Observing tutorial dialogues collaboratively: Insights about human tutoring effectiveness from vicarious learning

Michelene T.H. Chi, Marguerite Roy, Robert G.M. Hausmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

207 Scopus citations


The goals of this study are to evaluate a relatively novel learning environment, as well as to seek greater understanding of why human tutoring is so effective. This alternative learning environment consists of pairs of students collaboratively observing a videotape of another student being tutored. Comparing this collaboratively observing environment to four other instructional methods - one-on-one human tutoring, observing tutoring individually, collaborating without observing, and studying alone - the results showed that students learned to solve physics problems just as effectively from observing tutoring collaboratively as the tutees who were being tutored individually. We explain the effectiveness of this learning environment by postulating that such a situation encourages learners to become active and constructive observers through interactions with a peer. In essence, collaboratively observing combines the benefit of tutoring with the benefit of collaborating. The learning outcomes of the tutees and the collaborative observers, along with the tutoring dialogues, were used to further evaluate three hypotheses explaining why human tutoring is an effective learning method. Detailed analyses of the protocols at several grain sizes suggest that tutoring is effective when tutees are independently or jointly constructing knowledge: with the tutor, but not when the tutor independently conveys knowledge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)301-341
Number of pages41
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Human tutorial dialogue
  • Learning from collaborating
  • Learning from observing
  • Learning from tutoring
  • Physics
  • Problem solving
  • Tutoring
  • Vicarious learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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