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NUDGING Students to Learn

What if we could nudge students interest in learning new things just by exposing them short motivational commercials?

First, what is a nudge?


The implementation of nudges in unobtrusive, large-scale interventions on human behaviour was popularized largely due to the work of Richard Thaler. His best-known writing in the field of behavioural economics outlines a range of large-scale nudge interventions which produced substantial positive effects in a variety of international contexts (Thaler & Sunstein, 2009). They define a nudge as follows:

            “A nudge, as we will use the term, is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be cheap and easy to avoid. Nudges are not mandates.” (Thaler & Sunstein, 2009, p.6).



Second, how can we use nudges to support student populations in re-engaging with school learning?


Nudge theory has been applied frequently within behavioural economics, one example being the changing of pension plan enrolment from an opt-in to an opt-out decision. In addition to their use in behavioural economics, nudges have been increasingly used in a wide variety of contexts (Chande et al., 2015), such as the environment (Campbell, 2018), personal fitness (Arno & Thomas, 2016), sex support (Pugatch & Schroeder, 2021), driving behaviours (Rosenfield, 2018), and education (Damgaard & Nielsen, 2018).


In contrast to the adjustments to choice, which are commonly employed in early behavioural economics research, many of these nudges are informational in nature. Informational nudges are “light-touch” messages which, through repeated notifications and cues, support an individual in making better choices and help them understand why and how they can persist with an activity (e.g., Chetty et al., 2014).


Within education, a consistent and light informational nudge approach could be a useful means of supporting student interest in a subject or course. In order to gauge the capabilities of such an approach, the minimum required components are a method for delivering the nudge and a tool for measuring its efficacy. 

Seeking researchers interested in replicating and extending this work: 

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