Don't miss our weekly PhD newsletter | Sign up now Don't miss our weekly PhD newsletter | Sign up now

  Conversational Learning Companion – Exploring interactions between learners and conversational agents (Advert Reference: RDF22/EE/CIS/VASILIOU)

   Faculty of Engineering and Environment

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Dr Christina Vasiliou, Dr N Dalton  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This PhD project will focus on human-computer interaction for conversational agent design. The project aims to enhance the effectiveness, social bonding, trust and personalisation of conversational agents, to integrate and use them as learning companions. The potential outcomes of this research will include design guidelines and prototypes for conversational agents that will tackle the challenges and limitations of social conversational agents in the context of education and the human-AI interactions that can be developed.

Conversational agents and chatbots have seen a significant rise in the recent years, mainly due to the rapid development of natural language processing and artificial intelligence. These can take the form of embodied physical agents (e.g. Alexa, robots) or not embodied (e.g. chatbots). Industry technology titans, such as Amazon and IBM, have been investing hugely in chatbots and conversational agents to boost personal and team productivity. However, there are still challenges in deploying a socially competent chatbot and an area where these social, companion-style, and personalised conversational agent is particularly valued is education, formal or informal.

The project will involve the combination of Computer Science and Psychology to understand and explore how people interact and collaborate with conversational agents within a learning context. More particularly, the project will:

  • Explore how learners interact and collaborate with or through conversational agents in learning contexts and their expectations and needs for conversational agents as learning companions, taking a critical perspective on technical, social and cognitive implications.
  • Prototype, develop and explore new designs of conversational agents as learning companions that can revolutionise learning, collaboration and reflection.

Depending on the candidate’s experience the project will focus more heavily on one aspect or the other.

This project is well suited to a motivated and hard-working candidate with a keen interest in human-computer interaction, user experience, collaboration spaces, group behaviour and smart technologies. The candidate will join the NorSC Lab in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences

The Principal Supervisor for this project is Dr. Christina Vasiliou.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a relevant Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement in human-computer interaction (HCI), educational technology, AI, psychology and user studies would be an advantage.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Communication & Media Studies (7) Computer Science (8) Mathematics (25) Psychology (31) Sociology (32)

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


Vasiliou, C., Ioannou, A., Stylianou-Georgiou, A., & Zaphiris, P. (2017). A Glance into Social and Evolutionary Aspects of an Artifact Ecology for Collaborative Learning through the Lens of Distributed Cognition. International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction, 33(8), 642-654.
Vasiliou, C., Ioannou, A., & Zaphiris, P. (2020). From behaviour to design: implications for artifact ecologies as shared spaces for design activities. Behaviour & Information Technology, 39(4), 463-480.
Vasiliou, C., Ioannou, A., & Zaphiris, P. (2014). Understanding collaborative learning activities in an information ecology: A distributed cognition account. Computers in human behavior, 41, 544-553.
Vasiliou, C., Ioannou, A., & Zaphiris, P. (2015). An artifact ecology in a nutshell: A distributed cognition perspective for collaboration and coordination. In Human-Computer Interaction (pp. 55-72). Springer.
Other relevant reading:
Tsivitanidou, O., & Ioannou, A. (2021). Envisioned Pedagogical Uses of Chatbots in Higher Education and Perceived Benefits and Challenges. In International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (pp. 230-250). Springer, Cham.

Where will I study?