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

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  • Damon Clark
  • David Gill
  • Victoria Prowse
  • Mark Rush

Abstract

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 e ects of goal setting for college students. We report the results of two field 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 large and robust positive effects on the level of task completion, and task-based goals also increased course performance. Further analysis indicates that the increase in task completion induced by setting task-based goals caused the increase in course performance. We also find that performance-based goals had positive but small effects on course performance. We use theory that builds on present bias and loss aversion to interpret our results. Since task-based goal setting is low-cost, scaleable and logistically simple, we conclude that our ndings have important implications for educational practice and future research.

Suggested Citation

  • Damon Clark & David Gill & Victoria Prowse & Mark Rush, 2017. "Using Goals to Motivate College Students: Theory and Evidence from Field Experiments," Purdue University Economics Working Papers 1293, Purdue University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:pur:prukra:1293
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    Cited by:

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    2. Herranz-Zarzoso, Noemí & Sabater-Grande, Gerardo, 2018. "Monetary incentives and self-chosen goals in academic performance: An experimental study," International Review of Economics Education, Elsevier, vol. 27(C), pages 34-44.
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    4. Nicolas Houy & Jean-Philippe Nicolaï & Marie Claire Villeval, 2020. "Always doing your best? Effort and performance in dynamic settings," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 89(3), pages 249-286, October.
    5. Fulya Ersoy, 2021. "Returns to effort: experimental evidence from an online language platform," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 24(3), pages 1047-1073, September.
    6. Oreopoulos, Philip & Petronijevic, Uros & Logel, Christine & Beattie, Graham, 2020. "Improving non-academic student outcomes using online and text-message coaching," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 171(C), pages 342-360.
    7. Islam, Asadul & Kwon, Sungoh & Masood, Eema & Prakash, Nishith & Sabarwal, Shwetlena & Saraswat, Deepak, 2020. "When Goal-Setting Forges Ahead but Stops Short," IZA Discussion Papers 13188, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    8. Sonnabend, Hendrik & Lackner, Mario, 2020. "Gender differences in overconfidence and decision making in high-stakes competitions: evidence from freediving contests," VfS Annual Conference 2020 (Virtual Conference): Gender Economics 224595, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    9. Koch, Alexander K. & Nafziger, Julia, 2020. "Motivational goal bracketing: An experiment," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 185(C).
    10. Alex Markle & George Wu & Rebecca White & Aaron Sackett, 2018. "Goals as reference points in marathon running: A novel test of reference dependence," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 56(1), pages 19-50, February.
    11. Antonia Grohmann & Tabea Lakemann & Helke Seitz, 2020. "Savings Goal Calendars as Soft Commitment Devices: Evidence from Small Business Owners in Uganda," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 1919, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
    12. Islam,Asad & Kwon,Sungoh & Masood,Eema & Prakash,Nishith & Sabarwal,Shwetlena & Saraswat,Deepak, 2020. "When Goal-Setting Forges Ahead but Stops Short," Policy Research Working Paper Series 9406, The World Bank.
    13. Max van Lent & Michiel Souverijn, 2017. "Goal Setting and Raising the Bar: A Field Experiment," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 17-001/VII, Tinbergen Institute.
    14. Erwin Amann & Sylvi Rzepka, 2021. "The Effect of Goal-Setting Prompts in a Blended Learning Environment – Evidence from a Field Experiment," CEPA Discussion Papers 25, Center for Economic Policy Analysis.
    15. James Fan & Joaquín Gómez‐Miñambres & Samuel Smithers, 2020. "Make it too difficult, and I'll give up; let me succeed, and I'll excel: The interaction between assigned and personal goals," Managerial and Decision Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 41(6), pages 964-975, September.
    16. de Gendre, Alexandra & Salamanca, Nicolás, 2020. "On the Mechanisms of Ability Peer Effects," IZA Discussion Papers 13938, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    17. Philip Oreopoulos & Richard W. Patterson & Uros Petronijevic & Nolan G. Pope, 2018. "When Studying and Nudging Don’t Go as Planned: Unsuccessful Attempts to Help Traditional and Online College Students," NBER Working Papers 25036, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Goal; Goal setting; Higher education; Field experiment; Self-control; Present bias; Time inconsistency; Commitment device; Loss aversion; Reference point; Task-based goal; Performance-based goal; Self-set goal; Performance uncertainty; Overcon dence; Student effort; Student performance; Educational attainment.;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments

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