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Nudge Theory in Vermont: A Texting Story

by Keith P. O'Brien | September 19, 2018
Nudge Theory in Vermont: A Texting Story

Part Three of a Three Part Series on Nudge Technology and Higher Education

Nudge Theory at the Community College of Vermont

One of my goals is to visit each of the 50 states. For context, I should explain I’m Irish, off the boat (or more accurately the airplane) from Dublin. Put simply, America is huge and I need to explore it. How many states have I visited? I’ll tell you at the end of the blog. Vermont was the second state I made it to. It’s small—Ireland is almost three times larger believe it or not. Fewer than 700,000 people live in Vermont and the demographic trends aren’t great.

This is why enrolling each and every student is critical for the Community College of Vermont (CCV) and its 12 campuses. Helping applicants to enroll who are largely 1st Generation and work full-time is a challenge that’s tailor-made for nudge theory and tech. In essence, using technologies to empower people to make choices that they feel are in their own best interest.

Nudging in Action: Texting 1, Email 0

In 2017, Adam Warrington, Director of Admissions at CCV, sought out a nudge technology to help achieve three objectives:

  1. Nudge more admitted students to yield
  2. Employ a nudge technology that campus staff systemwide would adopt quickly and easily
  3. Create efficiencies for campus staff

These goals led Adam to select the texting platform created by Signal Vine, which allows administrators to send one-on-one texts and program automated texts through a simple interface. (Staff don’t use their mobiles to send or respond to texts.) I want to share one story from Adam that illustrates the effectiveness of nudging principles applied through texting. Plus, I like stories.

CCV offers evening registration hours (4 to 7 pm) before each semester because the vast majority of applicants work full time. While students receive emails highlighting the dates and the hours, typically few of them availed of this. Adam decided to send an automated text about the evening hours to students who had yet to register. What happened? To quote Adam, “our office was overrun.” When 7 pm arrived there were still eight students in line. From that day forward, texting replaced emailing for this event. If you’d like to hear Adam talk about his nudging work at CCV, listen to his webinar on nudge tech here.

From Story to Action

This anecdote encapsulates the power of combining behavioral economics and technology in higher ed. Nudging is not compelling students to do things, it’s about providing choices in a way that gets their attention, and let’s them decide which option is the best one for them. Texting is not technology as the sliver bullet; rather it’s using a communication platform that gives staff and faculty the ability to create dynamic, personalized, timely and student-centric conversations.

America is still huge and I continue to be amazed by the diversity within regions and states. But I do struggle to see how even such a big country can support so many colleges and universities. This is why now is the time to engage Digital Natives where they are in terms of their communication preferences and to embrace nudging as part of any enrollment and student success strategies. After all, if we believe in improving student outcomes how can we not enable students to make choices that they feel are in their own best interest?

Finally, I’ve made it to 33 states to date; I don’t count layovers in airports so it’s going to take a while to reach 50.

To Learn More

*Special thanks to our guest author, Keith P. O'Brien an expert edtech marketing consultant.

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How is nudge technology being used in higher education?
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