Journal of Science Education and Technology

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 334–352 | Cite as

Teachable Agents and the Protégé Effect: Increasing the Effort Towards Learning

  • Catherine C. ChaseEmail author
  • Doris B. Chin
  • Marily A. Oppezzo
  • Daniel L. Schwartz


Betty’s Brain is a computer-based learning environment that capitalizes on the social aspects of learning. 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 protégé 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 protégé 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.


Educational technology Motivation K-12 education Peer tutoring 



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grants EHR-0634044, SLC-0354453, and by the Department of Education under grant IES R305H060089. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the granting agencies.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Catherine C. Chase
    • 1
    Email author
  • Doris B. Chin
    • 1
  • Marily A. Oppezzo
    • 1
  • Daniel L. Schwartz
    • 1
  1. 1.School of EducationStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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