Using scaffolding to formalize digital coach support for low-literate learners

Dylan G.M. Schouten, Pim Massink, Stella F. Donker, Mark A. Neerincx

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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In this study, we attempt to specify the cognitive support behavior of a previously designed embodied conversational agent coach that provides learning support to low-literates. Three knowledge gaps are identified in the existing work: an incomplete specification of the behaviors that make up ‘support,’ an incomplete specification of how this support can be personalized, and unclear speech recognition rules. We use the socio-cognitive engineering method to update our foundation of knowledge with new online banking exercises, low-level scaffolding and user modeling theory, and speech recognition. We then refine the design of our coach agent by creating comprehensive cognitive support rules that adapt support based on learner needs (the ‘Generalized’ approach) and attune the coach’s support delay to user performance in previous exercises (the ‘Individualized’ approach). A prototype is evaluated in a 3-week within- and between-subjects experiment. Results show that the specified cognitive support is effective: Learners complete all exercises, interact meaningfully with the coach, and improve their online banking self-efficacy. Counter to hypotheses, the Individualized approach does not improve on the Generalized approach. Whether this indicates suboptimal operationalization or a deeper problem with the Individualized approach remains as future work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-223
Number of pages41
JournalUser Modeling and User-Adapted Interaction
Volume31 (2021)
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Design research
  • Embodied conversational agent
  • Requirements engineering
  • Scaffolding
  • User modeling
  • Virtual learning environment


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