NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Student Coaching: How Far Can Technology Go?

Philip Oreopoulos, Uros Petronijevic

NBER Working Paper No. 22630
Issued in September 2016
NBER Program(s):   CH   ED   LS

Recent studies show that programs offering structured, one-on-one coaching and tutoring tend to have large effects on the academic outcomes of both high school and college students. These programs are often costly to implement and difficult to scale, however, calling into question whether making them available to large student populations is feasible. In contrast, interventions that rely on technology to maintain low-touch contact with students can be implemented at large scale and minimal cost but with the risk of not being as effective as one-on-one, in-person assistance. In this paper, we test whether the effects of coaching programs can be replicated at scale by using technology to reach a larger population of students. We work with a sample of over four thousand undergraduate students from a large Canadian university, randomly assigning students into one of the following three interventions: (i) a one-time online exercise designed to affirm students’ values and goals; (ii) a text messaging campaign that provides students with academic advice, information, and motivation; and (iii) a personal coaching service, in which students are matched with upper-year undergraduate coaches. We find large positive effects from the coaching program, as coached students realize a 0.3 standard deviation increase in average grades and a 0.35 standard deviation increase in GPA. In contrast, we find no effects from either the online exercise or the text messaging campaign on any academic outcome, both in the general student population and across several student subgroups. A comparison of the key features of the text messaging campaign and the coaching service suggests that proactively and regularly initiating conversations with students and working to establish trust are important design features to incorporate in future interventions that use technology to reach large populations of students.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w22630

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