Evaluating Learning Interactions (ELI)

Last registered on December 23, 2021


Trial Information

General Information

Evaluating Learning Interactions (ELI)
Initial registration date
December 20, 2021

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
December 23, 2021, 10:58 AM EST

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.


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Primary Investigator

The University of Chicago

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
The University of Chicago
PI Affiliation
The University of Chicago

Additional Trial Information

In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
Evaluating Learning Interactions (ELI) aims to examine the efficacy of two contrasting approaches to help low-income parents improve the school readiness skills of their 3-5 year-old children. ELI is a six-month text-based program delivered to a sample of 500 low-income families in Chicagoland. One treatment encourages parents to engage in “constrained learning” interactions and another treatment encourages “unconstrained learning” interactions. In constrained learning interactions, parents teach their children constrained skills—knowledge that has a correct answer, such as letter and number recognition. Unconstrained learning interactions are open-ended and convey skills with no correct answer (unconstrained skills), such as problem-solving and curiosity. Both constrained and unconstrained skills are necessary for school readiness. The outcomes of this RCT are measures of children’s constrained and unconstrained skills. Our hypothesis which follows from some preliminary evidence, is that motivating unconstrained parent-child learning interactions will increase children’s constrained and unconstrained skills more than motivating constrained learning interactions. This RCT builds on a pilot project funded by J-PAL that both demonstrated the feasibility of this project and built the community partnerships that will support the proposed new work.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Kalil, Ariel, Susan Mayer and Michelle Park Michelini. 2021. "Evaluating Learning Interactions (ELI)." AEA RCT Registry. December 23. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.8652-1.0
Sponsors & Partners

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Experimental Details


The ELI intervention will send 3–4 text messages per week to parents in two treatment groups. One treatment will send parents messages promoting unconstrained learning interactions, such as guides to conversation and creative activities that parents can do with their children. The second treatment will send parents messages promoting constrained learning interactions, such as literacy lessons on letter recognition, phonics, and vocabulary. We will not have a control group because the intent of ELI is to test the relative efficacy of the two different approaches to encourage parents to interact with their children to promote school readiness in the domain of literacy skills. We focus only on literacy skills so that we can concentrate messaging on only one skill to maximize impact and minimize the length of the assessments. Each treatment will be delivered over six months by text messages in Spanish and English.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
We will assess the change in children’s literacy skills and their change in curiosity about future learning. Reliable administrative data for preschool-aged children’s skill development does not exist, and this study will include some children who are not enrolled in formal preschool; therefore, we will have to assess children’s skills as part of ELI. Our research team has extensive experience conducting child skill assessments.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
At baseline and follow-up we will briefly survey parents on demographic characteristics, attitudes toward learning interactions at home with their child, and investments in their child’s school readiness. In the survey at the end, we will ask for user feedback on their experience with the ELI messaging program. We will also look at differences in the rate of parent feedback to periodic engagement prompts.
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
We will recruit low-income families with preschool-aged children in collaboration with our implementation partners. All recruited parents will be offered half of their incentive payment upon enrollment in ELI and the other half upon completion of the postintervention parent survey and child assessments. Consent will be actively obtained from participants and contact information and demographic data will be collected upon enrollment. Enrolled parents will be randomized into one of the two treatment groups. Baseline parent surveys and child assessments of literacy and curiosity will be administered just prior to the start of the intervention. As part of the 6-month intervention, parents will receive 3-4 text messages per week in their native language of English or Spanish promoting either constrained or unconstrained learning interactions with their children. Periodically parents will be asked to text back a response indicating they are engaged with the ELI program. At the end of the intervention, endline parent surveys and child assessments will be administered.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Consented and enrolled parents will be randomized using a computer program - likely Stata.
Randomization Unit
Randomization will be at the family level.
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
500 families
Sample size: planned number of observations
500 families
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
250 families in treatment promoting unconstrained learning interactions; 250 families in treatment promoting constrained learning interactions
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
We set power to 80% and the significance level to p=.05. MDES= 0.1 if Treatment 1 (T1) scores twice as many points as Treatment 2 (T2) as long as T2 answers 10% of questions correctly. When the difference between T1 and T2 drops to 50%, we would be able to detect the treatment effect as long as T2 answers 25% of questions correctly.

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
The University of Chicago Social and Behavioral Sciences
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number