Walking in a crowd, you’ll probably notice that your eye is naturally drawn to the human faces moving in your direction. Whether or not that person is attractive is beside the point. If a perceptible human face is moving in your direction, you’ll often have difficulty averting your gaze.
As a species, we generally have a tendency to pay attention to other human faces. We are social beings, and that means we need to communicate and keep tabs on each other. In more primitive times, being able to judge the expression on someone’s face and where their own attention is focused could mean the difference between life and death.
A recent study by Kim Ouwehand, Tamara Van Gog, and Fred Paas published in Educational Technology & Society found that this human tendency can affect eLearning. Believe it or not, the way you use your cutout characters can change the outcome of your course. It’s not quite the life-and-death situation of the past, but a well-used cutout can certainly mean the difference between attention and distraction.
Most attention will be on the model
No matter what the model is doing, the study found that a cutout character will attract the lion’s share of attention from learners. The human face and body is just more dynamic and interesting to us than words and other visual objects. Don’t take that to mean that you can’t ever have a human on screen when something else demands learner attention. It’s just that discretion and some design prowess is necessary to make sure that each element gets the attention it needs and deserves.
Looking strait at the camera diverts attention away from any text
Whether the person on the other end is your mother or your worst enemy, eye contact demands to be reciprocated. Even if we don’t want to look back, not meeting the gaze of someone who is peering into your very soul is just plain uncomfortable. It’s not much different when it comes to virtual people. You should, therefore, be careful about using cutout people who stare right down the barrel of the camera, especially where attention is necessary in other areas of the screen.
Gaze alone splits attention
If the cutout character is, without gestures, looking in a particular direction, learner attention will be somewhat diverted in that direction. The awesome human face in the picture still gets the most looks, but since the the model is apparently focused on something, this subtly hints to the learner that they should be aware of something in that direction.
Guide attention through model gaze and gestures
To really shift focus toward an object use a cutout person that is both looking and gesturing at something. Not only does the learner get the implied message of importance from the model’s gaze, but they also get the very direct message offered by pointing. The model shows through example that an object is worthy of consideration using her eyes, while at the same time saying, “Hey, look at this! You really need to move your eyes in that direction!”
Do you have any pointers for using cutout characters? Tell us your best practices in the comments?