Animated pedagogical agents: How the presence and nonverbal communication of a virtual instructor affect perceptions and learning outcomes in a computer-based environment about basic physics concepts
M. Casey Frechette, The University of New Mexico, United States
The University of New Mexico . Awarded
One important but under-researched area of instructional technology concerns the effects of animated pedagogical agents (APAs), or lifelike characters designed to enhance learning in computer-based environments. This research sought to broaden what is currently known about APAs' instructional value by investigating the effects of agents' visual presence and nonverbal communication.
A theoretical framework based on APA literature published in the past decade guided the design of the study. This framework sets forth that APAs impact learning through their presence and communication. The communication displayed by an APA involves two distinct kinds of nonverbal cues: cognitive (hand and arm gestures) and affective (facial expressions). It was predicted that the presence of an agent would enhance learning and that nonverbal communication would amplify these effects.
The research utilized a between-subjects experimental design. Participants were randomly assigned to treatment conditions in a controlled lab setting, and group means were compared with a MANCOVA. Participants received (1) a non-animated agent, (2) an agent with hand and arm gestures, (3) an agent with facial expressions, or (4) a fully animated agent. The agent appeared in a virtual learning environment focused on Kepler's laws of planetary motion. A control group did not receive the visual presence of an agent.
Two effects were studied: participants' perceptions and their learning outcomes. Perceptions were measured with an attitudinal survey with five subscales. Learning outcomes were measured with an open-ended recall test, a multiple choice comprehension test, and an open-ended transfer test.
Learners presented with an agent with affective nonverbal communication comprehended less than learners exposed to a non-animated agent. No significant differences were observed when a group exposed to a fully animated agent was compared to a group with a non-animated agent. Adding both nonverbal communication channels mitigated the disadvantages of adding just one kind of nonverbal cue. No statistically significant differences were observed on measures of recall or transfer, or on the attitudinal survey.
The research supports the notion that invoking a human-like presence in a virtual learning environment prompts strong expectations about the character's realism. When these expectations are not met, learning is hindered.
Frechette, M.C. Animated pedagogical agents: How the presence and nonverbal communication of a virtual instructor affect perceptions and learning outcomes in a computer-based environment about basic physics concepts. Ph.D. thesis, The University of New Mexico.
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Animated Pedagogical Agent: A Review of Agent Technology Software in Electronic Learning Environment
Malliga K Govindasamy, International Languages Teacher Education Institute, Malaysia
Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia Vol. 23, No. 2 (April 2014) pp. 163–188
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