Tech 4 Learners – Week 6 – Reading Assignment


“Teachable Agents and the Protégé Effect: Increasing the Effort Towards Learning” (Chase, Chin, Oppezzo, & Schwartz, 2009) is a research article reporting on two studies.  Please pay special attention to the two “methods” sections, and the “general discussion” at the end.  Post 3 paragraphs that describe in your own words what each of the two studies did, and what you think the important take-aways may be from this research.


The research’s primary goal was to investigate further the use of TA’s to increase cognitive gains. Using a software where the student can create concept maps for chains of causal relationships, they were given a passage on “Fever”. One group of students were prompted to teach the software’s TA and the other group to learn for themselves. During this process they were able to read the passage, build and adjust the concept maps, chat with other students online and play practice rounds of the gameshow. On the following day, they would participate in the gameshow a game where their TA’s would play as either agents or avatars. 

The first study focused more closely on how a “mere belief” manipulation would affect the performance of the TA’s in the gameshow. The results showed that the students who taught the TA’s outperformed the ones learning for themselves. What strikes me as most interesting was that I’ve had this experience personally as a teacher – the more I taught about a subject, the more I learned about it. I eventually started studying new subject matters with a preset notion that I would have to teach it the next day – or at least present it the next day. This study confirmed my intuitive notion that you learn by teaching. Another aspect in the first study that struck me was that lower achieving students obtained greater gains from the exercise, probably because they were stimulated to look at how they think and move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. The process shows that intelligence is teachable and can advance.

The second study was done to explore the underlying mechanisms of the protege effect actually took place. The sample was selected from a higher achieving group of students and were carried out in a very similar manner as the first study. Apart from some minor differences in the mechanics of the use of the software and gameplay session, the main difference lied in what data was being collected and observed – the internal thought process of the students. The students were prompted to think out loud during the process in order to capture any underlying mechanism that would explain the positive effect of teaching the TA. The findings were that the students who taught the TA has less fear of failure (EPB) since the responsibility was shared with the TA at the same time they cared much more about future improving the TA’s performance rather than the control group. This empathetic relationship for me is the key towards better learning outcomes – the student must see a reason for learning – be it to teach someone else, be it to understand that you can actually improve someone’s “intelligence” – you are not stuck with “being dum”. 

What also struck a chord was that it seems like we tend to care much more about pleasing others than we care about taking care of ourselves. The students cared about the TA’s performance in the game, they felts sorry for them when they made a mistake and were compelled to teaching them better or more in the future. It evokes a sense of responsibility that is stronger than the one we feel towards our selves apparently. For me, it related to the feeling that if we are in a car alone we are more likely to be reckless than if we have others in the car – we are responsible for their lives and therefore act more responsibly. 

So I guess that learning by teaching can be summarized by the fact that “learning is a side effect of sustained engagement”. If you need to teach someone you engage more deeply with the reading, with the preparation of the explanation/schema/mental model, and finally you care about the outcomes – you care more if your student learned that you care if you learned it only for yourself.