Avatars in Learning

Avatars in Learning

Avatars are representations of a specific individual in an online environment.  The avatar may look exactly like the person or it may look nothing like the person (it could even be a non-human or non-organic representation – think “Clippy”).  For example, I’ve used numerous avatars in my online travels – from a photo of myself that I use in my blogs and profiles to more fanciful characters that I use for all my tech testing and virtual worlds work. Tektrekker even has her own email address, twitter account, and blog.   🙂  I’m not sure what that says about me, but its probably not good! LOL. 


naiad remblai


just me



So, I’m not a stranger to the concept of personal avatars; however, in higher education environments, aside from LMS profiles, avatars don’t seem to get used much. I suspect that this may change as we move inexorably toward virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

Avatars do get used frequently in corporate eLearning.  One only needs look at the Articulate or Captivate communities to know that a premium is placed on “cutouts”  (photo-realistic people) and illustrated character avatars that you can include in the training to represent the narrator, trainer, learner, or people in the learner’s environment.  This trend will probably only grow stronger.

My curiosity was roused a tiny bit when I saw the corporate emphasis on avatars. Frankly, I couldn’t imagine why we would want to use avatars. It seemed…artificial to me in the context of learning. But, I always check myself when I start making assumptions. So,  I began tinkering around with creating my own animated avatar and I began to review the research in this area.

One of the first articles I ran across spoke to the benefits of using avatars.  It cited a Stanford study (Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab) that indicated that, among other things, avatars help us feel more connected and engaged. They apparently also help us trust  information being presented.   There were several other items listed. You’ll want to check them out!

The  next article I ran across was this lovely literature review of Avatars. Most of the research was on avatars in VR and most of it is related to avatars representing the learner. In other words, several of the corporate training uses aren’t covered. But, its a start.  Here are some of my very simplistically summarized highlights:

  • Trying to change attitudes or beliefs about under-represented groups?  Have the learner use an avatar that is representative of that group.
  • Trying to change behaviors in learner?  Have the learner use an avatar with a similar appearance to the learner.
  • Trying to help the learner improve knowledge in an area in which they lack confidence?  Have the learner use an avatar that looks nothing like them.

This post is getting long and I don’t know enough to waste any more space.  🙂  So, I’m going to continue learning more about this.  As you can probably see, there is a lot to learn!  If you know anything – please reply and let me know.  I’m excited about this topic.





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