Our Thinking

Creating Characters for eLearning

Jennifer Kerwin

When I first started as a Management Development Trainer, a colleague and I had an ongoing debate about the need to be a performer when facilitating. We agreed that proper facilitation requires charisma and the best facilitators we knew had a personality that lent to their presentation. However, we disagreed about who was the star of the show. He held that to some extent the session was about the facilitator, while I argued that the session was about the content and the learner’s connection with it. He wanted the presentation to be memorable. I wanted to ensure learning for everyone in the room.

Ten years later as an Instructional Designer, I strive to create memorable characters that will balance these two opinions. I’ve learned to use characters as facilitators in eLearning modules, simulations and videos. My biggest challenge is quickly developing a character the audience will relate to and remember, without detracting from the content. The goal is that each learning event that I create grabs the learner’s attention while communicating the content and ultimately transferring the knowledge to the learner.

Characters in writingUsing characters to convey your learning message can be very powerful. Characters can help the learner relate to the content by using humor, realistic examples, and demonstrating the behaviors. Incorporating characters into learning events is also a great way to brand your learning.

There are a few different practices you can use to develop characters before writing begins. After thoroughly reviewing the content, think about the target audience. What type of person or thing will reach this target audience? Who do they relate to? How do they interact with the content? Consider the role the character will play in the course. Look for inspiration in a variety of places like conversations with subject matter experts, things you see or read (commercials, TV shows, popular characters in books and movies). Then brainstorm and write a character profile that includes a description of the character, their background, and even some things this character might be seen doing or heard saying.

Once you know who the character is, think of the journey they will take or how they will accompany the learner. This storyline should connect to your outline. You can start writing, but PROCEED with CAUTION. If you’re not careful your characters can take over your course. If you’re writing dialog or incorporating humor, ask yourself, “Will this lend to or take away from the content”?

Remember, a good character is one that engages the learner, so that the learner trusts the character and builds a relationship with him or her and successfully transfers the knowledge to the learner. As Tony O’Driscoll said, “Content is king, but context is the kingdom.”

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