The potential of emotional interaction between human and computer has recently interested researchers in human–computer interaction. The instructional impact of this interaction in learning environments has not been established, however. This study examined the impact of emotion and gender of a pedagogical agent as a learning companion (PAL) on social judgements, interest, self-efficacy, and learning. Two experiments investigated separately the effects of a PAL’s emotional expression and empathetic response. Experiment 1 focused on emotional expression (positive vs. negative vs. neutral) and gender (male vs. female) with a sample of 142 male and female college students in a computer literacy course. Experiment 2 investigated the impact of empathetic response (responsive vs. non-responsive) and gender with 56 pre-service teachers. Overall, the results yielded main and interaction effects of PAL emotion and gender on the dependent variables. In particular, the PAL’s empathetic response had a positive impact on learner interest and self-efficacy; PAL gender had a positive impact on recall. The findings imply that the emotion and the gender of the digital learning companion could be utilized to optimize college students’ motivation and learning.