A simple enrollment change yields big dividends in children's early learning program

October 06, 2020

DURHAM, N.C. - Researchers know that texting programs can greatly benefit young children's literacy. Now new research shows that parents' participation in such programs can be boosted exponentially with one simple tweak: automatic enrollment, combined with the ability to opt out.

The new research from the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy appears in the Journal of Child and Family Studies.

In recent years, mounting research evidence has shown texting to be an effective, low-cost, scalable approach for engaging parents in their children's learning. Some studies suggest text message interventions via tips for parents on how to support their child's development can put young children's learning 2-3 months ahead.

Yet getting parents to enroll in these beneficial programs can be challenging. With that in mind, researchers designed a study to test strategies for increasing program participation.

In the study, researchers from Duke, New York University and Brooklyn College compare different enrollment options for the text-based early literacy program, Talk to Your Baby. The text-based 26-week course is designed to promote early language development for children from birth to age 3.

The researchers studied 405 mothers who were receiving newborn home visiting services through a free, city-wide program in New York City. Using a randomized controlled study, the researchers tested whether changing the enrollment option from opt-in to opt-out affects mothers' take up and completion of the early literacy program. Participants were predominantly low-income and racially and ethnically diverse.

Results show that when automatically enrolled with a voluntary option to opt out, 88.7 percent of study participants stayed in the program for the full 26 weeks. In contrast, only 1 percent of mothers in the control group -- who heard about the program through conventional recruitment flyers -- voluntarily enrolled in the program. The findings suggest parents' desire to participate in the program may be high but their ability to follow through is challenging, researchers said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, these programs and other digital strategies for reaching parents can be especially beneficial, the researchers say.

"A lot of time is spent in developing excellent and developmentally appropriate content for these programs and relatively little time is spent understanding how to make it easy for parents to engage," said Lisa A. Gennetian, lead author of the study and Pritzker Associate Professor of Early Learning Policy Studies at Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy. "Preserving parents' choice to enroll in programs, especially those that are universally accessible and free, matters and we learned from this study that automatic enrollment minimizes burden on parents and can have enormous benefits in ways that do not interfere with their freedom."

The study is the among the first to show that automatic enrollment is a promising strategy for increasing participation in early language and learning programs.

The study also showed the decision to stay in the program or opt out remained consistent for various subgroups. For instance, it made no difference whether this was a first birth or whether the other received public benefits. Such characteristics are sometimes cited as interfering with program participation.

"Opt-out strategies are liberally used in many aspects of our life, from organ donations to decisions about retirement benefits, and they are effective when done carefully," Gennetian said. "Why wouldn't we make life easier for parents and apply the same strategy of automatic enrollment with the ease of opting out?"
This research was supported by the Bezos Family Foundation and the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (R03HD090280).  

CITATION: "The Impact of Default Options for Parent Participation in an Early Language Intervention," L.A. Gennetian, L.Z Coskun, J.L. Kennedy, et al. Journal of Child and Family Studies (2020).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-020-01838-7  

Duke University

Related Learning Articles from Brightsurf:

Learning the language of sugars
We're told not to eat too much sugar, but in reality, all of our cells are covered in sugar molecules called glycans.

When learning on your own is not enough
We make decisions based on not only our own learning experience, but also learning from others.

Learning more about particle collisions with machine learning
A team of Argonne scientists has devised a machine learning algorithm that calculates, with low computational time, how the ATLAS detector in the Large Hadron Collider would respond to the ten times more data expected with a planned upgrade in 2027.

Getting kids moving, and learning
Children are set to move more, improve their skills, and come up with their own creative tennis games with the launch of HomeCourtTennis, a new initiative to assist teachers and coaches with keeping kids active while at home.

How expectations influence learning
During learning, the brain is a prediction engine that continually makes theories about our environment and accurately registers whether an assumption is true or not.

Technology in higher education: learning with it instead of from it
Technology has shifted the way that professors teach students in higher education.

Learning is optimized when we fail 15% of the time
If you're always scoring 100%, you're probably not learning anything new.

School spending cuts triggered by great recession linked to sizable learning losses for learning losses for students in hardest hit areas
Substantial school spending cuts triggered by the Great Recession were associated with sizable losses in academic achievement for students living in counties most affected by the economic downturn, according to a new study published today in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.

Lessons in learning
A new Harvard study shows that, though students felt like they learned more from traditional lectures, they actually learned more when taking part in active learning classrooms.

Learning to look
A team led by JGI scientists has overhauled the perception of inovirus diversity.

Read More: Learning News and Learning Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.