Here are three interesting research abstracts about using avatars or pedagogical agents (fancy word for characters) in elearning.
This is a meta-analysis of 43 studies involving a pedagogical agent to facilitate learning.
Schroeder, N. L., Adesope, O. O., & Gilbert, R. B. (2013). How Effective are Pedagogical Agents for Learning? A Meta-Analytic Review. Journal Of Educational Computing Research, 49(1), 1-39. doi:10.2190/EC.49.1.a
Research on the use of software programs and tools such as pedagogical agents has peaked over the last decade. Pedagogical agents are on-screen characters that facilitate instruction. This meta-analysis examined the effect of using pedagogical agents on learning by reviewing 43 studies involving 3,088 participants. Analysis of the results indicated that pedagogical agents produced a small but significant effect on learning. The overall mean effect size was moderated by the contextual and methodological features of the studies. The findings revealed that the use of pedagogical agents were more beneficial for K-12 students than post-secondary students. Pedagogical agents that communicated with students using on-screen text facilitated learning more effectively than agents that communicated using narration. The findings of this study have implications for advancing theory and practice, as well as highlighting productive future directions for research.
This one is about a single study using an Avatar or pedagogical agent to present information to learners.
Tze Wei, L., Su-Mae, T., & Jayothisa, C. (2013). The Effects of Peer-Like and Expert-Like Pedagogical Agents on Learners’ Agent Perceptions, Task-Related Attitudes, and Learning Achievement. Journal Of Educational Technology & Society, 16(4), 275-286.
The present study examined the impact of peer-like and expert-like agent stereotypes, as operationalized by agent’s image and voice, on learners’ agent perceptions, task-related attitudes, and learning achievement. 56 university freshmen (23 males and 33 females) interacted with either the peer-like agent (female college student) or the expert-like agent (female college lecturer) in computer-based multimedia lesson on C-Programming. Consistent with similarity-attraction hypothesis, expert hypothesis, and interference hypothesis, it was found that:
(1) learners assigned higher ratings on lesson enjoyment with peer-like agent than with expert-like agent
(2) female learners assigned higher trust to the lesson presented by expert-like agent that to the lesson presented by peer-like agent.
(3) female learners reported less anxiety in learning task with expert-like agent than with peerlike agent
(4) learners who were more attracted to virtual agent were more likely to score lower in learning achievement.
Additionally, results from this study suggest that gender bias affects learner’s perception on virtual agent. Implications are discussed in terms of how stereotypes of expert-like and peer-like agent can be effectively utilized in e-learning environment.
This study argues for making the avatar as realistic as possible.
Mayer, R. E., & DaPra, C. S. (2012). An embodiment effect in computer-based learning with animated pedagogical agents. Journal Of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 18(3), 239-252. doi:10.1037/a0028616
How do social cues such as gesturing, facial expression, eye gaze, and human-like movement affect multimedia learning with onscreen agents? To help address this question, students were asked to twice view a 4-min narrated presentation on how solar cells work in which the screen showed an animated pedagogical agent standing to the left of 11 successive slides.
Across three experiments, learners performed better on a transfer test when a human-voiced agent displayed human-like gestures, facial expression, eye gaze, and body movement than when the agent did not, yielding an embodiment effect.
In Experiment 2 the embodiment effect was found when the agent spoke in a human voice but not in a machine voice.
In Experiment 3, the embodiment effect was found both when students were told the onscreen agent was consistent with their choice of agent characteristics and when inconsistent.
Students who viewed a highly embodied agent also rated the social attributes of the agent more positively than did students who viewed a nongesturing agent. The results are explained by social agency theory, in which social cues in a multimedia message prime a feeling of social partnership in the learner, which leads to deeper cognitive processing during learning, and results in a more meaningful learning outcome as reflected in transfer test performance.