eLearning has evolved as a tool that helps to support remote work, build company culture and facilitate the sharing of resources across corporations in exciting ways. However, just as instructor-led training can get stale if the teacher doesn’t actively engage their learners, eLearning has to be done well if you want people to retain knowledge and ultimately alter their behavior.

There are many different strategies used to boost engagement, but one of the simplest may surprise you. It is well documented that humans respond differently to human faces than to other forms of visual stimuli. And earlier this year, researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center found that our brains’ memory-making centers are triggered when we see another face.

Why, then, would anyone try to teach concepts without some kind of human presence? Animations, icons and charts have their place, but adding cutout characters — photos featuring a model (or models) in a variety of poses and outfits with the background removed — allows learners to relate to the content that is being presented on a different level.

Emotions Lead to Better Focus and Retention

Human forms can inject body language and facial expressions into content, which keys workers into the tone of the message. They can then form a more solid memory using more senses. Gestures, dress and environment also provide contextual clues as to how learners can apply the ideas they are being taught in real-world situations.

There is a reason that marketing relies heavily on emotions to capture the attention of potential customers. Emotional connection can bring motivation and inspiration to an otherwise lackluster experience. Cutout characters are a great way to bring excitement, inspire empathy, project disappointment, celebrate accomplishments and inject all types of emotions into any scene.

Representation Matters

In addition to humans’ strong response to seeing other human faces, research shows that individuals relate better to people who look like them. For example, a group of female students who were given textbooks featuring photos of women scientists performed better on their exams. Diverse images are more than a kind gesture or lip service to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. When learners can see themselves in the role they are training for, they will both learn and work better. To this end, the cutout characters used should absolutely reflect the diversity of corporate learners.

Showing different ethnicities and genders in an instructor role through cutout characters helps elevate underrepresented groups. As individuals find success and stay within the company longer, more diversity within the workforce leads to better decision making, greater innovation and more sensitivity. Today, there is no excuse for not including a diverse group in training imagery.

Storytelling Through Characters Commands Attention

When training moves online, corporations are competing with popular streaming sites, social media, influencers and even Hollywood for the attention of their workers. It is so easy for learners to lose focus when they can find any content they like by simply clicking a button on their smartphone.

Luckily, humans love stories. Using cutout characters to add faces and names to realistic scenarios draws people in and allows them to take a more active role in their own learning, as they become more invested in the decision-making process and root for the hero along their journey.

A Human Element Builds Trust

Corporate eLearning is an invaluable tool for modern businesses. The convenience and flexibility of digital tools for workers who are busier than ever outweighs most disadvantages of distance learning.

However, learning via technology can be seen as more impersonal than instructor-led courses. Like it or not, collectively we still feel differently about machines than we do about humans. Adding cutout characters can lend credibility to content being taught online instead of in person.


The value of eLearning has never been clearer. Companies that are spread across the globe, teams made of remote and in-person workers, and a constantly shifting work environment mean that mobile learning options are a necessity. However, removing all human components from the learning experience is a mistake. The simple addition of lifelike, diverse cutout characters adds that emotional element to training, draws people in and builds trust in a way that content with no human presence just can’t deliver.