Nudging in Higher Education

Economist Richard Thaler has studied how people are motivated and how they make decisions; he has been involved in research that connects persuasion with design principles to form the theory of behavioural economics

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Nudges are ‘subtle contextual changes without increasing the reward, limiting the freedom of choice, or needing a time-intense implementation’. The greatest benefit of nudging is the shift towards good decision-making which is in the users’ interest. Inspired by behaviour economists Thaler and Daniel Pink, I have been looking at reframing the issue of late or non-submissions by nudging those who have not yet submitted (but the deadline has not yet passed) and sending simple ‘thank you/’well done’ messages to those whom have submitted prior to the deadline.

A key aim of the Swinburne Online first year curriculum is to support all commencing students to adjust successfully to online study. Taking the concept of nudging and implementing it in academia may increase pass rates, retention and overall student satisfaction. Nudging can be especially effective for first year students whom may need to further develop their time management skills.

Proactively sending messages to students whom have not yet submitted their assessment may assist learners in effectively managing their workload; the nudge should act as a call to action – prompting them to submit, request an extension (if applicable), or finish by reviewing the learning materials to ensure a quality submission. 

Deployed appropriately, nudges can steer learners to make better choices. Well-tailored digital nudges can help improve unit pass rates and retention; when thoughtfully written, they can also lead to increased student satisfaction.

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What are your thoughts and experiences? Can we nudge adult learners to make better decisions, gently pushing behaviors in the desired direction?