Social robots in learning experiences for adults with intellectual disability

Researchers from QUT’s Centre for Robotics are conducting real-world research in partnership with disability support organisations and their customers to develop innovative and effective technology solutions to support adults with intellectual disability.

In 2019, an initial exploratory study was conducted to see how social robots might contribute to learning experiences for communities of adults with intellectual disability. The study involved observation and semi-structured interviews of eleven participants with intellectual disability and their support workers, who were divided into three groups. Two robot applications were developed for Softbank Robotics’ Pepper robot to deliver content based on Endeavour Foundation’s life skills curriculum.

This study identified four themes for considering participant engagement and that each group of learners and facilitators may have a unique configuration and role for the robot. The findings suggest that Pepper’s social nature, physical presence, and flexibility of modalities with the support of the tablet play a key role in engaging adults with intellectual disability.

The researchers observed that part of the robot’s value in learning was as a facilitator of social interaction between participants. The study uniquely placed the robot as a co-contributor to the learning experience, rather than as an exclusive learning partner, supplementing the social context rather than replacing it. The researchers presented their findings at INTERACT 2021, one of the longest running, international conferences on human-computer interaction. The study provides valuable insights into the potential of social robots as a tool for personalized learning for adults with intellectual disability and highlights the need for further research and co-design with learners and learning facilitators in disability support services.

Overall, this study underscores the importance of collaboration between technology experts, disability support organisations, and the individuals they serve to create innovative and effective solutions that meet the needs of this population. The future looks promising for the use of social robots in providing supports in employment for this population. The researchers are continuing to explore the roles social robots can play in supporting individuals with intellectual disability in the workplace.

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Brisbane, Queensland – refer here.