Improving Student Outcomes in Higher Education: The Science of Targeted Intervention

Tim van der Zee

There is a large and broad literature on theory-based interventions that aim to improve educational outcomes in higher education. In this review, Harackiewicz and Priniski evaluate the current state of this literature and give an overview of the past two decades. They focus on three different kinds of interventions:

  1. "Task value" interventions aimed at the value students perceive in academic tasks
  2. "Framing" interventions aimed at the students' framing of academic challenges
  3. "Personal values" interventions aimed at the students' personal values

They review a large set of studies, specifically targeted studies and only those that have been replicated at least once.  The review reveals impressive patterns of consistent findings for each type of intervention but also reveals some inconsistencies across studies and some failures to replicate findings. Although it is expected to find inconsistent findings given the variety of contexts of important other variables, it should also caution us to try to generalize from one study to another setting. This is how the authors describe some of the (in)consistencies in the findings:

In the case of task value interventions, for example, there was a consistent pattern of findings that the interventions had positive effects for students who struggle in classes [with some internal replications across sections of courses or semesters (e.g., Harackiewicz et al. 2016a), but there are inconsistencies in the mediators between studies (e.g., perceived values, expectancies, engagement) that raise important questions about intervention mechanisms. In the case of framing interventions, there was a consistent pattern of findings that framing interventions promoted positive outcomes in academic transitions, but some evidence of nonreplication of growth mindset effects (Yeager et al. 2016, study 2). More critically, no two studies in the framing category examined the exact same problem, making it difficult to assess the question of direct replication [however, some studies had internal replications with multiple cohorts (e.g., Walton & Cohen 2011).

Finally, they also discuss implications for intervention science moving forward.



More information
Harackiewicz, J. M., & Priniski, S. J. (2018). Improving student outcomes in hi…