Don’t Give Up!: A Mixed-methods Design-led Research to Understand How Young Adolescents Learn and Teach Persistence with AI Bots as Learning Companions


The ability to persist in the face of challenges and opportunities is a fundamental trait that can positively or negatively shape outcomes and society writ large. While humans have to practice persistence throughout their lifespan, research identifies two key windows of opportunities for learning– childhood and early adolescence. Research illuminates how toddlers persist to learn to walk, speak, and navigate their social worlds through trial-and-error learning. Less is known about the processes that present-day young adolescents, coming of age within a highly networked world, deploy to practice and develop persistence. Traditional approaches rely on didactic, classroom-facilitated activities to promote socio-emotional learning in youth. We take a strengths-based approach and leverage the peer-learning model in positioning young adolescents as expert agents of their learning. We posit that i) inviting young adolescents to help design and teach an AI bot how to be persistent can disarm the social anxieties they may otherwise experience in teaching the skill to peers; and ii) teaching the skill will help them reinforce and reflect on their own experiential learning. Discord, an online multimodal platform that originated within video gaming communities but gained wider recognition as a social space among youth during the global health pandemic, forms our chosen research setting. Using a design-led research approach and mixed methods including focus groups, interviews, observations, and ambulatory assessments, we will understand how very young adolescents (8-14 years) practice and grow their ability to persist. The proposed research draws from the allied disciplines of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Developmental Science, and the Learning Sciences and will leverage our interdisciplinary team of postdoctoral researchers and industry practitioners. We aim to contribute to a deeper understanding of the underlying learning mechanisms that young adolescents mobilize in developing persistence and the strategies they use when tasked with teaching the skill to another.

Project Team