Combating Procrastination on MOOCs via Optimal Calls-to-Action

Forthcoming at Information Systems Research

HEC Paris Research Paper No. MOSI-2020-1395

35 Pages Posted: 27 Oct 2020 Last revised: 2 Nov 2020

See all articles by Ni Huang

Ni Huang

University of Houston - C.T. Bauer College of Business

Jiayin Zhang

Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management

Gordon Burtch

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Carlson School of Management

Xitong Li

HEC Paris - Information Systems and Operations Management

Pei-Yu Chen

Arizona State University (ASU) - Department of Information Systems

Date Written: September 9, 2020

Abstract

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are a booming phenomenon in the digital era, having attracted millions of users around the world to date. At the same time, educational delivery via MOOCs comes with its own distinct difficulties for students and instructors, as the online nature of MOOCs creates every opportunity for digital distraction and procrastination. In this work, we consider that the digital nature of MOOCs and online learning management systems (LMSs) may also offer unique opportunities to counteract procrastination. Building on the temporal motivation theory, this study examines a number of calls-to-action (CTAs) pertaining to the completion and submission of course assignments, with an eye toward combatting student procrastination on MOOCs. We report on the results of a randomized field experiment on a leading MOOC platform in China. By randomly treating MOOC users with different CTAs related to active course assignments, we seek to examine the impacts of alternative informational interventions on students’ duration to and probability of on-time assignment submission. We consider multiple types of CTAs: a simple call-to-action, a deadline reminder, descriptive norm interventions (communicating peer assignment completion rates), and a simple CTA combined with a financial incentive. We find that descriptive norms lead to higher probabilities of assignment completion and a shorter time to completion. In contrast, we find that the deadline reminder has a surprisingly counter-productive effect. Subsequently, exploring heterogeneity in the response to our different interventions – considering factors such as course load, education level, and user tenure on the MOOC platform – we find evidence that the deadline reminder, in particular, can backfire if students’ active course load is low. This result suggests that students with low course loads may perceive the deadline to be distant, which reduces their sense of urgency and leads to complacency. We discuss the implications of our findings for both research and practice.

Keywords: MOOCs, online learning management systems, calls-to-action, procrastination, randomized field experiment

JEL Classification: I21, M15

Suggested Citation

Huang, Ni and Zhang, Jiayin and Burtch, Gordon and Li, Xitong and Chen, Pei-Yu, Combating Procrastination on MOOCs via Optimal Calls-to-Action (September 9, 2020). Forthcoming at Information Systems Research, HEC Paris Research Paper No. MOSI-2020-1395, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3689997

Ni Huang (Contact Author)

University of Houston - C.T. Bauer College of Business ( email )

Houston, TX 77204-6021
United States

Jiayin Zhang

Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management ( email )

Beijing, 100084
China

Gordon Burtch

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Carlson School of Management ( email )

19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

Xitong Li

HEC Paris - Information Systems and Operations Management ( email )

1 rue de la Liberation
Jouy-en-Josas Cedex, 78351
France

Pei-Yu Chen

Arizona State University (ASU) - Department of Information Systems ( email )

Tempe, AZ
United States

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