Anthropomorphic Characters in e-Learning

elearning characters

Click on the image to view the demo

The Challenge

This design was inspired by the e-Learning Heroes weekly challenge #113 Anthropomorphic Characters in e-Learning which was to “share an e-Learning example using one or more anthropomorphic characters”.

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics and purposes to inanimate objects and is used extensively in children’s literature.  Some of the classics that immediately spring to mind are Dr Seuss (with “The Cat in the Hat” top of this list), Pinnochio, Peter Rabbit (Beatrix Potter), Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows”, Charlotte’s Web and Alice in Wonderland, and in movies such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Happy Feet.  In marketing, my all-time favourite anthropomorphism would have to be the M&Ms commercials – to me these are quite hilarious.

In e-Learning, anthropomorphic characters can be used to facilitate the interaction with the learner most effectively if they are life-like and can help learners to simplify and make more sense of complicated entities, particularly if they are able to exhibit realistic human movements and have distinct personalities.

The power behind using anthropomorphism as a tool in learning is in the ability to engage the learner and make the learning experience a memorable one, thus aiding the retention of the information being conveyed in the learning.

With this in mind, the anthropomorphic character I chose to show how anthropomorphism can be used as a storytelling device in e-Learning is one that I would think is familiar to pretty much everyone.

The Design and the Process

I started this design by creating the character.  Thinking about the individual elements that would make this character come to life, I wanted Penelope to have arms, hands and numerous facial expressions, but I decided that legs were optional!  These were created in PowerPoint and saved as images to add to the Articulate Storyline 2 slides.


I wanted to give the demo a bit of substance, so I added the drag-and-drop activity as navigation to the content.  This is not a true drag-and-drop slide, but a series of triggers that show the relevant layer when one of the images is dropped on the target.  I grouped all of the graphics on each layer, then added a “grow and spin” entrance animation to this group.  I then duplicated each layer and removed this entrance animation and added a “spin and shrink” exit animation.

I’m not particularly focused on “locking down” navigation in a course, but for this slide where it was possible to skip by this drag-and-drop activity, I decided to add some triggers that changed the state of the Next button from “hidden” to “normal” once the learner had viewed each of the 5 steps in the potato growing process by dragging the images into the potato bin.  Behind the scenes, this involved setting triggers on each image that changed the state of the image (in this case, to “hidden”), then changed the state of the Next button to “normal” on the condition that the state of all of the 5 images were “hidden”.  Of course, once the 5 images were “hidden”, if the learner wanted to go back and view any or all of these steps again, they would have needed to restart the course, or click on the previous button, so I added in the “Click here to view the steps again” option.  This actually takes the learner to another slide that is exactly the same as the original slide with the 5 steps on, but has no entrance animations – a minor complication in the design!


The Result

Originally my character wasn’t going to be female, but then I thought “why not” – and I think the addition of the pink bow really brought her to life.  The final element I decided to incorporate was the addition of a friend for Penelope who was both male, and “real”, as opposed to “animated” and I think this element adds to the personality of the character and the overall effect of Penelope being a character that is going to show learners through the course using her arms!

As far as telling a story, I think Penelope does a pretty good job of engaging learners, with the potential for use in other types of learning experiences in the future!

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