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News · 5 min read

The benefits of using avatars in online education

Vincent van den Tol


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Through imedu we offer a platform for organising online education in online 3D virtual spaces. We enable educators to create more inspiring, accessible and effective online education.

In our virtual worlds, teachers and students need to select an avatar to represent themselves. To some people this may seem weird or even childish. But in this post I’ll try to explain why that can work actually very well and that it is not as awkward as it may seem. I’ll also show how we are using ReadyPlayerMe to create great-looking avatars based on your selfie.

Why you might think avatars are weird

Most humans like to see each other while we communicate. As someone ‘being watched’, we know that we can use our looks to influence how people think about us (dress more professional, have a ‘creative look’, etc). And while watching others we use a lot of non-verbal signs and gestures to better understand the other person. So you may indeed hesitate to exchange your ‘careful cultivated identity’ with a more generic looking avatar.

The benefits of avatars

So how can it be better? A good personal connection between student and teacher is very important in online education. Unfortunately webcams are very bad at this, and this is exactly where using avatars in virtual spaces can help out. Based on my experience I see the following benefits compared to video-conferencing.

  • Less distraction, more focus
  • Being in a shared space
  • Freedom of expression

Less distraction, more focus

When communicating through webcams there is always a high overload of irrelevant distractions. You need to be aware of your background, the lighting, and remember that people (including yourself) are constantly watching your face. This can be quite intense and, as explained in this research, the main factor of ‘Zoom fatigue’ and loss of focus.

With ‘avatar communication’ a few things change. You are still present but you stop feeling watched, simply because it is not your actual face. Having recognizable avatars but no further distractions makes it possible to focus on your conversation faster. It feels a bit like how you interact in a phone call (or perhaps Clubhouse if you want), only with a visual presence and shared surroundings.

Being in a shared space

The great thing about video calls is that we can see each other while being apart. But due to the setup with different backgrounds, lighting and the ‘grid layout of people’ it is also very clear that we are in different locations. Unconsciously this still creates some distance between us, which can make you feel less involved in the conversation and people within it.

In a 3D space with avatars the setup of a conversation is way more natural. You can move in three dimensions, take distance or move closer, gather in groups to talk, look at the person who is speaking, or look away for a few seconds without being noticed. It’s all more natural and less intense, helping you to communicate better.

Freedom of expression

We are all individuals with our own identity and character. Education is often a group process where it is important to express yourself, especially in younger ages. Being able to express yourself makes you feel more comfortable and in a better state to process new information. Sadly, video-calls reduce everybody to a small similar-looking square which (besides changing your background) doesn’t have much ways to express yourself.

The great thing is that avatars can be anything you want. In a business training you may prefer to look like the professional ‘you’, but in education and younger age groups it can be really refreshing and motivating to allow students to change their looks or adjust their clothes to fit the scenery of the virtual space.

Creating personalised avatars from a selfie using ReadyPlayerMe.

One of the first questions I hear when I introduce people to virtual spaces if “How can I change my avatar?”. Like in real life, we all want to look ‘good’ and recognizable to others.

So how do you give everybody a good avatar with some freedom to personalize? For that we are very happy to work together with ReadyPlayerMe, who have created a great service for this. Using their plugin you can create a personalized avatar in minutes by uploading your selfie and fine-tuning looks and clothes.

example ready player me An example of the avatars generated by ReadyPlayerMe. Source picture: https://thispersondoesnotexists.com

Within imedu, we simply added a button to ‘use a personal avatar’. That will guide you through a few steps to upload your selfie, adjust the result, and you are done! With our integration your students can personalize their avatar without leaving the virtual space or uploading files, just in a few simple steps.

example imedu avatar Just click on ‘Use personal avatar’ in imedu, upload your selfie and your avatar is updated immediately.

Conclusion

Let’s not forget that real-life interaction is very important for our wellbeing, social skills and connection to others. But this is not always possible or even required. There are a lot of online learning scenarios where this is the case, and using avatars plus virtual spaces are a great way to communicate and learn.

Are you curious about teaching through avatars, imedu or how we integrated ReadyPlayerMe? Please contact us .

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