Study Finds Robots Inspire New Learning and Creativity Possibilities for Kids

According to a new Latitude study, Robots @ School, robots are helping to reveal a potential shift in kids' social and learning psychologies, suggesting new opportunities for educators and technologists to better address common hurdles children encounter in the learning process to inspire self-direction and creative risk-taking and to enhance kids' experiences with technology more broadly.

According to a new Latitude study, Robots @ School, robots are helping to reveal a potential shift in kids' social and learning psychologies, suggesting new opportunities for educators and technologists to better address common hurdles children encounter in the learning process, to inspire self-direction and creative risk-taking, and to enhance kids' experiences with technology more broadly.

Latitude, an international research consultancy, asked kids across the world to write and illustrate a short story answering this question: "What if robots were a part of your everyday life - at school and beyond?" The goal of the study was to provide educators, entrepreneurs, technologists, and interactive content creators with insights about the close, often overlapping, relationship between learning and play for today's children, to identify common frustrations in the learning process, and to suggest possible solutions - both high- and low- tech.

The multi-phase innovation study was designed and run by Latitude, and published in collaboration with LEGO® Learning Institute and Project Synthesis, an Australia-based ideas consultancy. Robots @ School follows on the heels of Latitude's 2011 study, Children's Future Requests for Computers and the Internet, which envisioned possible futures for technology (as seen by kids across the world, ages 12 and under), and highlighted actionable opportunities for new content, user experience (UX), and technology offerings. Robots @ School focuses more specifically on kids' psychology of learning and the role of technology in education.

\"On the surface, this study is about robots but, more importantly, it's about a new paradigm for learning and creativity, which kids - using robots as a focal point - are helping us to uncover," explains Steve Mushkin, founder and president of Latitude. "Education and learning are moving, at least in many children's eyes, beyond acts of knowledge transmission toward acts of exploration and creation. As participants in this new model, robots and other intelligent technologies could help unleash the inherent and expansive capabilities of each child in ways that we\'ve only begun to conceive.\"

Nearly 350 kid-innovators, ages 8-12, from Australia, France, Germany, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have participated in the Robots @ School study, submitting drawings and text-based narratives of their imagined experiences with robots. Latitude is planning to expand the study to include children in Asia.
View some of the kids' drawings here:
Specifically, children were asked to select, as the basis of their stories, one of three narrative prompts rooted in particular life settings: in the classroom, at school but outside of class, and at home after school. Researchers scored kids' stories on variables relating to human-robot relationships and the dimensions of human-robot activities (e.g., play, learning, creation, and exploration).

See infographic displaying some of insights derived from children's submissions:

Overall, the stories demonstrated that, unlike many adults who see technology as separate from humanness, kids tend to think of technology as fundamentally human: as a social companion that can entertain, motivate, and empower them in various contexts - blurring the line between play and learning or higher-level creative pursuits, and highlighting a variety of new directions for content and technology based on kids' evolving relationship with it.
Key insights from the Robots @ School study include:

-Smart = Social, Machines Tell Us: Nearly 2/3 of kids took for granted that robots could make excellent human friends in spite of their machine intelligence. In most cases, kids conceived of their fictional robots as humanoid peers that they could identify with and aspire to be like. Moreover, children imagined robots that were considered popular and socially successful by their human peers precisely because they're smart; in other words, being perceived as a "nerd" actually creates, not detracts from, social opportunities - giving children a solid motivation to learn. This is, no doubt, also true in the real world (sans robots) for today's digital natives - robots simply helped to illuminate what many kids already value in social scenarios.

"This study clearly emphasizes, that if you ask children about their relationship to robots, it will not only provide a glimpse into the future of technology but, more importantly, the children will describe to us how we should imagine our future relationship to each other," says Bo Stjerne Thomsen, Senior Research Manager at LEGO® Learning Institute, which collaborated with Latitude on the study.

-Robots Free Us to Learn and Create in New Ways: Kids imagined robots that were, essentially, better versions of our teachers and parents, offering limitless time and patience, encouraging confidence and self-direction, and allowing us to make mistakes sans self-consciousness. The majority of kids' robots (75%) acted patient and supportive in educational contexts. Kids also saw robots as figures that could inspire them to take more creative risks: emotionally, without the risk of becoming a social outlier, and practically, by taking on boring tasks so they could be freed up for higher-level pursuits (which 25% of kids explicitly conveyed in their stories).

"While children imagine robots that are virtually human in many regards, it's their slight machine-ness that ultimately makes robots such effective partners for learning and creative exploration," says Ian Schulte, director of technology and business development at Latitude, who led the study. "Robots support and encourage, but don't judge. They don't run into scheduling conflicts, and they certainly don't ostracize kids for wrong answers or unconventional thinking. Because they're just mechanical enough, robots enable kids to grow and explore without
regard for social stigmas that so often stifle learning and creativity."

-Let's Close the Divide Between Learning and Play: While one might expect kids to create more stories about play than learning, an equal number (38%) focused on each of these themes. In fact, kids didn't make much distinction between the roles of "playmate" and "study buddy" when describing their robots; they tended to view learning and play as related, often overlapping, pursuits, moving fluidly between the two - even if their lives appear much more compartmentalized in practice.

"Robots @ School demonstrates the importance of respecting and engaging with the ideas and expectations of children," says Daniel Donahoo, Director at Project Synthesis. "This study gives us an early insight into the world they want to create, how they expect technology to interface with their lives and their positive aspirations for the future."

Robots @ School study findings now available:

A complete PDF study summary is available for download at
Read Latitude's blog post discussing the findings of Robots @ School:

To subscribe to news about Latitude's ongoing open innovation studies, sign up for Latitude's newsletter here:

About the study
The multi-phase Robots @ School study was designed by Latitude (and published in conjunction with LEGO® Learning Institute and Project Synthesis) to understand kids' evolving learning psychologies in today's digital age, and to highlight specific opportunities for educators, technologists, and content creators to integrate learning and play and to enhance educational experiences overall.

Over the course of 2011, Latitude asked 348 kid innovators, ages 8-12, from Australia, France, Germany, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States to submit drawings and text-based narratives of their lives as if robots were a fixture - both at school and at home. Researchers then scored and analyzed kids' stories and drawings based on the presence of specific themes.

About Latitude's Kids Innovation and Discovery Studies (KIDS)

Robots is one installment of Kids Innovation and Discovery Studies, an ongoing research series by Latitude which invites kids from across the globe to tackle big ideas in structured problem-solving scenarios, providing valuable insights for educators, technologists, and society. For other KIDS studies, visit:

About Latitude
Latitude is an international research consultancy helping clients create engaging content, software and technology that harness the possibilities of the Web.

To learn more about working with Latitude, visit and contact Ian Schulte, Director of Technology & Business Development at ischulte(at)latd(dot)com.

To download an overview of Latitude's research and consulting services, visit
For general inquiries, contact: life-connected(at)latd(dot)com

For more news updates and research findings, follow Latitude on Twitter @latddotcom and become a Facebook fan at

About the Study Collaborators
Robots @ School was designed and run by Latitude, and published in collaboration with LEGO® Learning Institute and Project Synthesis.

LEGO® Learning Institute
The LEGO® Learning Institute carries out foundational research on creativity, learning, play and child development based on the values of LEGO® play and learning. The institute has an extensive collaboration with academic experts and research institutions, to understand how to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow.

Project Synthesis
Project Synthesis is an Australia-based ideas consultancy working with organizations and individuals to create action and change out of ideas and inspiration. Project Synthesis delivers projects across education, health, community and the third sector.

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