Learning With People Like Me: The Role of Age-Similar Peers on Online Business Course Engagement

Working Paper 21-072

44 Pages Posted: 14 Jan 2021

See all articles by Laura Rosendahl Huber

Laura Rosendahl Huber

Erasmus University, Rotterdam School of Management

Jacqueline N. Lane

Harvard Business School

Karim R. Lakhani

Harvard Business School - Technology and Operations Management Group; Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science; Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Date Written: December 8, 2020

Abstract

Over the past decade, online learning has witnessed tremendous growth in popularity due to its ability to reach diverse participants in a scalable manner. However, one primary area of concern is the low course completion rates in digital platform-based learning, compared to face-to-face counterparts. Given that most education tends to be organized by age, we ask: how does the degree of age-similarity among cohort peers affect course engagement and persistence? Using a unique dataset of 17,000 working professionals enrolled in business skills training courses offered by an elite U.S. business school over a three year period, we show that age similarity has a positive effect on individual course completion: an individual’s likelihood of course completion increases by 3% for every 10 same-age cohort peers. Given that the average cohort size is 220 people, this suggests that a small threshold of same-age peers can have a substantial impact on course engagement and persistence. To examine mechanisms, we turn to participants’ motivations for taking the course, and find that similar-age peers are more likely to affiliate with one another because they share a common motivation for taking the course. Our results suggest that there is an implicit trade-off between social engagement and diversity of perspectives in online courses, and that the organization and structure of online courses ought to balance both objectives.

Keywords: online courses, social engagement, homophily, business skills training, knowledge sharing

Suggested Citation

Huber, Laura and N. Lane, Jacqueline and Lakhani, Karim R., Learning With People Like Me: The Role of Age-Similar Peers on Online Business Course Engagement (December 8, 2020). Working Paper 21-072, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3751127 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3751127

Laura Huber

Erasmus University, Rotterdam School of Management ( email )

Jacqueline N. Lane (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Karim R. Lakhani

Harvard Business School - Technology and Operations Management Group ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-495-6741 (Phone)

Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science ( email )

1737 Cambridge St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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