Teachable agents and the protege effect: Increasing the effort towards learning

Betty's Brain is a computer-based learning environment that capitalizes on the social aspects of learning in science. In Betty's Brain, students instruct a character called a Teachable Agent (TA) which can reason based on how it is taught. Two studies demonstrate the "protege effect": students make greater effort to learn for their TAs than they do for themselves. The first study involved 8th-grade students learning biology. Although all students worked with the same Betty's Brain software, students in the TA condition believed they were teaching their TAs, while in another condition, they believed they were learning for themselves. TA students spent more time on learning activities (e.g., reading) and also learned more. These beneficial effects were most pronounced for lower achieving children. The second study used a verbal protocol with 5th-grade students to determine the possible causes of the protege effect. As before, students learned either for their TAs or for themselves. Like study 1, students in the TA condition spent more time on learning activities. These children treated their TAs socially by attributing mental states and responsibility to them. They were also more likely to acknowledge errors by displaying negative affect and making attributions for the causes of failures. Perhaps having a TA invokes a sense of responsibility that motivates learning, provides an environment in which knowledge can be improved through revision, and protects students' egos from the psychological ramifications of failure.

Chase, C.C., Chin, D.B., Oppezzo, M. A. & Schwartz, D. L.
Journal of Science Education and Technology, Vol. 18(4), 334-352.
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middle school
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emotional disturbance
major-other health impairment
specific learning disability
speech or language impairment
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multimedia products and projects
opportunities to learn concepts