Lack of personalization and individualized attention are common issues facing distance education designers and instructors. This is a particularly important deficiency as research has shown that personalization can increase learning greatly in comparison to nonpersonalized, information to student, linear instruction (Clark & Mayer, 2003). Advocates of personalization cite cognitive learning theory as the basis for such an approach; when humans communicate with one another they are continuously processing information, either assimilating or disregarding data and forming an understanding of the information in context of the environment and of the person with whom they are interacting. This is a natural learning mechanism that cognitive learning theories state is the foundation for all deep and lasting instruction (Hein, 1991). Through an engagement of the natural learning mechanisms, or cognitive structures, an individual should be capable of learning efficiently and form a more thorough understanding of a topic. Personalization of text through the use of informal speech and the inclusion of virtual coaches known as pedagogical agents are used as personalizing devices. These are particularly relevant options in the design of nonmoderated e-learning, as personalization is meant to fill the void where the instructor once stood. There are exclusions however, as pedagogical agents have been used in “traditional” online classrooms as well. This article focuses on the use of pedagogical agents in e-learning that: -Provides information on pedagogical agents strengths and weaknesses -Provides research relevant to pedagogical agents instructional role -Provides examples of current use -Discusses possibilities of future implementation.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Knowbots: Independent, self-acting computer programs that know how to search a specific database of information on the Internet on behalf of a user, possibly replicating itself on other hosts on the network. As the Knowbot performs its task, it sends reports back to the user.
Constructivist Learning Theory: States that through the use of pedagogical agents, learners are able to interact with a more meaningful and realistic environment and thereby construct knowledge through realistic experience.
Personalization: In this context, it is when humans communicate with one another they are continuously processing information, either assimilating or disregarding data and forming an understanding of the information in context of the environment and of the person with whom they are interacting.
Social Learning Theory: Focuses on the social relationships in learning interactions; learning can occur through observation, modeling, or imitation. Learning does not require an observable change in behavior.
E-Learning: Learning that is accomplished over the Internet, a computer network, via CD-ROM, interactive TV, or satellite broadcast.
Pedagogical Agents: Computer generated virtual tutors used in e-learning that can provide individualized instruction, learning motivation, and a more interesting and effective learning environment.