Analysing adaptive scaffolds that help students develop self-regulated learning behaviours

Anabil Munshi, Gautam Biswas, Ryan Baker, Jaclyn Ocumpaugh, Stephen Hutt, Luc Paquette

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: Providing adaptive scaffolds to help learners develop effective self-regulated learning (SRL) behaviours has been an important goal for intelligent learning environments. Adaptive scaffolding is especially important in open-ended learning environments (OELE), where novice learners often face difficulties in completing their learning tasks. Objectives: This paper presents a systematic framework for adaptive scaffolding in Betty's Brain, a learning-by-teaching OELE for middle school science, where students construct a causal model to teach a virtual agent, generically named Betty. We evaluate the adaptive scaffolding framework and discuss its implications on the development of more effective scaffolds for SRL in OELEs. Methods: We detect key cognitive/metacognitive inflection points, that is, moments where students' behaviours and performance change during learning, often suggesting an inability to apply effective learning strategies. At inflection points, Mr. Davis (a mentor agent in Betty's Brain) or Betty (the teachable agent) provides context-specific conversational feedback, focusing on strategies to help the student become a more productive learner, or encouragement to support positive emotions. We conduct a classroom study with 98 middle schoolers to analyse the impact of adaptive scaffolds on students' learning behaviours and performance. We analyse how students with differential pre-to-post learning outcomes receive and use the scaffolds to support their subsequent learning process in Betty's Brain. Results and Conclusions: Adaptive scaffolding produced mixed results, with some scaffolds (viz., strategic hints that supported debugging and assessment of causal models) being generally more useful to students than others (viz., encouragement prompts). Additionally, there were differences in how students with high versus low learning outcomes responded to some hints, as suggested by the differences in their learning behaviours and performance in the intervals after scaffolding. Overall, our findings suggest how adaptive scaffolding in OELEs like Betty's Brain can be further improved to better support SRL behaviours and narrow the learning outcomes gap between high and low performing students. Implications: This paper contributes to our understanding and impact of adaptive scaffolding in OELEs. The results of our study indicate that successful scaffolding has to combine context-sensitive inflection points with conversational feedback that is tailored to the students' current proficiency levels and needs. Also, our conceptual framework can be used to design adaptive scaffolds that help students develop and apply SRL behaviours in other computer-based learning environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)351-368
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Computer Assisted Learning
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • adaptive scaffolding
  • agents
  • conversational feedback
  • learning strategies
  • open-ended learning environments
  • self-regulated learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Computer Science Applications


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