Behind the scenes – how we brought learning to life

March 25, 2022

We are incredibly proud of Explore’s unique Compass learning tool. In the last year alone, Explore members have mastered in excess of 6,000,000 skills using it. Children and tutors love it alike and recently there’s been a lot of excitement at the addition of new virtual characters supporting children on their learning journeys. 


A screenshot of the Compass learning tool - a selection of cartoon characters to choose from


We had to consider lots of different aspects during the development of our characters: 


  • Pedagogical: What is the best approach to help children learn?
  • Engagement: What will make children enjoy the Compass learning tool?
  • Representation, Diversity and Inclusivity
  • Design and User Experience


We are thrilled with the results. This blog delves into the journey that we went on.


How characters help children to learn

“I really like it because you get to express yourself” 

Hanifah, 11.

A cartoon girl with colourful afro hair


You might be surprised to know that there is scientific evidence supporting the use of characters in virtual learning. Their use can impact a child’s learning in five different ways.  



Children relate to illustrations and when given a choice, they will nearly always choose a ‘favourite’ character. There is something about the character that makes them feel a connection. This connection can help children feel invested throughout their learning journey.


Reducing anxieties

Characters can help reduce anxiety through learning. Whether this is their smiley faces or calm appearance, they help to subconsciously relax a learner and a relaxed brain allows children to retain knowledge more easily and recall information more quickly.



Similarly an entertained brain is a highly effective knowledge sponge! Having a character that you like, cheering you on from the sidelines helps you to retain more information. And if they make you laugh – even just a little bit – then it really helps to enhance learning.


Memory tool

Being able to visualise learning is a great trigger for the memory and animated characters help to do this through the small actions they make. When a child is recalling their learning the characters can make a visual imprint on the memory.


Emotional response

Most importantly characters can create an emotional response. As human beings we are always looking for things that reflect our understanding of the world. They can make children feel safe and that they belong which is so powerful in creating a positive learning environment.


“My son cried about going to his Explore session for the first time yesterday inventing a mythical tummy ache. However, I told him to look out for some exciting new Compass changes.

I cannot quite explain the transformation in the little boy that came home! He was bouncing off the walls about the new characters and backgrounds. He wanted to tell us the choices of everyone he was sat next to, made his granddad sit whilst he talked him through each one, and apparently wants to do an independent session at home after school today instead of seeing his cousin as planned.”

– Amandeep, Explore Learning Parent

A cartoon boy with black hair


What is special about our characters?

The current cast of six characters went through countless stages of development and testing to make sure we were delivering on what we believe is important for our members; representation, diversity and inclusivity. At the same time, we needed them to play a key role in each child’s journey at Explore, igniting that spark that gets them excited to learn each day, while keeping them engaged throughout every session. 

Colourful cartoon children's characters


Each character is unique to Explore Learning and represents the attitudes we love to see in our members. For example, Zola would like to build up the courage to be a stand-up comedian one day, Sydney isn’t afraid of getting things wrong and Kai loves trying new hobbies!

“I chose Kai because he likes trying new stuff”

– Asahi, 8.

Cartoon boy


The importance of diversity and inclusion

When a child says ‘That person looks like me!’, there’s a really powerful moment of connection. It’s so important that each child feels like they can relate to their chosen character. When they see themselves reflected in a positive way it helps to relax the mind and reduce anxiety. This simple moment of connection can keep them motivated throughout their learning session and helps them to view their whole learning journey in a positive light. 

“I chose Sydney because I like her clothes”

– Rose, 10, Brixton Centre.

Girl character

Find out more about our commitment to improving diversity and inclusion and Explore.


Member input 

During the character development stage, we wanted to make sure our members were included in the process and were able to design a character themselves. We held a competition, and Seraphina’s iconic character Zola was born. Her rainbow hair and joyful energy has made her one of the favourites amongst both our members and staff! 


A member's drawing of one of the Compass characters Full length cartoon girl character with colourful afro hair


Seraphina’s competition winning character design.   Seraphina’s character interpreted by Josie 


Meet our designer Josie 

“Having worked on these characters, themes and interface since 2019, I am so proud of how far our learning tool has come.

It has been incredibly rewarding to not only see our members’ smiles, but also their increased excitement and motivation towards improving their maths and English since the update was released.”

– Josie Do Nizza , Senior Graphic Designer at Explore Learning

Headshot of designer, Rosie


Initial sketches and development


Member drawing of underwater environment Underwater cartoon environment Drawing of cartoon character


The future of the characters 

In order to really bring these characters and learning experience to life, work has begun on animation and gamification features, such as character movements, points collection in exchange for digital customisation and so much more! 

We want to continue building a world that our members enjoy spending time in each day; that they have the opportunity to add their own unique touches to. A world that enhances their learning experience and motivates them to reach their full potential.

“Compass is, first and foremost, a learning tool which we design to deliver the best possible progress for every child. As you have read, everything surrounding our characters serves a purpose; from their biographies to the poses they make on screen!

As we plan for the future of our characters, we’re passionate about getting the right balance between learning, enjoyment and representing the values and attitudes that are important to us.”

-Lewis Cherry, Compass Project Manager.   

Headshot of Compass manager, Lewis


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