Text to Impress

Researchers at Harvard found that the dropout rate among students who received motivational text messages fell to 16 percent.
Researchers at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, recently asked two colleges in the U.K. to send text messages to 1,179 adult learners in literacy and math courses. Each message was written to improve students’ motivation, planning, or social connection to the school. In the experiment, the dropout rate among students who received the motivational messages fell to 16 percent, compared to 25 percent for the control group.

Texts to help students plan their homework included reminders such as “It never hurts to plan ahead [so] decide when you will practice,” and texts to motivate students included statements such as “Keep up the hard work and keep improving.” Messages meant to encourage students to maintain social connections within the course included encouragements such as “Well done, you’ve reached the mid-term break! Time to practice what you’ve learned and stay connected,” along with a link to the college’s Facebook page. Texts addressed students by name and were “signed” by the college.

The students’ attendance rate remained high even three weeks after the messages were sent. The authors conclude that “the returns on investment for this low-cost intervention are high enough to justify its use.”

Researchers included professors from Harvard Business School, Harvard Law School, and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in Boston, Massachusetts, as well as from The Behavioural Insights Team, a government think tank in the U.K. dedicated to the behavioral sciences. The study was funded by the U.K. government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

“Curbing adult student attrition: Evidence from a field experiment” is available at ssrn.com/abstract=2563757.