7 Tips On How To Use Empathy In eLearning

7 Tips On How To Use Empathy In eLearning
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Summary: We all remember a story where we root for the hero to succeed or the villain to fail. This empathy with characters drives us to continue turning the page to see who ultimately wins or fails. This article looks at how can we translate this into eLearning courses.

How To Use Empathy In eLearning To Influence Learners

According to scientists, as human beings, we are wired to relate to one another and feel a sense of belonging. We respond easily to affection and understanding. Advertisers already use the human psyche, understanding that the most effective advertisements are the ones that speak to our hearts, anticipate our needs, understand our wants, and provide the solution to our problems. So why should our eLearning be any different? After all, as storyboarders, designers, and developers we strive to influence and inspire learners. Here is how to use empathy in eLearning and influence tour students.

1. Understand The Learner

What do they think/feel? What influences them (friends, business, etc.)? What problems do they encounter? Once you understand your learner you will be able to create a narrative within your eLearning that the learner can relate to and emphasize with. This leads onto….

2. Create A Story-Based Narrative

Stories are perhaps the closest thing we have to “Walking around in someone else’s skin.” Stories use the learner’s ability to understand and empathize with others experiences to drive their motivation to continue learning. We all remember that book that we couldn’t put down because we had to get to the end.

3. Include A Main Character

By understanding your learner you will be able to create a character that the learner can emphasize with, whether that be by them sharing the same needs or them being a character that the learner can relate to in real life. Introduce too many characters into your narrative and you risk overwhelming the learner and diluting the relationship that they have built to the main character.

4. Keep The Dialog As Natural

When interacting with the character try to keep the dialog as natural as possible, dialog that feels ridged to the learner will disengage them from the story being told. Try to use emotional responses when interacting with the character to help build a natural empathy. Where appropriate, try to use humor within the dialog. There are many pieces of research that show the use of humor can exert a positive influence on a learner. It can also release a learners’ negative emotions, such as anxiety, stress, or nervousness, and enhance the relationship between the character and the learner.

5. Putting The Character At A Disadvantage

Put your character at a learning disadvantage at the start of the story with a challenge to overcome. This will put the character and learner in the same position – both with a challenge of needing to learn something new. For example, Sally has to deliver a presentation at the end of the week to her team but suffers from public speaking nerves. Help Sally meet other public speakers to collect their top tips ready for her presentation.

6. Give The Learner The Power

Allow the learner to make decisions on the characters journey to overcome the learning challenge set in the narrative. This doesn’t need to be a full scenario-based eLearning solution. Simple interactions such as allowing the learner to pick where the character goes to explore or how they answer a question will help give the learner a sense of ownership over the characters fate. If the learner emphasizes with the character, their motivation to learn, helping the character answer questions correctly will increase chances of success.

7. It Doesn’t Always Need To Be A Happy Ending

Using your learner’s natural ability to emphasize with a character will help to increase their motivation for learning and persuade them to continue the storyline. However don’t be afraid to give consequences for the character and the learner if they don’t answer a question correctly or are skipping through content.

8. Design Top Tip!

Studies have shown that people have a tendency to look at a face more than any other image on a page. The learner not only focuses on the face, but they will also look in the direction of where that face is looking. Use your characters face to draw the learner’s attention to the main area of focus on the page. This is also handy if you need to change the learner’s focus midway through an activity. However, it doesn’t guarantee the learner will read the content; it will, however, draw their attention to it.


The success of a storyline is based on how well as designers we understand our learners and their needs. This isn’t always easy if you work in a large organization with a range of age and needs. However, every learner will have one thing in common and that is a goal to improve his or her knowledge in one particular area. Utilising this goal within your eLearning should help give your learners a positive and engaging learning experience.