Massive OECD Study, Minor Focus on Education

I believe strongly that behavioral insights can have an impact on educational outcomes. It is, of course, much of what I write about. But, understandably so, most of the impact that behavioral insights have had has been through other fields.

I found an extensive study yesterday, published this past year on results from across almost all OECD countries. It is nearly 500 pages long, and the evidence is rock-solid, to say the least. But unfortunately for my purposes, there are only two small studies cited on education.

These studies (all of which you can read here, education begins on page 95) are useful. The first concerns an afterschool program in South Africa, where participants are reminded in personal text messages that include specific information. As you might expect, significantly more attended once reminded – and the reminders were personalized, referencing how often they had attended in previous weeks – and their educational outcomes improved once they attended. It was also particularly successful at bringing non-attendees back into the program.

The study admits its own limitations, as it was a short period of time. But I see such studies and I want to take it further. Attrition is a major issue, of course, and no one can learn if they don’t attend in the first place. But what of that next step? What about the students, particularly adults, who make just enough effort to show up but aren’t engaged? How can behavioral insights reach and connect with them?

That’s where I want to go.

The second study centers on adult literacy in the UK, and includes the accepted finding that persistence in education is closely tied to the beliefs that what they are learning is important, that they have the ability to succeed, that practice and effort matter (because why do it otherwise?), and that they feel like they are welcomed and belong. This study sent messages to students, seeking to increase these beliefs, and indeed it significantly (36%) lowered the dropout rate.

Again we have the same issue, though, in that these studies are, in my view, first drafts. They are great, and proof of concept. But if and when I get a chance to be involved in my own work, these will serve as building blocks for the path I want educational research to travel.

Stay tuned.