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‘Nudging for good’: toward academic success through data-driven, equity-minded and responsive pedagogy

26 Jul 2021 | Ameena Payne Ameena Leah Payne is eLearning Advisor at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, and a Fellow of Advance HE. In this blog she shares her proactive approaches to student engagement.

Economist Richard Thaler has studied how people are motivated and how they make decisions; he has been involved in research that connects persuasion with design principles to form the theory of behaviour economics. A ‘nudge’ is an approach that “changes the context in which decisions are presented in order to encourage a particular choice” (Einfield & Blomkamp, 2021). The greatest benefit of nudging is the shift towards good decision-making which is in the users’ interests.

As a Bachelor of Science (Business) graduate, I became familiar with Thaler and other behavioural economists during my undergraduate studies. I’ve been inspired to apply the concept of nudging in my teaching practice. Since 2019, I have been reframing (non)engagement. For example, using learner analytics, I identify non-submissions of assessments. Then, I nudge students who have not yet submitted (but the deadline has not yet passed - my aim is to be proactive not reactive). I initiate with a message subject of ‘Need more time to submit? Do you have questions?’ I also send simple ’well done’ messages to students who have submitted prior to the deadline – as positive reinforcement.

I have found nudging to be effective within the online environment. My student cohort are first year and traditionally under-served students who may be anxious to get started, unaware of the student support services available to them, and/or due to competing demands, may need to further develop their time management skills to accommodate their new academic endeavour.

Sending messages to students who have not yet taken an action that will benefit their learning journey may assist learners in developing effective and consistent self-regulatory behaviour. The ‘nudge’ indicates urgency. It should act as a call to action – eg a prompt to submit, request an extension, or review key learning materials (that, based on learner analytics, they may not have viewed or sufficiently engaged with) to ensure a quality future submission and enable deepened learning. ‘Nudge’ messages should, therefore, be written with empathy and contain relevant links to direct students to the relevant resource(s).

Deployed appropriately, nudges can steer learners to make better choices. However, as learner analytics and conversational artificial intelligence become more widely implemented, we must consider student privacy and ethics. In The Manifesto for Online Teaching, Bayne and colleagues (2020) ask us to consider how we may ensure values-based systems of monitoring student engagement. Thaler’s (2015) design principles include nudging being transparent and never misleading and that the behavior being encouraged will improve the welfare of those being nudged.

Well-tailored nudges can help enable student persistence, improve unit pass rates and student retention. When thoughtfully written, they can also lead to increased student satisfaction with the unit and affect toward the instructor. Gently pushing behaviours in the desired directions also demonstrates care and may build trust within the student/instructor relationship. What are your thoughts and experiences? How might you nudge your learners?


Ameena Leah Payne is an educator within the disciplines of education and business in vocational and higher education. She holds a Graduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching (Higher Education), Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Diploma of Project Management and a Certificate IV in Training & Assessment. She is currently pursuing her Master of Education (Research Intensive) at Deakin University where she is a Deakin International Scholarship recipient. Her education interests are in learner analytics, assessment design and information communication technology – not to mention equitable education and education reform.

Our Assessment and Feedback Symposium 2021 is a presenter-led virtual event to learn, discuss and share latest practices and pedagogies in assessment and feedback on 4-5 November 2021. The call for papers is open until 17:00 (GMT) 7 September 2021. Colleagues are invited to submit an abstract for either a 20-minute presentation or for a 40-minute workshop. Find out more.

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