When are tutorial dialogues more effective than reading?

Kurt VanLehn, Arthur C. Graesser, G. Tanner Jackson, Pamela Jordan, Andrew Olney, Carolyn P. Rosé

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

319 Scopus citations


It is often assumed that engaging in a one-on-one dialogue with a tutor is more effective than listening to a lecture or reading a text. Although earlier experiments have not always supported this hypothesis, this may be due in part to allowing the tutors to cover different content than the noninteractive instruction. In 7 experiments, we tested the interaction hypothesis under the constraint that (a) all students covered the same content during instruction, (b) the task domain was qualitative physics, (c) the instruction was in natural language as opposed to mathematical or other formal languages, and (d) the instruction conformed with a widely observed pattern in human tutoring: Graesser, Person, and Magliano's 5-step frame. In the experiments, we compared 2 kinds of human tutoring (spoken and computer mediated) with 2 kinds of natural-language-based computer tutoring (Why2-Atlas and Why2-AutoTutor) and 3 control conditions that involved studying texts. The results depended on whether the students' preparation matched the content of the instruction. When novices (students who had not taken college physics) studied content that was written for intermediates (students who had taken college physics), then tutorial dialogue was reliably more beneficial than less interactive instruction, with large effect sizes. When novices studied material written for novices or intermediates studied material written for intermediates, then tutorial dialogue was not reliably more effective than the text-based control conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-62
Number of pages60
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Conceptual physics
  • Latent semantic analysis
  • Learning
  • Natural language dialogue
  • Physics education research
  • Qualitative physics
  • Tutorial dialogue

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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