Tuesday 12pm, 17 November 2015


Closing Online Academic Achievement Gaps with Psychological Interventions

René Kizilcec

PhD Student - Stanford University


Despite providing millions with free access to higher education content, massive open online courses exhibit a global achievement gap, with lower performance in less developed countries. Why might MOOCs, once touted as vehicles for democratizing education, fall short of delivering educational equity? We tested the social psychological account that learners in the developing world contend with social identity threat, a fear that they could be negatively judged because of their background. Identity threat is known to contribute to race-, gender-, and class-based college achievement gaps in the United States. A survey of MOOC learners suggests that members of underperforming countries are negatively stereotyped and experience identity threat. In three randomized experiments, we tested if social psychological interventions known to reduce domestic achievement gaps could ameliorate the global achievement gap in online learning.


I am a Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow, co-founder of the Stanford Lytics lab, and doctoral candidate in Communication. My research focuses on cognitive, motivational, and psychological factors influencing academic achievement and scalable interventions to promote achievement and address social inequalities. My work builds on research in social, cultural, and educational psychology and multimedia learning theory. I primarily conduct large-scale longitudinal field experiments in online learning environments, such as massive open online courses. My dissertation research adapts psychological interventions, including self-affirmation, social belonging, and self-regulation interventions, for online learning environments to promote academic success and close achievement gaps. Previously, I leveraged data mining methods with big education data to advance our understanding of learner behavior and motivation.