Learning or just earning? How perceived returns to work-based learning programs affect their impact

Last registered on November 21, 2021


Trial Information

General Information

Learning or just earning? How perceived returns to work-based learning programs affect their impact
Initial registration date
November 17, 2021
Last updated
November 21, 2021, 3:47 PM EST


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Primary Investigator

University of Oxford

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
London School of Economics and Political Science
PI Affiliation
University of Notre Dame
PI Affiliation
University of Oxford

Additional Trial Information

In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
Active Labour Market Policies such as internships and vocational training hope to help the unemployed find gainful employment by improving the supply of skilled labor. At their best, such programs can provide fertile learning opportunities for their beneficiaries. We explore a potential way to boost the learning channel in internships with a large South African non-profit organisation that facilitates entry-level internships for unemployed black youth. Qualitative work we have undertaken with these interns reveals that there is substantial variation in how interns view and approach the work experience -- with some treating the opportunity as a springboard for a (hoped-for) career, and others seeing it more simply as an opportunity to earn some money. Workers who value the internship as a learning as well as an earning opportunity may benefit more from it. In this study we implement an RCT in which we attempt to nudge workers into adopting an approach towards the work experience in which the internship itself is seen as a valuable learning opportunity. To this end, a random sample of the surveyed youth will be invited to participate in a simple self-reflection exercise in which they are asked to articulate how they stand to benefit from the work experience. Outcomes of interest include: Attitudes towards learning, expected returns to completing the internship, job-satisfaction, psychosocial characteristics, and post-internship labour market outcomes.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Herath, Nilmini et al. 2021. "Learning or just earning? How perceived returns to work-based learning programs affect their impact ." AEA RCT Registry. November 21. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.8568-1.0
Experimental Details


Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Learning related outcomes, including willingness/ability to learn through the internship
Job satisfaction
Psychosocial characteristics (e.g. growth mindset, grit, self-efficacy, life satisfaction)
Expected labour market returns to completing internship
Supervisor ratings
Program drop-out
Employment status post-internship
Earnings post-internship
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
The experiment will be conducted in a subsample of youth selected for 12 month internships administered by a major South African non-profit organisation that coordinates the creation and administration of these work experience programs in real South African firms. These youth will be invited to participate in a panel survey, with the first survey taking place within the first month of their internship experience, another several months into the internship, and further surveys as operations allow to measure longer-term outcomes.. The self-reflection intervention will be delivered between the first and second waves of the panel.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Randomization will be performed at the individual level using a digital random number generator, possibly stratified by available relevant demographic characteristics such as gender
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
300 - 2000 individuals (workers)
Sample size: planned number of observations
300 - 2000 individuals (workers)
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
50% of sample assigned to treatment, 50% assigned to control.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
University of Oxford Social Sciences and Humanities Interdivisional Research Ethics Committee (IDREC)
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
ODID C1A 20-077
IRB Name
University of Cape Town, Commerce Ethics in Research Committee
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number