The international scientific conference on eLearning and Software for Education – eLSE – arrived to its 8th edition. This annual conference has the purpose of enabling academic, research, and corporate entities to augment the possibilities that technology-enhanced learning environments bring up, by providing a setting for discussing their ideas, presenting their research outcomes, as well as introducing their technical achievements.
This year, the importance of eLearning avatars and their effect upon both eLearning content creators and users were discussed by Alex Mălureanu and Cosmin Mălureanu. Instead of dull, traditional avatars – ‘the teacher’, ‘the pet’, ‘the boy’, or ‘the girl’ – they suggest that a more interesting and up-to-date version be created, considering the tendency that can be noticed in people nowadays, the one of creating bonds in virtual environments.
On the one hand, an avatar’s purpose is to guide learners within an eLearning app. On the other hand, avatars should also engage users and rouse their interest in the subject matter, in order for them to return for the following lesson willingly.
Alex Mălureanu and Cosmin Mălureanu think that traditional learning methods are a thing of the past because they don’t incorporate the latest developments in technology, which is a very important aspect of everyday life in present times. Moreover, they believe that traditional learning actually does more harm than good.
Certain fictional characters, such as Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, etc. are highly appreciated on social media, thus being very popular. This caused many companies to arrive to the conclusion that they should promote their image on social media as well, in order to gain popularity with the masses, which have great power. Therefore, it is highly recommendable that eLearning avatars be adapted to this particular online environment. Furthermore, communication with learners should take place where they are most comfortable, not only within eLearning apps, but also on social media. This is a way to create a bond between learners and avatars in the same way the former connect to each other.
People use colloquial language to communicate to one another on social media. Conversations with eLearning avatars should also be familiar, otherwise learners may get the impression that they are talking to robots. Users are a lot more likely to trust humans rather than robots. Despite the fact that avatars are virtual characters, a connection between them and users can be established easily when they express themselves in a similar manner.
The two Ascendia representatives have noticed that everyone belongs to a certain tribe. These closed communities are based upon common tastes, habits, and experience. Communication between the members of those tribes takes place not only in online environments, but also in offline ones. The example that they give is the one of a group of people who enjoy a certain dance style and want to learn how to perform it. Firstly, they start taking classes, which is where they meet each other. Therefore, their first opinion exchange occurs face to face; online communication only takes place afterwards. Ideally, the same thing should happen between learners and avatars, too. The first encounter in an offline environment is provided by the application itself. Online interaction should follow. The recommendation that Alex Mălureanu and Cosmin Mălureanu put forward is for each company to have a ‘patron’ of the avatar. This person’s identity should be revealed publicly, but the two highlight the fact that this might be a double-edged sword. If the patron has a bad reputation, people’s perception of the the avatar and even of the whole company might be altered in a negative way.
An avatar involves a lot more than creating a graphic representation of a human being. Its behavior is extremely important and has to be constant to ensure its credibility. At the moment, the most advanced educational content delivery system is compliant with SCORM standards, which are restrictive when it comes to the avatar’s development. The next step in the eLearning industry is mLearning, which will pave the way to the avatar’s possibility of interacting with learners on social media, too. The scenario that Alex Mălureanu and Cosmin Mălureanu have in mind is the one in which learners access the eLearning app and have a first interaction with the avatar, and several hours later, the avatar comes back to them on social media to strengthen their previously-attained knowledge by the means of a friendly talk.
This is exactly the purpose that was being pursued when the EduTeca community was launched. This online community is related to a previously-created series of eLearning apps for kindergarten children. Four of the avatars that can be found in the apps are also present online and interact with users. Their function within the apps is to provide guidance and give feedback to learners according to their actions.
Next, the ideal traits that any eLearning avatar should have were presented by the Ascendia representatives. Firstly, an avatar’s main target is to maintain the learner’s interest. Secondly, its level of flexibility should be high enough for it to adjust its language usage to the learner’s level. Additionally, its role would ideally be also the one of switching the entire app’s degree of difficulty depending on the learner’s performance.
Considering the fact that an avatar is actually a character, it should have its own story to describe its creation or origins. This narration should be available on the company’s website for anyone who might be interested to see.
The avatar’s offline personality has to coincide with the online one, otherwise users will certainly notice and be bothered about this lack of consistency. It is recommendable that the avatar’s online activity consists of sharing pieces of information and news that the community is interested in. Not only should the avatar bond with learners, but also with other avatars. In this way, the virtual learning environment resembles the real world to a much higher degree.
To conclude the presentation, Cosmin Mălureanu and Alex Mălureanu predicted that future technologies could be integrated in the learning process more easily. Avatars could engage learners more and optimize the learning process.