LDT Professor Dan Schwartz says 'Teachable Agents' spur students to work harder, reason better, and ultimately learn more.
Educators have long held that peer tutoring can help students learn, and emerging research on students working with computer characters points to one possible reason why: Teaching begets learning for the teachers.
Researchers at Stanford University’s AAA Lab and Vanderbilt University’s Teachable Agents Group call it the “protégé effect,” which posits that students will work harder, reason better, and ultimately understand more by learning to teach someone else—even a virtual “teachable agent”—than they will when learning for themselves.
Being social is a frame of mind, said Dan Schwartz, the director of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based AAA Lab, a social and cognitive learning research center. “These kids know these characters aren’t alive, but they get engaged with the narrative and play pretend, and it brings out a lot of good behaviors,” he said.
Most studies of peer-mediated learning and reciprocal teaching focus on improvements for the students being taught, rather than the advantages for the student-teacher. Teachable Agents researchers instead study how the act of teaching, both in students’ effort and reflection on thinking, improves their learning.
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