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eLearning Update: Relating to Virtual Tutors

A new study from researchers at North Carolina State University, has found that creating virtual tutors and trainers in online courses that are similar to the person taking the course may help increase engagement and performance in the course.

The study looked at the effect of "superficial" similarities between the virtual helper and the student, such as race and gender, as well as similarities in communication style. It found that when the virtual tutor had the same race and gender as the student, the student was more engaged. The study also found that when the student and the virtual tutor had similar communication styles, the student was more satisfied and performed better.

How students perceived the communication style of the virtual tutor might be just as important as whether the tutor actually exhibits communication in similar ways to the student, said Lori Foster Thompson, the co-author of the study. "We found that people liked the helper more, were more engaged, and viewed the program more favorably when they perceived the helper agent as having a feedback style similar to their own—regardless of whether that was actually true," she said in a press release.

The full report is not yet available online, but will be published in the upcoming issue of Computers in Human Behavior.

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