Our Work

Summer holidays are coming (but not for all of us)

By Francesco Amighetti and Beatrice Del Frate



June has come and, for the majority of college and university students, this means free time that can be spent with families and friends, while being on holidays without studying.

Nevertheless, some of them who failed or postponed exams may be worried about their upcoming outcomes, while others may be confused whether they are ready or not to begin university life after the college experience.

Different nudges have been developed with the aim of improving students’ grades and likelihood of applying to universities. All of them are principally based on text messages, a cost-effective instrument that allows schools and institutions to plan and implement interventions. Following, some examples of the different forms that such an easy nudge can take.

Motivational SMS

An experiment conducted by the Behavioural Insight Team (UK) showed that students receiving motivational text messages were more likely to pass exams (English and Maths in the example) than companions. Students nominated a “study supporter” (e.g. a family member) that rece

ived the text messages and was encouraged to send a motivational message to revise to the students. Results showed that both attendance and possibility to pass rose dramatically. This exemplifies the possibilities of leveraging the pressure in form of encouragement coming from families and friends to keep students motivated in their tasks.

Furthermore, in Middlesex Community College (CT) and similarly in Ohio University, SMS-based nudging is used to help incoming students to stay motivated and to clearly define their goal-setting strategy and the when and how for achieving their long term goals through a personalized system.

SMS for social norms

Text messages have the power to leverage on social norms and to diffuse good behaviours that should be shared all across the students’ community. First-generation students can be helped appreciating the increased level of independence, the possibility of working in teams and of sharing passions and experiences with other students, feeling engaged in the community and reducing the feeling of loneliness, or reducing the fear of going to talk to professors and tutors (e.g “Most students who visit the tutoring center earn As and Bs. Will you commit to visiting this week?”)

SMS to reduce dropouts

Studies suggest that about 20% to 30% of low-income students in urban districts admitted to educational institutes decided not to enrol. 


SMS may help to connect the intentions of these students to their actions: texts may remind about tasks that must be completed to be enrolled, and encourage to ask for assistance for more complex tasks (e.g. tuition payments). The intervention in Lawrence and Springfield, MA, showed an increase in the likelihood of enrolment of 10%.

Therefore, to whom is always concerned that the widespread use of smartphone is killing students abilities to study and learn, it is now possible to respond that, sometimes, even a single SMS can make a big difference for students to reach their goals.




By bbiasblog

The official blog of B.BIAS - Bocconi Behavioural Insights Associations of Students

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