Applying Behavioural Insights in EdTech

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to school closures worldwide. With 90 per cent of the world’s learners missing out on face-to-face lessons this year, and the potential for further closures at any point, understanding how best to educate children online is crucial. In this report, Nesta in partnership with the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) and HegartyMaths, explore how behavioural insights can improve our understanding of what motivates learners, so that we can create more effective EdTech platforms and improve outcomes for both learners and teachers.

Behavioural insights are ideas from psychology and economics that explain why people behave the way they do and help encourage positive behaviours. Over the 2020 summer term, while most children across the UK were being taught remotely, we worked with HegartyMaths – one of the most widely used EdTech platforms in the UK - to test whether a behavioural insights approach could support remote learning and what impact this would have on how teachers and learners engaged with the platform.

Two of three results showed immediate, cost-effective positive outcomes, while the third demonstrated the importance of testing.

Key findings

  • A behaviourally informed pop-up message more than doubled the number of students accessing help when they answer a question incorrectly, and improved student accuracy across the platform.
  • Changing the default from opt-in to opt-out on a new feature boosted the number of students using the feature by 42 per cent.
  • Providing students with the opportunity to set up a ‘streak’ led to lower student engagement on the platform, with time spent on the site, videos watched, and new questions answered correctly all lower for the trial period.

The report outlines what we learnt and how this approach can be used in other EdTech contexts. It also breaks down BIT’s EAST framework in an EdTech context (if you want to encourage a behaviour: make it easy, by making the desired behaviour the default option wherever possible; attractive, by making the information personalised and tailored to an individual; social, by harnessing the power of social networks and accountability; and timely, with well-timed interventions) and demonstrate the benefits as experienced by HegartyMaths.

Join us for our event on 22 October 2020: 'An Introduction to Applying Behavioural Insights in EdTech':

Sign up to our ‘how-to’ webinar.


Lal Chadeesingh

Lal is a Senior Advisor at the Behavioural Insights Team, working on projects in schools.

Rizwaan Malik

Riz is an Associate Advisor at the Behavioural Insights Team, focusing on projects in schools.

Hannah Owen

Hannah Owen

Hannah Owen

Analyst, a fairer start mission

Hannah worked in Nesta's education team and focused on helping our education system make more effective use of technology and data.

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