Social Robots for Educational Purposes

I was reading this article about how, in this digital day and age, social robots could be designed to be child-friendly with special functions to serve educational purposes. A social robot is a robot specifically designed to interact with humans. It got me thinking about how social robots work and the impacts of their interactions with children. In the article, Vogt, de Haas, de Jong, Baxter, and Krahmer (2017), emphasize that the robot is at its most effective when it is introduced as a peer and fellow learner, but having adult-like interaction strategies. It is important that the robot be adaptive to the needs of each individual child, thus staying within the Zone of Proximal Development (Vogt et al, 2017).

While this was the first I had heard of “social robots”, apparently they have been around for at least a few years now. In 2011, BBC published an article about how researchers are finding that social robots are helping children with profound autism learn social and communication skills through games and interactive play. The social robots are a means for the children to explore, observe, and engage with their environment without any negative reactions or responses (BBC, 2014).


I did some more researching and found Robots4Autism, a program that uses purpose-built humanoid robots to deliver curriculum using evidence-based best practices for building social and behavioral skill development in a 1:1 setting. The robot, Milo, can smile, laugh, walk, and speak, giving children the opportunity to practice and develop their socio-emotional and communication skills. I’m curious as to how using a robot would play out in an inclusive educational setting, and if use of the robot could be integrated into a constructivist curriculum.

However, humanoids are not the only kind of child-friendly robot out there. In the video below, we can see Tega, a squishy, cartoon-like, smart-phone based social robot, designed by MIT’s Personal Robotics Lab. Tega has already been put to work teaching Spanish to preschoolers!

What do you all think about using social robots in an early childhood educational context? Would you use robots like Milo and Tega in your work with young children? Do you think children would have a preference between the two robots?

I, myself would have loved having Tega as a tool when I was doing my literacy intervention placement with the Toronto District School Board. She seems adorably interactive!

(Image credit: BBC News)