An evaluation of an adaptive learning system based on multimodal affect recognition for learners with intellectual disabilities

Penelope J. Standen*, David J. Brown, Mohammad Taheri, Maria J. Galvez Trigo, Helen Boulton, Andrew Burton, Madeline J. Hallewell, James G. Lathe, Nicholas Shopland, Maria A. Blanco Gonzalez, Gosia M. Kwiatkowska, Elena Milli, Stefano Cobello, Annaleda Mazzucato, Marco Traversi, Enrique Hortal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Artificial intelligence tools for education (AIEd) have been used to automate the provision of learning support to mainstream learners. One of the most innovative approaches in this field is the use of data and machine learning for the detection of a student's affective state, to move them out of negative states that inhibit learning, into positive states such as engagement. In spite of their obvious potential to provide the personalisation that would give extra support for learners with intellectual disabilities, little work on AIEd systems that utilise affect recognition currently addresses this group. Our system used multimodal sensor data and machine learning to first identify three affective states linked to learning (engagement, frustration, boredom) and second determine the presentation of learning content so that the learner is maintained in an optimal affective state and rate of learning is maximised. To evaluate this adaptive learning system, 67 participants aged between 6 and 18 years acting as their own control took part in a series of sessions using the system. Sessions alternated between using the system with both affect detection and learning achievement to drive the selection of learning content (intervention) and using learning achievement alone (control) to drive the selection of learning content. Lack of boredom was the state with the strongest link to achievement, with both frustration and engagement positively related to achievement. There was significantly more engagement and less boredom in intervention than control sessions, but no significant difference in achievement. These results suggest that engagement does increase when activities are tailored to the personal needs and emotional state of the learner and that the system was promoting affective states that in turn promote learning. However, longer exposure is necessary to determine the effect on learning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1748-1765
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Technology
Issue number5
Early online date29 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020



Cite this