IT Teaching Resources

Social robots and virtual agents as lecturers for video instruction

A lab experiment testing the results of substituting a digital agent for a video of the instructor

Article Research Promising practices

Title: Social Robots and Virtual Agents as Lecturers for Video Instruction
Authors: Jamy Li, René Kizilcec, Jeremy Bailenson, Wendy Ju

Key points

  • In a lab experiment, learners preferred human lecturers over a digital teacher that was obviously not a real human (animated robot); Knowledge recall was higher with the real human than an animated robot
  • However, when the same experiment was performed using a social robot, knowledge retained was higher with the animated robot
  • Findings implies that human teachers should be used when possible, but cleverly designed robots may make a good alternative

One emerging convention in video lectures is to show presentation slides with an inset video of the instructor’s head. Substituting a robot or a digital agent for the video of the instructor could radically decrease production time and cost; thus, the influence of a digital agent or robot on the learner should be evaluated. Agent-based alternatives for a talking head were assessed with an experiment comparing human and agent lecturers in a video from a popular online course. Participants who saw the inset video of the actual lecturer replaced by an animated human lecturer recalled less information than those who saw the recording of the human lecturer. However, when the actual lecturer was replaced with a social robot, knowledge recall was higher with an animated robot than a recording of a real robot. This effect on knowledge recall was moderated by gender. Attitudes were more positive toward human lecturers than toward robots. An initial proof-of-concept demonstrates that although a human lecturer is preferable, robotic and virtual agents may be viable alternatives if designed properly.

What would this look like in a course?
  • Consider using robotic or virtual learning agents as a possible alternative for live lectures.
  • Courses can implement virtual lessons that are designed to be compatible with teaching style and pedagogy.

Li, J., Kizilcec, R., Bailenson, J., & Ju, W. (2016). Social robots and virtual agents as lecturers for video instruction. Computers in Human Behavior55, 1222-1230.