4 Research-Based Tips To Make Your Storyline Video More Engaging

Karina Kasparova
December 9, 2022

If you're an L&D expert, instructional designer, or anything in between, chances are you use Articulate Storyline and already know how to create interactive videos in the tool.

It's the learning industry's favorite tool to build responsive and interactive e-learning courses with gamification, branching scenarios, interactive video elements, and more.

But using an industry-favorite tool doesn't instantly guarantee the best results. Building courses with intention, and using research-based tips does.

So this blog post isn't about showing you how to create interactive videos in Articulate Storyline 360 from scratch or using all the different features of the software.

It's about showing you how you can elevate your e-learning content library and make interactive videos even more engaging by applying the Personalization Principle and using feedback in a constructive way that leads to subject mastery.

Tip #1: Use avatars as learning companions 👭

The first method explores using a friendly face for positive reinforcement throughout the e-learning experience in the form of an avatar.

But first, let's discuss the theory behind this.

Research: Personalization Principle

Let's turn to a classic in the L&D space, e-Learning and the Science of Instruction by Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer. More specifically, the Personalization Principle described in the book.

The Personalization Principle states that we, as humans, are naturally social creatures and we like to be engaged in conversation.

Following this logic, Clark and Mayer also suggest that adding a visual character can simulate a person-to-person interaction and increase learner engagement in e-learning.

The idea is that when we can visualize the person speaking, we feel more connected as if we’re having a conversation with someone.

A learner might even see the character as a guide of sorts, so they feel less isolated and more comfortable in the learning process.

When you’re a new employee or mastering a new task, a friend can be a huge help!

Examples of learning companions

Whether we know it or not, we've likely been exposed to a learning companion or two throughout our lives.

Think of Duo from the language learning app Duolingo, Wheatley from the game Portal, video hosts from Udemy learning videos, or coaches in workout videos.

Animated and real-life characters have been helping us throughout our learning journey by providing positive reinforcement and timely feedback, and it's a good idea to introduce one in your next e-learning project as well.

There's just one tiiiny caveat.

Problem: Personalization isn't easy

As a learning professional, you're probably already aware of the Personalization Principle and the importance of learning companions in e-learning.

But there are 3 main setbacks in using learning companions in interactive videos: price, time, and skills.

Whether you want to use an animated character, a subject matter expert (SME), or an actor in your interactive videos, you will encounter at least 2, if not all 3 of the setbacks.

Creating an animated character with a professional animation studio is costly, and time-consuming. Making it yourself requires skills and time to learn those animation skills.

Filming interactive videos with SMEs or actors in a professional studio can cost upwards of $2000 per minute of video. And take a few weeks to complete from start to finish. 😕

So what's the solution for those that have neither time, money, or video production skills, but want to level up their e-learning in Articulate Storyline 360?

Solution: AI avatars as learning companions

The solution is using human-like AI avatars, like those generated by Synthesia STUDIO.

Now, the concept of an AI avatar might be foreign to some of you, so let's have an AI avatar break it down:

How are Synthesia AI Avatars created?

3 reasons to use an AI avatar in e-learning

1. AI avatars are easy to use

Unlike animated characters, you don't need any design or animation skills to use AI avatars.

All you need to do is choose an avatar you like in Synthesia, type in your script, and the avatar will narrate the script in 60+ languages.

2. They are realistic and diverse

Synthesia's avatars are based on real actors, which makes them more realistic than computer-generated characters.

Besides, the library of avatars is constantly growing to represent a vast array of diversity, so you can pick an avatar your learners can relate to.

3. They are easy to update

With traditional video production, updating an interactive video isn't a lot of work - casting the actor again, paying for a studio and production crew... Doing that over and over again every time the video needs to be updated is just not scalable.

Editing a video with an AI avatar is as simple as adjusting the script in the video and generating it again. This can take as little as 5 minutes.

Tip 💡

If you embedded Synthesia videos in Articulate Storyline, you don't have to re-embed them after updating.

Just edit the video in Synthesia and it will update automatically in your Articulate Storyline project.

Example: Conflict of Interest 🤷

See avatars as learning companions in action in this Articulate Storyline example.

How to pick the right AI avatar

One of the most important factors you have to consider when using an AI avatar is choosing one that the learners can relate to.

When choosing an avatar, keep the following factors in mind about your target audience:

  • Learner profile: gender, age, location
  • Industry: corporate, industrial, creative
  • Branding: clothing colors
  • The subject matter of the training: compliance, onboarding, etc.

A compliance e-learning video in a corporate setting will require a different avatar than, let's say, an onboarding video for a design agency.

It's also important to keep the avatar's clothing colors in mind - make sure they complement the brand colors used in the video, otherwise, the clash of colors may be distracting for the learners.

Tip 💡

Don't overuse the avatar

Even though personalization is a highly effective technique for increasing learner engagement, be careful not to overdo it.

As Clark and Mayer say in their book, “Good instructional design involves adding just the right amount of social cues to prime a sense of social presence in the learner, without adding so much that the learner is distracted.”

Having your avatar speak every part of your content is just as taxing as having to read it all as a PDF. So use a strategic mindset when choosing where to put your avatar.

Inserting and editing a Synthesia video in a Storyline project

If you're interested in learning how to insert Synthesia's learning companions into Articulate Storyline to create an interactive video, we made a whole webinar describing the process step by step.

How to Use Storyline x Synthesia (1 of 3): Breathing life into your characters

Tip #2: Deepen engagement with custom feedback 🗣

According to a study done by Officevibe, 40% of employees feel disengaged when they receive little to no feedback.

When used correctly, feedback can be an invaluable tool for learners' engagement and motivation.

But what is the best way of giving feedback?

Let's turn to John Hattie and Helen Timperley for answers.

Research: The Power of Feedback

The 2007 paper by J.Hattie and H.Temperley analyzes the influence of feedback on learning & development

One of the analyses looked at how people react to feedback given through different mediums. The results show that people were very responsive to good feedback given in the form of audio, video, or computer-assisted feedback, whereas written feedback wasn't favored.

The key phrase in the above finding is "good feedback." In this case, good feedback provides cues or reinforcement to the user, and is:

1. Timely: immediate feedback is more effective than delayed.

2. Sensitive: people respond better to kind, friendly, and informal feedback.

3. Clear & concise: say it as it is and explain why. Don't recap the whole lesson or introduce new information.

4. Demonstrates real-life consequences: it helps people understand how knowing this information will impact their day-to-day activities.

Using avatars as coaches to give feedback

So using the above research as a building block, we're moving beyond using AI avatars as just learning companions - we're using them as coaches that deepen learners' engagement by providing personal, constructive, and good feedback.

3 reasons for using avatars for giving feedback

1. They can be a familiar face

If the avatars have been used consistently throughout the module/e-learning project as learning companions, they are seen as familiar, non-threatening faces to break the news and provide feedback.

2. They're more empathetic and personal

Hearing feedback from a real person is much more empathetic and personal than reading from a pop-up with text. And since the AI avatars are modeled after real people, they can invoke (almost) the same level of empathy as real coaches.

3. They are a good medium between real people and pop-ups

Using a real person from your organization, like the CEO or manager, might be off-putting and feel slightly too real to the employees while using text-based popups is not personal enough.

Example: Customer Service Quiz ❓

See avatars as coaches in action in this Articulate Storyline example.

How to build custom feedback slides in Articulate Storyline

Instead of breaking down the process into a wall of text, check out this video for a live demonstration:

How to Use Storyline x Synthesia (2 of 3): Deepen Engagement with Custom Feedback

Tip #3: Build mastery with feedback 🎓

This last method of increasing engagement in Articulate Storyline videos uses feedback slides that reinforce learning and lead the users closer to mastery of a subject.

Research: Learning for Mastery

For this method, we're using a paper that shook up the L&D world in 1968, but one that is still relevant today - Learning for Mastery by Benjamin Bloom.

The paper describes how we can deepen learners' understanding and make sure they're taking away a full understanding of what they were supposed to have learned.

2 key takeaways from the paper

1. Mastery of the subject has to be demonstrated before moving on

2. If mastery is not demonstrated, intervention and reinforcement have to be implemented

To do this, we have to move away from a conventional learning model with generalized feedback, which can lead to disengagement and feeling self-conscious, leading to poor performance.

And move towards the mastery learning model, where you move on to the next topic once mastery is demonstrated, or go through re-teaching & correctives if non-mastery is demonstrated.

How to build reinforcement paths in Storyline

To put the mastery learning model into practice when creating interactive video in Storyline, you have to build reinforcement paths.

We have a whole video dedicated to that:

How to Use Storyline x Synthesia (3 of 3): Build Mastery with Feedback
🖼 Interaction Types in Storyline Template

Use this handy interactive video template for learning scenarios where feedback is essential.

Interaction Types in Storyline Template | Synthesia STUDIO Templates

Tip #4: Create interactivity with avatars

Above we've discussed the science behind using AI avatars as learning companions in deepen engagement and provide custom feedback.

But, how do we move beyond using avatars as just narrators, and instead turn them into interactive learning agents?

Sure, interactivity in elearning and specifically Storyline can be created mechanically through buttons, variables, and branching. But knowing how to use avatars in conjunction with mechanical variability can take your learning experience to the next level. 🔝

The answer lies in using avatars as pedagogical agents, that represent different ways of receiving, perceiving, and learning information.

3 types of pedagogical agents

1. Avatars as authorities

In this case, authoritative avatars act as top-down educators: SMEs, teachers, mentors, facilitators, and the like.

Authoritative pedagogical agents are seen as domain experts, and learners trust that they know exactly what they're talking about.

In general, any topic can be delivered by an authoritative avatar. But we particularly recommend using them for the following scenarios:


Because these scenarios require factually-correct information to be delivered by a trusted, authoritative source.

🖼 Instructional Manual Template

Use this handy Instructional Manual video template for learning scenarios with avatars as authorities. This template was designed specifically for Articulate.

Instructional Manual Template | Synthesia STUDIO Templates

2. Avatars as peers

Another option is to use avatars as peers to provide different perspectives and solutions to a problem and allow learners to interact with other people's ways of thinking.

In the case of corporate elearning, avatars would most often represent fictional colleagues as peers.

Using this method is most useful for topics like:

This method works well for these situations because it provides a safe space to fail for the learner and shows a diversity of opinions.

Example: Diversity Dilemma 🤔

See avatars as peers in action in this Articulate Rise example modeling a difficult conversation.

Example: Grocery Store Testimonials 🛒

See another example of using AI avatars as peers in action, this time in an Articulate Storyline customer service training example.

3. Avatars as novices

This option is the least-used one in elearning, but it can be a powerful one if implemented correctly.

A novice is anyone that knows less than the learner. In this case, you essentially flip the experience back on the learner to help them recall and apply previously learned knowledge.

It's particularly useful for putting people in situations of uncertainty, where they are forced to use judgment calls and make decisions, i.e.:

  • mastery testing (see tip #3)
  • management training
Example: Gaining Control of the Conversation ✋🏻

See avatars as novices in action in this Articulate Storyline example.

How does it work?

Well, it forces the learner to identify gaps in their knowledge. Instead of being told what they need to know, learners need to extract their existing knowledge.

With these 3 types of pedagogical agents combined with mechanical interactivity in Storyline, you can create representations of human interactions and emulate life-like behavior in elearning.

Example: Forklift Safety Quiz 👷

See another example of using AI avatars as novices, this time in a Forklift Safety Quiz demo made in Articulate Rise.

See more in our webinar on the topic:

How to Use AI-Avatars for Learning: Synthesia + Storyline 360

Take your next Articulate Storyline course to the next level

That’s it for our four research-based tips on how to make your storyline video more engaging. We hope you found these tips helpful and that you will take the time to experiment with them in your own videos.

By using avatars as learning companions, providing custom feedback, and using the mastery learning model to give feedback, you'll be on your way to creating videos that keep your viewers hooked from beginning to end.

And if you want to give AI avatars by Synthesia a go, you can create a free training video on the website.

Finally, remember that mastery takes practice – keep building those skills by experimenting with Synthesia and Storyline!

Frequently Asked Questions