Understanding and Addressing Self-Control Problems in Computerized Learning: Evidence a The Field
Richard Patterson

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Cornell University

Primary Discipline

In recent years there have been an astounding number of computer-based innovations in education. Many of these innovations seek to provide students with high-quality, self-paced instruction at very low costs. However, insights from behavioral economics caution that many individuals may struggle to realize the benefits offered by computer-based learning. In particular, problems with self-control may lead individuals to perform poorly or drop out of computer-based courses. I propose testing the impact of a novel intervention designed to address self-control problems on the performance and completion rates of students enrolled in online certificate programs at a large university. I will randomize students into one of three treatments I developed in conjunction with a time-management software company. These treatments include (1) a ``Commitment Device`` treatment which allows students to pre-commit to daily time limits on distracting Internet activities, and (2) a ``Recurring Reminder`` treatment which displays a pop-up on the user's screen that is triggered after each half hour of accrued distracted browsing and (3) a ``Persistent Timer`` treatment which displays the total daily amount of distracting time spent on a small toolbar on the computer desktop. I expect the evidence from this experiment to inform the relative importance of different behavioral mechanisms in influencing education outcomes and to provide insights into scalable computer-based interventions that improve students' abilities to achieve their learning goals in online environments.
About Richard Patterson

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