Empirically evaluating the application of reinforcement learning to the induction of effective and adaptive pedagogical strategies

Min Chi, Kurt VanLehn, Diane Litman, Pamela Jordan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

54 Scopus citations


For many forms of e-learning environments, the system's behavior can be viewed as a sequential decision process wherein, at each discrete step, the system is responsible for selecting the next action to take. Pedagogical strategies are policies to decide the next system action when there are multiple ones available. In this project we present a Reinforcement Learning (RL) approach for inducing effective pedagogical strategies and empirical evaluations of the induced strategies. This paper addresses the technical challenges in applying RL to Cordillera, a Natural Language Tutoring System teaching students introductory college physics. The algorithm chosen for this project is a model-based RL approach, Policy Iteration, and the training corpus for the RL approach is an exploratory corpus, which was collected by letting the system make random decisions when interacting with real students. Overall, our results show that by using a rather small training corpus, the RL-induced strategies indeed measurably improved the effectiveness of Cordillera in that the RL-induced policies improved students' learning gains significantly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)137-180
Number of pages44
JournalUser Modeling and User-Adapted Interaction
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2011



  • Human learning
  • Machine learning
  • Pedagogical strategy
  • Reinforcement learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Science Applications

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