The Web Science Trust

The Learning Companion: an Embodied Conversational Agent for Learning

Eynon, Rebecca and Davies, Chris and Wilks, Yorick (2009) The Learning Companion: an Embodied Conversational Agent for Learning. In: Proceedings of the WebSci'09: Society On-Line, 18-20 March 2009, Athens, Greece. (In Press)

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The possibilities for adults to learn using the World Wide Web are numerous and exciting. Yet while those individuals, who have the skills to navigate, locate, create and make use of these resources for learning can benefit significantly; there are many others who are struggling to use the web to learn despite having numerous motivations for doing so. In contrast to policy expectations, access to the Internet has not increased the number of adults engaging in meaningful learning opportunities; and new technology appears to reinforce existing patterns of exclusion from learning throughout adult life. In response to this issue, a technical tool that helps adults to make more productive use of the web for their personal, self-directed learning, which they might undertake simply for their own satisfaction, or in order to improve their personal circumstances in some practical way is being developed at the University of Oxford. This technology will be a learning interface that encompasses a Learning Companion, a computer-based “conversational agent” – in effect, an animated speaking character on a computer screen - designed to give practical support, guidance and focus to the independent learning activities of adults who currently lack the confidence or the opportunity to take part in organised learning, but who might be prepared to study topics of their own choice in their homes using the Internet. The technology on which the Learning Companion will be based is being developed and refined as part of the European 6th Framework Companions Project ( It is anticipated that this tool will assist people in making the most of the web for learning because it is designed to enable people to make the most of what is already “out there”, whilst at the same time emphasizing personal choice of learning content and approaches, supporting current constructivist views of learning, reducing the negative aspects of solitary learning by performing functions traditionally provided by human support and freeing up cognitive capacity for achieving the desired learning goals. This paper will report the findings from phase 1 of the research that aims to evaluate the feasibility of the Learning Companion by using a “Wizard of Oz” methodology: an experimental procedure which elicits data of how human subjects engage in dialogue with computers. Drawing on findings from interviews and Wizard of Oz experiments with 40 adult learners in England this paper will explore the extent to which the hypothesized learning benefits of the use of the Learning Companion are likely to be achieved. The paper will provide examples of the kinds of interactions adult learners had with the tool and explore them utilizing a constructivist framework. As part of this analysis the paper will consider the individual factors (e.g. socio-economic background, Internet usage and attitudes, approaches and motivations for learning) that are likely to influence perceptions, use and benefits of using the Learning Companion and how the prototype is perceived by the target group (i.e. the extent to which it is considered useful, acceptable, usable and attractive). The findings discussed will provide proof-of-concept for this innovative tool and make a significant theoretical contribution to theories of e-learning.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Poster)
Uncontrolled Keywords:e-learning, adult learning, Embodied conversational agents
Subjects:Web Science Events > Web Science 2009
ID Code:229
Deposited By: W S T Administrator
Deposited On:24 Jan 2009 08:45
Last Modified:15 Mar 2009 22:14

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