Social robots and virtual agents as lecturers for video instruction

Li, B., Kizilcec, R.F., Bailenson, J.N., & Ju, W. (2016). Social robots and virtual agents as lecturers for video instruction. Computers in Human Behavior, 55, 1222-1230, doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.04.005.


One emerging convention in video lectures is to show presentation slides with an inset video of the instructor’s head. Substituting a robot or a digital agent for the video of the instructor could radically decrease production time and cost; thus, the influence of a digital agent or robot on the learner should be evaluated. Agent-based alternatives for a talking head were assessed with an experiment comparing human and agent lecturers in a video from a popular online course. Participants who saw the inset video of the actual lecturer replaced by an animated human lecturer recalled less information than those who saw the recording of the human lecturer. However, when the actual lecturer was replaced with a social robot, knowledge recall was higher with an animated robot than a recording of a real robot. This effect on knowledge recall was moderated by gender. Attitudes were more positive toward human lecturers than toward robots. An initial proof-of-concept demonstrates that although a human lecturer is preferable, robotic and virtual agents may be viable alternatives if designed properly.