Avatars Help Create Immersive eLearning
This post summarizes a Stanford University study that was published in 2002. Like a lot of academic papers, it's well, pretty academic reading. But it makes a very strong case for the use of animated characters, or avatars, in online learning. And it has a ton of impressive research behind it. You can (download) this study from us, but below is the short version.
First of all, we are all familiar with the concept of social intelligence. It's well documented that the quality of facial and emotional expressions, along with speaking ability and other personal skills, result in greater or lesser degrees of engagement, trust and satisfaction during a social interaction.
According to the Stanford study, a significant body of research shows that the presentation of social intelligence is just as critical in online interactions as it is in interpersonal interactions. They make the point that people do not discount interactions as unreal, simply because they are on screen. Further, it asserts that interactive media automatically engages brain systems that are meant to evaluate social experiences. Therefore online characters that speak and interact with learners can create a more meaningful experience, increasing trust, satisfaction, memory and learning, and a willingness to return for more learning.
The study goes on to say that online characters can create a positive feeling towards the organization that sponsors the interaction, make people feel special, rather than one of a multitude of learners, and make the web less lonely. The study goes on to fortify these assertions in a list of 10 benefits to using online characters:
- Characters make explicit the social responses that are inevitable in online interactions, giving us more control over outcomes.
- Interactive characters are perceived as real social actors; we know they are not real, but we treat them as if they are.
- Interactivity increases the perceived realism and effectiveness of characters, as it simulates human-to-human conversation.
- Interactive characters increase trust in information sources, and research shows that when characters guide interactions, people trust the information more than in identical interactions without characters.
- Characters have personalities that represent brands, create predictability and help to build relationships.
- Characters can communicate social roles, thus making their function--as a teacher, coach, teammate, salesperson, customer service rep--clear, and improving the message and experience.
- Characters can effectively express and regulate emotions, responding appropriately to learner interactions and adding impact and meaning to what is being learned.
- Characters can effectively display important social manners, with polite greetings, effective encouragement, and even simple apologies...all making the interaction more human and more effective.
- Characters can make interfaces easier to use because they make it more obvious where to find help, and more like getting help from someone down the hall than from a manual or help file.
- Characters are well liked because they make online interactions more personal. When presented with only a single character for interaction only 15% of users dislike the character. When presented with a choice of multiple characters, more than 90% of people prefer interaction with the character, to no character at all.
The Stanford paper is well documented, referencing 36 different studies, articles and conference proceedings. It is well worth the read, if you have the time, but this summary gets to most of it. Bottom line, if you're wondering about using characters in your online learning programs...you can probably erase any doubts you previously had. Online avatars can crate immersive learning.