This research investigates if the presence of virtual persuasive agents presented as avatars, happy images and encouraging text can provide social support similar to real peers and improve students’ Web-based learning self-efficacy (WBLSE). This research also examines if low and high fidelity virtual persuasive agents can provide social support in a similar way.
This study uses Bandura’s (1982) self-efficacy theory as a framework for changing nursing students’ beliefs in using the Web for learning. The basis for including virtual persuasive agents in this research stems from the media equation theory (Reeves & Nass, 1996) which holds that Computers are Social Actors (CASA) and that people respond to Web-based media as if they were social actors.
Adopting the User-Centred Design approach, a bespoke Web-based training package was developed for changing pre-registration and post-registration nursing students’ WBLSE. In a quasi-experimental design, the package was delivered in three separate studies to different groups of pre-registration and post-registration nursing students. Several important findings contributed to the WBLSE body of knowledge. Overall, the training package was found to be effective with the nursing students’ WBLSE improving equally in the intervention groups in all studies. Pre-registration students showed the greatest improvement when learning by self-direction supported by virtual persuasive agents, whereas post-registration students improved when learning in a blended setting without their support. Low-fidelity virtual persuasive agents were sufficient in providing social support for pre-registration students in self-directed settings. The implications for Web-based learning in nurse education, research and practice are discussed.
Bandura, A. 1982. Self-Efficacy Mechanism in Human Agency. American Psychologist, 37, 122-147.
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Reeves, B. & Nass, C. I. 1996. The media equation: How people treat computers, television, and new media like real people and places, Chicago, IL, US: Center for the Study of Language and Information; New York, NY, US: Cambridge University Press.