Public Release: 

Interventions create more welcoming learning environment

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Disparities in persistence and completion rates of massive open online courses (MOOCs) can be eliminated through interventions that reassure learners that they belong in MOOCs, René F. Kizilcec et al. demonstrate in this Policy Forum. Millions of people worldwide are enrolled in MOOCs, a significant portion of whom live in less developed countries (LDCs). But the educated and affluent in all countries enroll in and complete MOOCs at relatively higher rates. Lower completion rates in LDC populations can be exacerbated by social identity threat, the fear of being seen as less capable because of one's group. In a series of experiments designed to lessen learners' concerns about being seen as less capable based on their national status, a form of social identify threat, the authors show they can improve outcomes for people in LDCs. One activity encouraged learners to affirm cherished personal values, such as relationships with family. A second activity assured learners that doubts about belonging in the course are normal, short-lived, and not unique to them or members of their group. The simple interventions took the majority of participants less than 10 minutes to complete. The social belonging intervention activity increased persistence in LDC learners by 51%, without significantly affecting persistence among learners in more developed countries (MDCs). Although the affirmation intervention reduced persistence in MDC members by 12%, with the authors discussing several potential reasons for this decline, it increased persistence in LDC members - by 67%. These results demonstrate how psychological and learning sciences can help turn an accessible educational experience into an equitable one, the authors conclude.

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