Intelligent Agents in Education

Intelligent Agents in Education

Mikail Feituri (Università Telematica Guglielmo Marconi, Italy) and Federica Funghi (Università Telematica Guglielmo Marconi, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-619-3.ch018
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Distance learning through information and communication technologies has consistently had a notable impact and influence on the academic and professional world. This is greatly due to the fact that distance learning allows users, especially professionals, to learn at their own pace, according to their availability, in addition to having limited costs. These features are consistent with and support the concept of life long learning. Traditional courses delivered in an E-learning modality can sometimes, however, result in being unstimulating and leaving the student with the impression of being isolated during their learning process. Pedagogical intelligent agents, however, are able to be constantly present in the learner’s training environment, interacting verbally and non verbally (gestures and expressions) with users, thus making E-learning much more interactive, interesting and fun. This ongoing interaction and support of the agent, therefore, notably helps reduce the possibility of users feeling excluded during their E-learning course, thus better enhancing their overall learning experience and reinforcing their motivation. This chapter will introduce features and potential of pedagogical agents and will illustrate, with examples, the most common techniques used to design an agent or a “society” of intelligent agents and how to integrate them into a learning environment.
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A special type of intelligent agent is the “pedagogical agent”, an actual virtual tutor who supports the students throughout their learning process within the learning management system. The virtual tutor is a unique intelligent agent due to the following specific features:

  • Always visible to the user within the educational milieu.

  • Takes on human (or humanoid) forms, usually having a face, hands and arms in order to point out objects to the user or to perform actions.

  • Interacts with the user both verbally (by means of language) and non verbally (through gestures and/or facial expressions).

  • Moves and interacts directly with the learning milieu and within the milieu itself.

Based on these general definitions, Johnson, Rickel and Lester (2000), pioneers in pedagogical intelligent agent research, describe intelligent agents as, “They increase the bandwidth of communication between students and computers, and they increase the computer’s ability to engage and motivate students.”

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