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Using Goals to Motivate College Students: Theory and Evidence from Field Experiments

Using Goals to Motivate College Students: Theory and Evidence from Field Experiments

396/2018 Damon Clark, David Gill, Victoria Prowse, Mark Gill
working papers,behavioural economics and wellbeing

396/2018 Damon Clark, David Gill, Victoria Prowse, Mark Gill

Will college students who set goals for themselves work harder and achieve better outcomes? In theory, setting goals can help present-biased students to mitigate their self-control problem. In practice, there is little credible evidence on the causal effects of goal setting for college students. We report the results of two eld experiments that involved almost four thousand college students in total. One experiment asked treated students to set goals for performance in the course; the other asked treated students to set goals for a particular task (completing online practice exams). Task-based goals had robust positive effects on the level of task completion, and task-based goals also increased course performance. We also find that performance-based goals had positive but small effects on course performance. We use a theoretical framework that builds on present bias and loss aversion to interpret our results. Since task-based goal setting is low-cost, scalable and logistically simple, we conclude that our findings have important implications for educational practice and future research.

Behavioural economics and wellbeing