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Nudge, Nudge

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Do you ever wonder what became of nudge theory; you know, the idea that we can be helped to make the right decisions.  It's alive and thriving, it seems according to a recent Economist article whose full title is:

Nudge comes to shove – Policymakers around the world are embracing behavioural science – An experimental, iterative, data-driven approach is gaining ground

This begins:

IN 2013 thousands of school pupils in England received a letter from a student named Ben at the University of Bristol. The recipients had just gained good marks in their GCSEs, exams normally taken at age 16. But they attended schools where few pupils progressed to university at age 18, and those that did were likely to go to their nearest one. That suggested the schools were poor at nurturing aspiration. In his letter Ben explained that employers cared about the reputation of the university a job applicant has attended. He pointed out that top universities can be a cheaper option for poorer pupils, because they give more financial aid. He added that he had not known these facts at the recipient’s age.

The letters had the effect that was hoped for. A study published in March found that after leaving school, the students who received both Ben’s letter and another, similar one some months later were more likely to be at a prestigious university than those who received just one of the letters, and more likely again than those who received none. For each extra student in a better university, the initiative cost just £45 ($58), much less than universities’ own attempts to broaden their intake. And the approach was less heavy-handed than imposing quotas for poorer pupils, an option previous governments had considered. The education department is considering rolling out the scheme.

It will be a surprise to many that nudging is happening across so many aspects of our lives, although it has to be said that there is still considerable dispute about just how effective some of it is.

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