Toh, L. P. E., Causo, A., Tzuo, P. W., Chen, I. M., & Yeo, S. H. (2016). A Review on the Use of Robots in Education and Young
Children. Educational Technology & Society, 19 (2), 148–163.
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A Review on the Use of Robots in Education and Young Children
Lai Poh Emily Toh1, Albert Causo1*, Pei-Wen T zuo2, I-Ming Chen1 and Song Huat Yeo1
1Robotics Research Centre, School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Nanyang Technological University,
Singapore // 2National Institute of Education, Singapore // firstname.lastname@example.org // email@example.com //
firstname.lastname@example.org // email@example.com // firstname.lastname@example.org
(Submitted August 13, 2014; Revised February 24, 2015; Accepted August 27, 2015)
A systematic review was carried out to examine the use of robots in early childhood and lower level education.
The paper synthesizes the findings of research studies carried out in the last ten years and looks at the influence
of robots on children and education. Four major factors are examined – the type of studies conducted, the
influence of robots on children’s behaviour and development, the perception of stakeholders (parents, children
and educators) on educational robots, and finally, the reaction of children on robot design or appearance. This
review presents the approach taken by researchers in validating their use of robots including non-experimental
(mixed-method, anecdotal, cross-sectional, longitudinal, correlational, and case studies) and quasi-experimental
(pre- and post-test). The paper also shows that robot’s influence on children’s skills development could be
grouped into four major categories: cognitive, conceptual, language and social (collaborative) skills. Mixed
results are shown when it comes to parents’ perception of the use of robots in their children’s education while
design was shown to influence children’s perception of the robot’s character or capabilities. A total of 27 out of
369 articles were reviewed based on several criteria.
Early childhood education, Lower education, Educational robots, Review
With the rapid development of technology in the 21st century, the use of multi-media tool in education has become
increasingly popular. Notwithstanding their usual engineering applications, robots are being used more in schools.
According to Beran et al. (2011), children are also playing more with technologically advanced devices during their
playtime. Subsequently, studies were conducted to investigate robot use’s influence on children’s cognition,
language, interaction, social and moral development (Wei et al., 2011; Kozima & Nakagawa, 2007; Shimada, Kanda
& Koizumi, 2012; Kahn et al., 2012). Recent studies (Wei, Hung, Lee & Chen, 2011; Highfield, 2010; Chen, Quadir
& Teng, 2011) reported that robot use encourages interactive learning, making children more engaged in their
learning activities. This increase research on robot application to education needs systematic look at the direction
taken this past decade in order to elucidate a roadmap for future studies.
Recent reviews on the use of robots in education show the challenges faced by researchers in this field. Benitti
(2012) points out that more than 70 papers could have qualified in his review work but only 10 provided quantitative
measurement on the use of robots in education. From these ten papers, only those that discuss the potential of using
robots in all level of education and highlight the non-engineering benefits were selected.
Mubin et al. (2013) analysed research works from through the actual robots used. The major factors identified were
robot’s role, type (physical form), behaviour (capabilities and interaction capacity), learning activity type, and venue
(inside or outside of classroom) where learning takes place. Mubin et al. (2013) and Benitti (2012) find similarity on
the topics where robots were being used in education – learning language, science, and technology. Although Mubin
et al. (2013) differs by pointing out the various roles played by the robot in education – as tutor, tool, or peer.
The reviews provide good starting points for researchers, the criteria (Benitti, 2012) and perspective (Mubin et al.,
2013) taken by these two papers could potentially miss those that could be relevant to researchers in the field.
Moreover, other factors critical in the use of robot in education may have been overlooked, like the effect of design
on interaction or the importance of parent’s perception in the success of implementing a robot-in-education project.
The aim of this paper is to assess the effectiveness of using robots in studies published within the last decade. We
look at effectiveness as having four sub-factors – the study type done by the researcher, the influence of the robots on
the behaviour and development of students, the perception of stakeholders (parents, educators and children) about the
robots, and the importance of design or robot appearance. To achieve this aim, we would focus on articles on the
application of robots in early childhood and lower level education and evidence for the factors would be analysed.
The rest of the paper is organized as follows. The review approach, especially the search and selection strategies, is
discussed in details in the next section. The discussions on the four factors above are described in the succeeding
sections. The conclusion provides a summary and presents the remaining challenges in this research field.
To limit the papers to be reviewed, we implemented a search and selection strategy using specific keywords in
electronic databases. We started with 369 articles and narrowed it down to 27.
Articles reviewed were limited to those published in English from 2003-2013. To gather as many papers as possible,
five major databases were searched: IEEE Xplore, Academic Search Premier, ERIC (Educational Resources
Information Center, ScienceDirect, and SpringerLink. Only articles published in journals have been included for
review, with some exceptions.
Initially, search terms like “robots” and “education” was keyed in but in order to narrow down the result, we used a
similar approach to what Benitti (2012) employed. Table 1 shows the five databases and the keywords used for each
Table 1. Summary of search protocol
(((((“robots”) AND “education”) AND “learning”) AND “ teaching” ) AND “robotic”) under
advanced search options < Journal & Magazines>, < Publication Year : 2003-2013>, < Full
Text and Metadata>
“Robots” AND “Education” AND “Learning” Search <Full Text>, <Date Published: 2003 to
2013>, <Peer Reviewed Scholarly Journal>
“Robots” AND “Education” AND “ Learning” Search < Full Text> <Peer reviewed>
<Journal>, <Date Published: from 2003 to 2013>
Search Terms: ‘Robots’ AND ‘Education’ AND ‘child’ and ‘learning’ AND LIMIT-To
(topics, “child, robot”) AND LIMIT-To (Topics, “child, robot”), <Date Published: Year: 2003
Search Terms: “education” AND “robots”, Search under: <Education and Language>,
<Learning and Instruction>
This review focuses on articles that reported the use of robot in early childhood education. Selected studies were
relevant from early to secondary education context and focused on robot or robotics influence on learning,
pedagogical and developmental domains. The studies selected should report the use of robots as an educational tool.
Given the broad inclusion criteria, we managed to find 369 articles in all (see Table 2). To further narrow down the
scope of the review, the following exclusion criteria have been implemented:
Exclusion Critera E1: Article reported the technical use of robots, designs or innovations.
Exclusion Critera E2: Article reported robotics as a teaching subject.
Exclusion Critera E3: Article reported studies conducted in higher or university education.
Exclusion Critera E4: Article reported the use of robots as assistive technologies.
Exclusion Critera E5: Article did not mention on the use of robots in education.
As shown in Table 2, with the above exclusion parameters, only 27 papers were left. A large number of papers were
excluded due to the focus on robots or robotics as the teaching subject (a total of 132 articles based on E2). Most of
the engineering articles excluded mentioned the use of robot in education in passing or as a justfication for its design;
115 articles were removed based on E1. Moreover, around 12% of articles were excluded because robots were
reported as an educational tool for higher education.
Table 2. Summary of selection
Excluded criteria articles
Academic Search Premier
Note. *One paper in Academic Search Premier and one in ERIC, are repeated in SpringerLink.
From the selected paper, the following details were examined: the purpose of the study, the sample size of the
students involved in the experiments, the description of the setting, data collection and analysis methods, presented
results and the implication of the studies.
Four major factors are focused on in this paper: the type of studies conducted, the robot use’s influence on child
behaviour and development, stakeholder perception, and children’s reaction to robot design or appearance.
Types of studies conducted
Majority of the reviewed papers employed non-experimental studies. There were three studies involving the use of
survey, where video was used to record children’s behaviour and interaction with the robots. Four quasi-experimental
studies involved pre-test and post-test, which were conducted with control group. There were ten anecdotal case
studies, five mixed-method studies and one correlational study. There were three experimental studies and one short
review paper. The detail of each study approach is listed in Table 3.
Table 3. Types of study reported in the reviewed papers
Type of study
Non-experimental (Mixed-method Study)
Williams et al., 2007; Levy & Mioduser, 2008; Liu, 2010; Yo un g
et al., 2010; Sugimoto, 2011
Non-experimental (Anecdotal case studies)
Barker & Ansorge, 2007; Rusk et al., 2008; Highfield, 2010;
Hong et al., 2011; Chang et al., 2010; Chen, Quadir & Teng,
2011; Slangen et al., 2011; Varney et al., 2012
Non-experimental (Cross-sectional survey)
Woods, 2006; Lin et al., 2012
Non-experimental (Longitudinal survey study)
Ruiz-del-Solar & Avi l és, 2004
Non-experimental (Case studies)
Bers, 2010; Bers & Portsmore, 2005
Non-experimental (Correlational study)
Quasi experimental (Pre-test & Post-test)
Barker & Ansorge, 2007; Whittier & Robinson, 2007; Chambers
et al., 2008; Kazakoff et al., 2013
Beran et al., 2011; Salter et al., 2004; Michaud et al., 2005
Short review paper
Cangelosi et al., 2010
Robot’s influence on children’s behaviour and development
The reviewed articles revealed four major themes where robot was able to aid in child’s behaviour or development.
Theme 1: Problem-solving abilities, team skills and collaboration
Studies by Barak (2009) and Varney et al. (2012) were conducted to investigate how the introduction of robots could
change education, especially to help prepare children with 21st century skills and to increase student interest in
robotics. The study conducted by Barak (2009) showed that high school students were able to come up with
inventive solutions to problems and could benefit from working on project-based programmes. Robotic kits such as
LEGO Mindstorm allowed students to work in teams as they carried out their projects in small groups.
Robotics was further viewed as an effective tool to develop “team skills” in students (Varney et al., 2012). The use of
robots in various activities with young children supports constructivism as a learning method. Students discuss, solve
problems, work with their peers, and combine their knowledge in order to construct their robots. In Chang et al.
(2010), the results from the study further supported that robots could create an interactive and engaging learning
Robots in elementary school helped promote collaboration and problem-solving skills in children as they became
involved in the process and construction of their artefacts for their robotic projects. This was further highlighted by
Hong et al. (2011) study where robots allowed children to engage in deep reflection as they solve problems and
collaborate with their peers, both of which enhanced their learning experience.
Theme 2: Achievement scores, science concepts and sequencing skills
The study conducted by Baker and Ansorge (2007) examined students’ achievement scores with the use of robots in
their science curriculum. Robots were found to be effective at teaching 9-11 year old students science, engineering
and technical concepts. Results from another experiment study conducted by Kazakoff et al. (2013) supported the use
of the robotic programming such as CHERP, a tangible programme which helped increase sequencing skills in pre-
kindergarten and kindergarten children.
Table 4. Articles that reported on skills development
Barker & Ansorge, 2007
Results showed increase mean scores from pre- to post-test, indicating that robotics
was effective at teaching youth about science, engineering, & technology concepts.
Williams et al., 2007
Study shows a significant difference on acquiring physics knowledge but not for
science inquiry skills
Study reveals that students often come up with inventive solutions to problem when
learning with robots.
The result significantly showed that children engaged in multiple mathematical
processes; they demonstrated perseverance, motivation & responsiveness.
Whittier & Robinson, 2007
The results showed that all students obtained significant gains in their conceptual
understanding. There is an increase of mean pre-test from 26.9% to post-test
Kazakoff et al., 2013
Results indicated that the sequencing ability of pre-kindergarten and kindergarten
students increases when participating in an intensive robotics and programming
The result showed that boys had a higher mean score than girls on more than half of
the tasks. Boys scored significantly higher than girls in properly attaching robotic
components and programming using ‘Ifs’.
Slangen et al., 2011
Robots helped challenge pupils to manipulate, reason, predict, hypothesize, analyze
The use of robot to assist non-English speaking students to improve in their understanding of science concepts was
carried out by the Whittier and Robinson (2007) study. Results showed that all students obtained sufficient gains in
their science conceptual knowledge with an increase from 26.9% in pre-test to 42.3% in post-test. The middle school
students developed problem-solving skills, inquiry and engineering design skills. Robots were also used to develop
and improve learning of science concepts, technology and problem-solving, which was further supported by Barak’s
(2009) qualitative analysis of observations, interviews and reflections of students working on their projects.
Similarly, anecdotal records in the Highfield (2010) study showed that robotic toys could be catalyst for
mathematical problem solving through participation in multi-faceted approach by integrating and inter-relating
concepts and skills through dynamic tasks. The use of robotic to develop of physics content knowledge showed a
significant difference but not for the science inquiry skills, according to the Williams et al. (2007) study. Table 4
shows a summary of the skills where robot has a positive effect.
Theme 3: Language skills development
In the study by Chang et al. (2010), a humanoid robot was used to teach a second language in a primary school.
Results showed that robots could create interactive and engaging learning experiences as the children responded with
high motivation. The use of robots for language development was found to be advantageous as it also allowed for
demonstration of highly mobile behaviour and extensive repetition. Sugimoto (2011) used robot for storytelling,
where the robot was used in students’ learning and provided opportunity for children to learn in a mixed-reality
environment. The children engaged strongly in story expression and acted in a coordinated manner while also being
involved in their story creation with their robots.
Table 5. Articles with focus on language skills development
Overview of paper on language skills development
Chang et al., 2010
Results indicate that robots could create interactive and engaging learning
experience for students.
Young et al., 2010
Quantitative results showed that 95% have positive attitude towards tangible
learning companions/robots. They become more active in practicing
Hong et al., 2011
Students were highly involved and reflective during the construction of their
Varney et al., 2012
Results showed that robot could be used as an effective tool in children to develop
‘team skills’; 75% of students actively raised questions.
In the study, the children engage strongly in story expression and acted in a
Chambers et al., 2008
Results suggested that providing children with physical experiences were not
sufficient to understand mechanical concepts. Timely & appropriate
intervention is important.
TangibleK robotics could be implemented in the early childhood setting in a
developmentally appropriate way by integrating other disciplines.
Rusk et al., 2008
Results suggested multiple paths for engagement of children, teens, families and
Levy & Mioduser, 2008
The role of adult’s interaction enables children to shift into more complex
Varney et al., 2012
The study presented results on the efficacy of the LEGO robotic programme in
fostering student’s interest.
Ruiz-del-Solar & Avilés, 2004
Social robots were effective in fostering students’ interest in engineering.
Michaud, et al., 2005
Roball, a robot capable of autonomous motion, was used in child-development
Cangelosi et al., 2010
Studied embodied cognitive agent-humanoid robot. Discussed areas such as
complex sensorimotor, linguistic & social learning skills.
Chen, Quadir & Teng, 2011
The use of robot with computer and book enhanced students’ concentration in
their learning of English, interest and motivation.
According to Slangen et al. (2011), students working on projects using LEGO and Mindstorms were found to be
involved in frequent process of comparing their test results with their objectives, expectations, and in refining their
conceptual knowledge and skills. Table 5 summarizes the articles that reported on the use of robots for language
Theme 4: Participation
Rusk et al. (2008) introduced Picocricket invention kit program to increase participation from children, teens,
families and educators in robotics-related endeavors via workshops, after-school programs and professional
development programs. The workshops allowed students to work on broad themes based on their own interests. As
these students were given the opportunity to combine art and engineering, encouraged to use storytelling and
exhibition and introduced to new technologies, their interest in robotics increased.
Parents’, educators’, and children’s perception of educational robots
Liu (2012) and Ruiz-del-Solar and Avilés (2004) investigated perception of parents, children and teachers on the use
of educational robots. The results from Lin et al. (2012) revealed that most parents’ would consider educational
robots as beneficial for their children. However, parents felt that they were less confident when playing and teaching
their children on using robots.
Ruiz-del-Solar and Avilés (2004) studied the children’s degree of satisfaction on robot use, their inquired level of
competence and their eventual interest to pursue an engineering career. 700 children and teachers were surveyed in
that study and 86% of the participants would consider studying in an engineering or science university in the future.
In the Bers (2010) study, educators developed computational thinking and learning about the engineering design
process in young children by introducing the TangibleK programme. It integrated other disciplinary learning in a
developmentally appropriate way for young children. Table 6 provides the list of articles and their reports on
stakeholder perception on using robots in education.
Table 6. Perception of different stakeholders
Beran et al., 2011
Results from frequency and content analysis suggested that a significant proportion of
children ascribe cognitive, behavioural, and affective characteristics to robots.
Salter et al., 2004
Findings suggested that touch could have an important role to play when developing
natural human-robot interfaces. It further suggested that robot interaction levels could
vary to suit different children.
Results showed that although the robots are very human-like, children were still
capable of distinguishing them from humans. However, the robots evoke a feeling of
discomfort or repulsion.
Results showed children regard
Educational robot as a plaything;
Studying robotics as a source of employment;
Learning of robotics as a way to high tech.
Male and female perceptions differ.
Lin et al., 2012
Results indicated that parents considered educational robots as beneficial for their
children. But they were less confidence in playing and teaching with educational
robots with their children themselves.
Bers & Portsmore, 2005
Engineering students gained insight into the educational system and issues involved in
incorporating ICT into the classroom. Pre-service teachers saw the potential offered
by technology and what they would need to know to continue using it.
Children’s reaction to robot’s design or appearance
Levy and Mioduser (2008) presented rich anecdotal data on children’s descriptions and explanations of robots’
behaviour. Their study involved children in two strands of tasks (description and construction). It also showed that
when adult facilitate and interact with the children, they were capable of shifting into more complex technological
rules. In addition, a study conducted with 184 (Beran et al., 2011) showed that a significant proportion of the
children ascribe cognitive, behavioural, and affective characteristics to robots.
159 children were asked to evaluate 40 images of robot through questionnaires in order to investigate how children
perceive robot’s appearance (Woods, 2006). The study showed that children perceive robots’ intentions and
capabilities based on robot appearance. Children judged human-like robots as aggressive and machine-like ones as
friendly. Sullivan and Bers (2012) showed using the TangibleK programme that the boys scored significantly higher
than girls in properly attaching robot components and programming using “Ifs.” However, as reported for the rest of
the tasks gender differences were statistically insignificant.
The effectiveness of robots in education programme could be analyzed from different aspects: Study design in order
to report meaningful and statistically significant results, robot’s effects on child’s behaviour and development,
relevance of stakeholders’ perception on using robots in and outside of classroom setting, and users’ reaction
(especially the children) to the robot’s design.
Researchers, majority of whom relied on non-experimental methods, implemented various approach to validate their
studies. However this just shows that experimental methods are sorely lacking; quantitative analysis is needed, as
pointed by Benitti (2012).
In education, the use of robots has the potential to help children develop various academic skills like science process
understanding, mathematical concept development and improvement of achievement scores (Barker & Ansorge,
2007; Williams et al., 2007; Highfield, 2010). In addition, the introduction of robotics in curriculum also increases
children’s interest in engineering. As reported in Chang et al., 2010, the use of robots in education allows children to
engage in interactive and engaging learning experiences. Robots seem appropriate to use in language skill
development because it allow for a richer interaction (Sugimoto, 2011; Chambers et al., 2008 ; Bers, 2010; Chang et
al., 2010; Young et al., 2010).
Two new factors have emerged in this review paper: the stakeholder’s perception and the value of robot design.
Aside from the main users (children), parents and educators have to be on-board as well in order to increase the
chances of success of this kind of programmes. Lack of parental support would confine educational robots to
applications only inside the classroom.
Lastly, design is usually the last consideration when incorporating robots into an application. However, as Woods
(2006) and Sullivan & Bers (2013) studies showed, design could make a difference on robot perception and hence,
how the children would interact with it. Unfortunately, not a lot of work has been done yet on this question.
Past studies are like beacons on where research have been and indicates various milestones (e.g., Cangelosi et al.,
2010). This paper shows a possible roadmap and highlights research gaps in this field.
The authors would like to thank the Singapore Millennium Foundation for supporting this work.
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Appendix Table. Details of the selected studies
Type of study
32 (9-11 years
to teach Science
Tec hn ica l
Pre-test & Post-
test for control
(M = 7.93, SD =
3.71) to ( M =
17.00, SD =
2 weeks robotic
camp as students
work in small
There is a
not for the
for students to
work on themes
to foster their
interest and a
sense of shared
Combining art and
music, art and
3 boys, 3 girls,
selected, (5yrs -
Two sets of
the study: a
and a sequence
Children took part
in a sequence
braided of two
strands of tasks:
Five 30-45 minute
Data collected on
The role of adult
Tec h nol ogy
Data are collected
come up with
are likely to
students work on
(24 boys, 24
To d ev el op a
in using robots
The study was
the use of
The tool was
high validity &
robot as a
about robot as
(3) Learning of
robotics as a
way to high
22 (Year 1)
as a catalyst
2 hrs/week over 12
weeks of study.
complete 3 tasks
(1) Structural tasks
(3) Extended tasks
Study to examine
Use of computer
with robot and
Yo un g et
68 (Grade 3-4);
6 students (2
boys & 4 girls)
as a focus
conducted in an
school in Taiwan
were active in
with the robot
of learning in
Students took part
Tai w a n .
Each pupil was
Lin et a l.,
17 male, 22
survey about the
Gender and socio-
But they were
in playing and
for parents in
this area are
Avi l és,
and teachers in
Reviews on use of
Tested the degree
88% finished all
the basic tasks
in the future.
Va rn e y e t
Working in small
for children to
25 (11-12 years
13 boys and 12
allocated into 5
Children took part
in a story
robot and a
study involved 2
drawing tasks to
acted in a
the use of
on their story
(9-10 yrs old)
10 girls and 12
6 weeks – 3
Pre and post
in how they
A g ui de d
of 5th graders
tool for 2nd
5 scenarios were
tested, one per
(2) The robot can
(3) The human
appearance of a
more in the
offer a more
natural way to
to 2nd grade
To d ev el op
Tan g ib le K -
SSS rubic levels of
After 6 TangibleK
students create a
final project by
individually or in
Tan g ib le K
learning in a
way for young
29 students (16
Grade 7, 13
12 sessions of 60-
to address state
gains in their
An increase of
184 children, 5-
16 years old,
A 5 d eg re e
9 questions were
suggest that a
6 Children (5-7
style with the
could have an
to play in
vary to suit
be adapted to
children. It is
future to use
robots in terms
Some robots are
and evoke a
the value of
of users to it.
A p ai re d t-test was
conducted on the
cards. A pre-test
was a control
that it was
possible to see
increases in the
ability of pre-
a robotics and
as little as 1
way to tangibly
To e ng ag e
have hands on
The goal is to
develop a model
and approach for
ICT into the
A study on
Tan g ib le K
boys and girls
successful in a
series of building
Tan g ib le K
consisted of a six
that boys had a
score than girls
on more than
half of the
tasks but very
in the results
girls in only 2
10-12 year olds
3 girls, 1 boy)
3 girls, 1 boy)
To examine the
using robot to
help children in
areas of their
Study of embodied
with a series of