Lively Learning

Janhavi Padture of Harbinger Knowledge discusses use of characters and avatars in online training

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

RaptivityOne common pain point in online learning or e-learning has always been the near-absence of human touch. With learning and development professionals looking for ways and means to overcome this hurdle, Janhavi Padture, Vice President of Strategy and Research at Harbinger Knowledge Products talks about how character-based interactions and courses are emerging as a key tool and approach to bridge this gap. Harbinger is the maker of rapid interactivity builder tool Raptivity which offers a pre-built library of more than 180 customizable interaction templates, ranging from simple brainteasers, interactive exercises and diagrams to more involved games and simulations. Recognizing the need to easily create character-based interactions, they recently launched a new character based interaction called Character Dialog.

“It’s true that use of characters makes courses come alive and increases retention among learners,” says Janhavi, “But incorporation of too many of them in courses does have its downside. It is only the appropriate use of these elements in courses that can engage learners in a way that draws them into the eLearning experience,” she says.

In this interview, Janhavi throws light on how to make prudent use of characters in courses, the new Raptivity Evolve interaction ‘Character Dialog’ and future plans.

Janhavi PadtureVictor: What are characters and avatars and how do you think it will be useful to training?

Janhavi: Characters and avatars are interactive animated pedagogical agents, often times having a human-like form. They are typically used to personalize a course and add variety to learning, especially in long modules on complex subjects. All of us feel that a life-like ‘human’ interface makes learning experience ‘real’. At the same time, it makes your trainings and courses come alive by adding a little more personal touch to it. This is because an avatar doubles as a learning aid that guides the learning by either answering questions, or guiding the learners, linking to external content and so forth.

Nowadays, character based interactions are increasingly being used for role-play and soft skills training programs like sales force training, customer service training, communication skills, organizational change and development programs etc. to name a few.

Victor: So do you recommend increasing the use of characters and avatars in online courses and trainings?

Janhavi: Well, use of characters in online courses is no doubt here to stay. It is definitely one great tool for keeping the learner’s attention and interest.

Raptivity image1Having said that, we also need to take care of not going overboard by incorporating too many of them in our courses. Because irrelevant use of characters can be distracting or even annoying if not used properly. So it is the responsibility of the Course designer to see to it that their content is supported by relevant characters. Selecting the characters or avatars wisely can be challenging with a wide variety of characters being available, from simple 2D characters such as cutouts, iconic characters, clip art, stock photos, to animated characters with motion and speech synchronization.

While making courses featuring characters and avatars, wherever it makes sense there should be an option for learners to turn off avatars if they want to.

In short, characters should augment the content, and not be the content. They are effective when used for a specific purpose, such as online guide, answering FAQ, explaining a process, guiding learners in scenarios, role-play etc.

Victor: Speaking of characters and avatars in interactions, Raptivity recently launched the new Raptivity Evolve interaction – Character Dialog. Tell us more about this interaction.

Janhavi: Sure. Character Dialog, is the latest addition to the library of customizable interaction templates available in Raptivity. As the name suggests, Character Dialog is an interaction which enables you to easily create a conversation between multiple characters within minutes using callouts and voiceovers. Every callout sometimes referred to as dialog box or speech bubble, can have an audio attached to it. And that’s not all; there is also an option to have just the audio playing without the callout appearing on screen and vice versa.

This interaction enables course developers to use characters in their courses, be it a character introducing a course or a scenario with multiple characters. Raptivity’s Asset Library comes with 17 different characters in various postures that you can use for your interactions. Alternatively, you can choose to bring in your own external characters or pictures. In fact you can make the interaction even more appealing by using actual photos of the individuals involved in the conversation. .

Character Dialog is a great interaction if you want to incorporate role-play or scenario based simulations into your courses.

Victor: What are some of the interesting features of Character Dialog?

Raptivity character dialogJanhavi: One thing that I find to be really helpful is that you can have characters coming on screen and disappearing by using the fade in and out feature. You have the option to set up timings for every character to appear and disappear whenever required. Another interesting feature is that characters in this interaction are not just limited to human images or avatars; you can actually include images of any object and have that be a character in the interaction. What that means is, Character Dialog focuses on conversations, which could be between any characters either human or otherwise. To understand this better, you can check out some of the Character Dialog samples on our website (

Lastly, something course developers would appreciate is that you can output this interaction to either HTML5 or Flash formats, so that the interaction can be viewed on any device including Apple iOS devices.

Victor: You mentioned earlier that Raptivity is a library of interactions. So how many interaction models does Raptivity currently have and what makes it unique among other tools in the market?

Janhavi: Raptivity is what we like to refer to as an Interactivity Builder. Currently it has a collection of over 180 interaction models across categories like games, simulations, brainteasers, interactive diagrams, interactive exercises, virtual worlds and many more. You can choose an interaction that you want to integrate with the course depending upon its objective and the audience you will be addressing.

What I feel makes Raptivity stand out is that, Raptivity is the only tool in the market focused on rapid interactivity building and offering such a wide selection of interactions. You can be sure to find an interaction that will suit your learning needs. Interactivity is key to effective learning, and yet it is the most compromised aspect because it can be time consuming. Raptivity addresses this problem by making interactivity creation quick and easy. Lastly, Raptivity interactions are instructionally sound, and are support some of the popular learning theories like Blooms’ Taxonomy, Gagne’s Nine Events, Keller’s ARCS Model and Experiential Learning.

Victor: Interesting. So is Raptivity in any way similar to an authoring tool?

Janhavi: That is a great question and we often get that question. Raptivity is not an authoring tool. In fact Raptivity and authoring tools basically complement each other. Raptivity is an interaction builder tool that helps you create interactions customized with your own content, which then you would embed into courses built using other authoring tools, to make them engaging and interactive. For that matter Raptivity output can even be integrated with PowerPoint, web pages, and LCMS. These interactions can be published both in Flash and HTML 5. Currently, 114 interaction models have HTML 5 output and hence can be accessed on all mobile devices.

Victor: What can we expect in the future from Raptivity?

Janhavi: Well, one of the major developments that you can expect from Raptivity in early 2013 is the adoption of the new Tin Can API in its upcoming release. With the new Tin Can release of Raptivity, all the interactions in Raptivity Essential Pack will have the option to publish to SCORM, AICC or Tin Can. The Tin Can API has the potential to minutely track and measure the performance of the learner thereby making the learning experience more relevant.  At Harbinger we believe in keeping up with the latest technologies to offer our customers advanced and innovative e-learning solutions. Raptivity’s plan to support the TinCan API is a testimony of the same. To know more about Raptivity, please click on the following link You can also check out all the 180+ Raptivity interaction samples by visiting this link

Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. Get your story told through case studies, white papers and other materials you can share at trade shows and on your website. Write to:


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