While some have predicted that robots will replace classroom teachers in the coming years, many argue that bots will never be fully up to the task. Because of this tension, educational robots have occupied a fairly prevalent place in recent research. An international team of robotics researchers decided to analyze this body of research in order to determine the effectiveness of social robots in education and assess the challenges they pose.

Specifically, the researchers wanted to measure how successful robot tutors are at achieving learning outcomes, how robot appearance and behavior contribute to their effectiveness, and what potential roles a robot is suitable to fill in an educational setting. To do this, the team reviewed published studies extracted from Google Scholar, Microsoft Academic Search, and CiteSeerX databases that detailed the use of robots intended to deliver learning experiences through social interaction. In total, the researchers analyzed about 100 published articles. All articles evaluated had to present novel experimental evaluations or analyses, feature robots used as a physical teacher with educative intent, and present results in a full, completed article.

The review revealed that social bots can increase cognitive and affective outcomes, and have achieved outcomes similar to those of human tutors in some cases. This is largely because of their physical presence; all robots featured had humanoid features, which the researchers argue sets the expectation that the robot will engage with the learner, and can make the learner more comfortable. Though they most frequently provide direct curriculum support in a teacher or tutor role, social robots have also been successfully used as learning companions and novices, allowing the student to learn by taking on the role of instructor. However, social robots are limited in their speech recognition abilities, especially when it comes to understanding the speech of young children, and they struggle to read the social environment. Additionally, they are logistically difficult to work into curriculum, and students can become overly dependent on them.

While this review confirmed that social robots have a place in formal education, it also lays out the technical and institutional challenges of using these bots. While this research doesn’t rule out teacher replacement in the future, it does appear that teachers are safe–for now.

Belpaeme, T., Kennedy, J., Ramachandran, A., Scassellati, B., & Tanaka, F. (2018). Social robots for education: A review.Science Robotics, 3(21).

Image: by Franck V. via Unsplash.