select professionals on earth who can teach their "ganymedians" online. One of the avatars plays the learner's contact who sends materials the learner prepares during the course to the commitee that studies them (the other three avatars in Ganymede). Two of them answer back offering feedback and lessons. The last one is the boss, he is always pressing for materiasl to be done properly and on time. None of my students have ever complained of avatars being any sort of distractor or detractor. So, I can assure an avatar together with a solid instructional design will work. this is just a matter of creativity , and instructional design.

    By Anonymous Nestor, at 7:25 PM EST  

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