Incentive Design on MOOC: A Field Experiment
Last registered on May 13, 2019


Trial Information
General Information
Incentive Design on MOOC: A Field Experiment
Initial registration date
May 13, 2019
Last updated
May 13, 2019 11:58 PM EDT
Primary Investigator
Tsinghua University
Other Primary Investigator(s)
Additional Trial Information
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
In this study, we examine the impact of monetary incentives on learner engagement and learning outcomes in massive open online courses (MOOCs). While MOOCs have innovated education by offering high-quality interactive educational resources to users worldwide, maintaining student learning enthusiasm in these courses is a challenge. To address this issue, we conduct a field experiment in which users are given monetary incentives to engage in online learning. Our results show that those given a monetary incentive are more likely to submit homework and to gain higher grades. The effect largely reflects the continued involvement of regular users whose activity would otherwise decrease over time. We further find that the effect persists even after we remove the monetary incentives and that it spills over into learning behavior in other courses in the same and subsequent semester. Lastly, we find that females and users from regions with fewer educational institutions show stronger treatment effects. Overall, our findings suggest that monetary incentives counteract the decay of learning engagement and may help online education users form persistent learning habits.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Liu, Tracy. 2019. "Incentive Design on MOOC: A Field Experiment." AEA RCT Registry. May 13.
Former Citation
Liu, Tracy. 2019. "Incentive Design on MOOC: A Field Experiment." AEA RCT Registry. May 13.
Experimental Details
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
assignment submission and grade
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
To investigate the effect of monetary incentives on learner engagement and performance, we use a 3x2 factorial design, with our control group receiving no incentive. In treatment groups, we vary the incentive size and framing. On the size dimension, we offer three levels of incentives---small, medium and large---to investigate the degree to which incentive size affects engagement and performance. On the framing dimension, we investigate whether positive versus negative framing (i.e, gain versus loss) leads to different effects for a given size of incentive.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
randomization done in office by a computer
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
2 courses
Sample size: planned number of observations
800 students (individuals)
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
110 students for each of the six treatments, and 110 for control
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Supporting Documents and Materials

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Request Information
IRB Name
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Is the intervention completed?
Intervention Completion Date
July 01, 2015, 12:00 AM +00:00
Is data collection complete?
Data Collection Completion Date
Final Sample Size: Number of Clusters (Unit of Randomization)
Was attrition correlated with treatment status?
Final Sample Size: Total Number of Observations
Final Sample Size (or Number of Clusters) by Treatment Arms
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
Program Files
Program Files
Reports and Papers
Preliminary Reports
Relevant Papers