Effects of Payment on User Engagement in Online Courses

56 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2019 Last revised: 21 Apr 2021

See all articles by Ali Goli

Ali Goli

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business

Pradeep K. Chintagunta

University of Chicago

S. Sriram

The Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan

Date Written: July 3, 2019

Abstract

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have the potential to democratize education by improving access. Although retention and completion rates for non-paying users have not been promising, these statistics are much brighter for users who pay to receive a certificate upon completing the course. We investigate whether paying for the certificate option can increase engagement with course content. In particular, we consider two such effects: (a) the certificate effect, which is the boost in motivation to stay engaged in order to receive the certificate; and (b) the sunk-cost effect, which arises solely because the user paid for the course. We use data from over 70 courses offered on the Coursera platform and study the engagement of individual participants at different milestones within each course. The panel nature of the data enables us to include controls for intrinsic differences between non-paying and paying users in terms of their desire to stay engaged. We find evidence that the certificate and sunk-cost effects increase user engagement by approximately 8%-9%, and 17%-20%, respectively. However, whereas the sunk-cost effect is transient and lasts only for a few weeks after payment, the certificate effect lasts until the participant reaches the grade required to be eligible to receive the certificate. We discuss the implications of our findings for how platforms and content creators may want to design course milestones and schedule the payment of course fees. Given that greater engagement tends to improve learning outcomes, our study serves as an important first step in understanding the role of prices and payment in enabling MOOCs to realize their full potential.

Keywords: Online education, User engagement, Causal Inference

JEL Classification: I21, C31

Suggested Citation

Goli, Ali and Chintagunta, Pradeep K. and Sriram, S., Effects of Payment on User Engagement in Online Courses (July 3, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3414406 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3414406

Ali Goli

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

Chicago, IL
United States

Pradeep K. Chintagunta

University of Chicago ( email )

5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-702-8015 (Phone)
773-702-0458 (Fax)

S. Sriram (Contact Author)

The Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan ( email )

Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
233
Abstract Views
1,314
rank
161,287
PlumX Metrics