Social dimensions, learning and technology
Some themes are recurring and are often addressed in conferences and articles shared by researchers in the field of Digital Learning, like Agneta Gulz and her essay Benefits of Virtual Characters in Computer Based Learning Environments. For example: on the role of social presence in a virtual environment, virtual learning coaches, computer-assisted social exchanges, etc.
If these themes are raised so much, it is to affirm the need to introduce virtual characters into the digital learning process. When necessary, social characters are attributed to these virtual characters through facial expressions, movements, the way of expressing themselves, the ability to hold a dialogue or even humor. But all this, for what benefits for the learners?
Benefits of virtual characters in Digital Learning:
1. motivation optimization
Motivation is quite simply the ally of learning in the sense that it greatly contributes to the success of the training. Other factors may come into play, but motivation is key. Indeed, motivation influences the individual on several points, such as cognitive, behavioral and emotional. Motivation, in cognitive psychology, manifests itself according to the expectations of the individual, his feelings in relation to his faculties of achievement and also, according to the support of the external environment.
In Digital Learning, the integration of virtual characters increases the motivation of learning participants. For this motivation to be optimized, learning must take into account different factors such as allowing learners to study in a more social environment. To do this, the programs are made more fun, more interesting and encourage the participation and commitment of participants. The presence of a virtual character accentuates the socialization of the device and transforms it into a more convivial environment.
2. Learn more easily and comfortably
The integration of a virtual character or a set of virtual characters in digital learning develops a certain ease in the learning process. Participants will find it easier to acquire knowledge. They will also be less afraid of failing. This feeling of failure is often felt by students vis-à-vis some of their teachers, for example, and the presence of a “virtual mentor” reassures because it accompanies a failure without challenges – learning by trial – error.
3. Stimulate the desire to explore and discover
Many researchers have done the study and concluded that by involving virtual characters in the program, learners become more motivated to research and research. They explore the support offered to them throughout the learning process. Virtual characters stimulate learners’ sense of exploration and curiosity.
A flagship feature of VTS Editor, for example, is the Inventory. The virtual characters can direct the learner’s attention to this inventory, so that they can find all types of content (videos, documents, images, etc.) that will help them achieve their objective. Similarly, the Clickable zone feature allows learners more interactive exploration, sometimes through real treasure hunts.
4. Encourage the learner to think
Adding one or more virtual characters in a digital learning module is a major lever to encourage the learner to reflect. Reflection plays an important role in learning insofar as it allows the student to find the right language to express himself and to carry out his activities. The role of the virtual character is then to encourage dialogue and cooperative learning. At the same time, he must guide his learner’s attention and direct his thinking towards a specific element of the pedagogical scenario, for example.
5. Rich and fluid interaction
Virtual characters or social characters integrated into pedagogical learning programs bring a development of the quality of information flow and communication. Using a social persona who, as feedback, has the ability to react by nodding, nodding, or expressing their point of view with looks or pointing will improve the flow of information and communication. The learner’s relationship with his virtual agent will be similar to a dynamic that he is used to experiencing, by interacting with other human beings. All this has a positive impact on the quality of the interaction, which will be rich and fluid.
6. Virtual characters: actual guides
Allowing learners to improve their ability to solve problems: this is also one of the advantages of integrating virtual characters into Digital Learning. The virtual characters are real guides throughout the learning process. When the learner is for example faced with a complex situation which requires concentration and which challenges his level of knowledge of the subject, the virtual character will play the role of mentor who will guide the learner and ensure that he progresses in all serenity.
7. Virtual characters with a human appearance to trigger concentration
On a daily basis, seeing a face and exchanging influences our perceptions and our preferences. And this is also the case when we learn with a virtual character who sends us back this first visual impression. This will give us confidence and motivate us (provided of course that the character creates this good first impression). The best is therefore to work on the different facets of the virtual character so that it is memorable.
To conclude, two approaches should be distinguished: intrinsically social learning environments and extrinsically social learning environments.
Extrinsically social learning environments where training results from the participation of those involved. This is, for example, the case of online assisted cooperative learning. For intrinsically social environments, technology intervenes by providing space for activity and support, in particular through the presence of virtual characters, true digital mentors whose mission is to accompany the learner in his rise in skill.
The difference to be highlighted between these two approaches lies, moreover, in the different possibilities offered by the two systems. Indeed, individual learning tools, intrinsically social, are more sophisticated but less attractive to users who prefer to turn to digital learning offering extrinsically social, more cooperative systems. However, they have the advantage of offering techniques to obtain more efficient results and to better anchor the knowledge provided in a sustainable and actionable way in the field. So which learning system to choose? What if Blended Learning was once again the winning approach? Mixing scripted, immersive and gamified digital training with face-to-face and cooperative devices seems to be the winning formula.