Educational Technology Research and Development

, Volume 54, Issue 6, pp 569–596 | Cite as

A Social-Cognitive Framework for Pedagogical Agents as Learning Companions



Teaching and learning are highly social activities. Seminal psychologists such as Vygotsky, Piaget, and Bandura have theorized that social interaction is a key mechanism in the process of learning and development. In particular, the benefits of peer interaction for learning and motivation in classrooms have been broadly demonstrated through empirical studies. Hence, it would be valuable if computer-based environments could support a mechanism for a peer interaction. Though no claim of peer equivalence is made, pedagogical agents as learning companions (PALs)—animated digital characters functioning to simulate human-peer-like interaction—might provide an opportunity to simulate such social interaction in computer-based learning. In this article we ground the instructional potential of PALs in several social-cognitive theories, including distributed cognition, social interaction, and Bandura’s social-cognitive theory. We discuss how specific concepts of the theories might support various instructional functions of PALs, acknowledging concepts that PALs cannot address. Based on the theoretical perspectives, we suggest key constituents for designing PALs that in human-peer interactions have proven significant. Finally, we review the current status of PAL research with respect to these constituents and suggest where further empirical research is necessary.


pedagogical agents learning companions social interaction computer-based learning environment advanced technology for learning 


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Copyright information

© Association for Educational Communications and Technology 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Instructional TechnologyUtah State UniversityLogan
  2. 2.Center for Research on Engaging Advanced Technology for Education (CREATE)USA
  3. 3.Department of Educational Psychology and Learning SystemsFlorida State UniversityUSA
  4. 4.Center for Research of Innovative Technologies for Learning (RITL)USA

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