March 2017

Planning Prompts Increase And Forecast Course Completion In Massive Open Online Courses

Justin Reich, Michael Yeomans


Among all of the learners in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) who intend to complete a course, the majority fail to do so. This intention-action gap is found in many domains of human experience, and in similar goal pursuit domains suggests that plan-making is a cheap and effective nudge to encourage follow-through. In a natural field experiment in three HarvardX courses, some students received open-ended planning prompts at the beginning of a course. These prompts increased course completion by 29%, and payment for certificates by 40%. This effect was largest for students enrolled in traditional schools. Furthermore, the contents of students' plans could predict which students were least likely to succeed - in particular, students whose plans focused on specific times were unlikely to complete the course. Our results suggest that planning prompts can help learners adopted productive frames of mind at the outset of a learning goal that encourage and forecast student success.


Yeomans, M & Reich, J. (2017) Planning Prompts Increase and Forecast Course Completion in Massive Open Online Courses Proceedings of the 2017 Learning Analytics and Knowledge Conference.

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