Adding Inclusive Message to Marketing Materials Can Increase Women’s Participation in Online STEM Courses

A new study from scholars at Cornell University and Stanford University finds that adding inclusive messages to marketing materials can have a significant impact in boosting women’s participation in online STEM classes.

Online education was once hailed as a potential equalizer. In theory, online students could avoid stigmas, such as being one of the only women in a class. Lead author Rene Kizilcec, an assistant professor of information science at Cornell University, explains that “very quickly we saw that’s not the case. Many of the same barriers we see in in-person environments do replicate online, and they get amplified, because so many more people have access to these platforms.”

For this study, researchers created a marketing campaign on Facebook showing four versions of an ad to around 200,000 people expected to be interested in online computer science classes. They found that adding a photo of women and an inclusivity statement to a Facebook ad for a computer science course increased the number of women who clicked on the ad by 26 percent. Similar changes to an enrollment page raised the number of women who signed up for the course by up to 18 percent.

“The cues that we place in digital environments are powerful shapers of participation,” said Dr. Kizilcec. “Who enrolls in a course is in part determined by the first impression people form and that is shaped by what they see and read early on. For designers and creators of content, that is important to keep in mind.”

The full study, “Psychologically Inclusive Design: Cues Impact Women’s Participation in STEM Education,” was recently presented at the Conference of Human Factors in Computing Systems in Glasgow, Scotland. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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