Posted from archive: 08.06.2013 | by AMRA

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When is a mindfulness teacher not a mindfulness teacher? When it’s a virtual one! Hudlicka [Patient Education and Counseling] has developed a virtual interactive coach (“Coach Chris”) to augment a text and audio web-based mindfulness course. The course, designed to assist students in developing an ongoing mindfulness practice (defined as 20 minutes of practice 5 days a week), consisted of 4 lessons delivered over 4 weeks, plus 3 weeks of supportive coaching. Coach Chris utilized natural language and simulated facial expressions to offer didactic information, answer questions, and provide feedback, encouragement, and support.

The program was evaluated using a group of 32 on-line students, half of whom took the program with Chris, and half of whom took the program without “her.” Students who studied with Chris meditated significantly more often (4.5 vs. 3.2 days/week) and for longer periods (19 vs.16 minutes) than those who took the coach-less version. Coached students were also more confident of their ability to continue their practice independently at the conclusion of the program. These benefits occurred despite the fact that students failed to rate Chris very highly in terms of either her social realism or ability to customize feedback. Considering the difficulty in creating acceptable virtual interactive natural language agents, Chris is an impressive achievement. While we might all prefer “real” to “virtual” teachers, real teachers are not always available and affordable. Coach Chris just might offer the next best alternative.

Reference: Hudlicka, E. (2013). Virtual training and coaching of health behavior: Example from mindfulness meditation training. Patient Education and Counseling, 92(2):160-6. [PMID: 23809167]

[Link to abstract]