Pedagogical Agents and the Efficiency of Instructional Conditions in Educational Applications

Pedagogical Agents and the Efficiency of Instructional Conditions in Educational Applications

Eliseo Reategui (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Brazil), Leila Maria Araújo dos Santos (Federal University of Santa Maria (UFSM), Brazil) and Liane Tarouco (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Brazil)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0137-6.ch008
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This chapter discusses how the use of pedagogical agents in educational applications may influence the relative efficiency of instructional conditions, a concept proposed by Paas & Merriënboer (1993), which combines the measures of mental effort and task performance to determine, for example, how efficient certain settings are regarding their potential to promote learning. The authors describe an experiment carried out with 179 students who were enrolled in a distance learning course about educational software. The results of the study demonstrated that the conversational agent contributed to the improvement of the efficiency of instructional conditions. Such results make a relevant contribution to interactive learning research as they demonstrate that the use of pedagogical agents may improve the efficiency of learning material. Furthermore, by simulating social interaction, these agents may expand the boundaries of educational applications, which have been often designed mainly for individualized learning.
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The use of virtual characters with different types of communication skills has spread in a wide range of applications, both in academic and commercial spheres (Pandzic, 2001). Within these applications, many examples can be found in the educational area. In Shaw & Johnson (1999), for instance, virtual teachers guide the students in online interactive activities. In other research, it has been demonstrated that students considered the subject studied significantly less difficult and the presentation more entertaining in the presence of a virtual character (André, Rist, & Muller, 2002). In the same experiment most of the students stated that the assistants helped them pay attention to the most important details in the pages. A significant portion of these investigation results are aligned with the ideas that teaching and learning are highly social activities. Based on this premise, Kim & Baylor (2006) showed how virtual characters could be used not as tutors, but as learning companions.

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