University of TorontoX: BE101x: Behavioural Economics in Action

Course Code: BE101x
Classes Start: 14 Oct 2013
Course Length: 6 weeks
Estimated effort: 4-5 hours per week (6 weeks)

Prerequisites:

None, except the desire to get behavioral economics to work for you.

University of Toronto

Behavioural Economics in Action

Learn to use principles and methods of behavioural economics to change behaviours, improve welfare and make better products and policy.

About this Course

*Note - This is an Archived course*

This is a past/archived course. At this time, you can only explore this course in a self-paced fashion. Certain features of this course may not be active, but many people enjoy watching the videos and working with the materials. Make sure to check for reruns of this course.


How can we get people to save more money, eat healthy foods and engage in healthy behaviours, and more generally make better choices? There has been a lot written about the fact that human beings do not process information and make decisions in an optimal fashion. This course builds on much of the fascinating work in the area of behavioural economics and allows the student to develop a hands-on approach by learning its methods and more importantly, how it can be harnessed by suitably designing contexts to “nudge” choice. In three modules, students will be able to a) explain and interpret the principles underlying decision-making and compare the nudging approach to other methods of behaviour change, b) learn how to critique, design and interpret experiments; and c) design nudges and decision-tools to help people make better decisions.  Students will also witness and participate in weekly topical debates on topics like “does irrationality impact welfare?” or “Is nudging manipulative?” If you’ve been fascinated with the buzz surrounding behavioural economics but are not sure how to actually use it, this course is for you.

Guest Appearances:  Several leading scholars, policy makers, businesspeople and commentators will make short appearances in our debate and discussion sections. These guests include Professor Sendhil Mullainathan (Harvard University), Professor John Lynch (University of Colorado), Rory Sutherland (Ogilvy Group), Owain Service (Behavioural Insights Team, UK Cabinet Office), Shankar Vedantam (NPR Columnist and Author – The Hidden Brain), Professors Andrew Ching, Avi Goldfarb, Nina Mazar, and Claire Tsai (University of Toronto) and many others!

Before your course starts, try the new edX Demo where you can explore the fun, interactive learning environment and virtual labs. Learn more.

Ways to take this edX course:

Simply Audit this Course

Audit this course for free and have complete access to all of the course material, tests, and the online discussion forum. You decide what and how much you want to do.

Course Staff

  • Dilip Soman

    Dilip Soman

    Dilip Soman, Professor at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. Dilip does research on interesting human behaviours and their applications to consumer welfare, policy and financial literacy. He is also interested in research on poverty, global health, education and development in the global south.  In his past life, he has degrees in engineering and management, worked in sales and advertising, consulted for several organizations, and taught at Colorado, Hong Kong and now in Toronto. When not working, he spends time on photography, reading, taking weekends seriously and agonizing over successive Indian cricket teams. 

  • Joonkyung (Joon) Kim

    Joonkyung (Joon) Kim

    Joonkyung (Joon) Kim is a Ph. D. student at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. She received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in business administration from the Seoul National University. She is interested in researching physical and psychological factors which can lead people to change their existing opinion, thinking and behavior.  In her capacity as the head teaching associate for this course, Joon will be leading and moderating discussion boards and will help with generating and curating content. 

Prerequisites

None, except the desire to get behavioral economics to work for you.

FAQs

Is there a required textbook for the course?

No, there is no textbook. We will use a few white papers generated by our research cluster at the University of Toronto plus other published research papers as background material. You will be able to access this material freely on the internet.

I have read popular books on decision making and Behavioural Economics. Will this course still be valuable?

Yes, we believe so. Most of the popular books make the point that human decision making is somehow flawed and some even offer theoretical accounts to explain these flaws. In this course, we go beyond the theoretical foundations of the observed phenomena, and develop a framework that allows the students to critique, design and interpret experiments; and to learn a process of designing choice environments to nudge behaviours. In short, this isn’t simply a course that exposes you to Behavioural Economics, it gets you to think and act like one!

What research is being done at the University of Toronto that supports this course?

This course is supported by a cluster of faculty members who work in the area of “Behavioural Economics in Action” at the Rotman School of Management. Our work not only helps us better understand decision making, but more importantly also allows us to tackle the big question of – so what?
 
There are a number of responses to the so-what question to both for-profit and not-for profit organizations. First, we make organizations aware of the limitations of decision-makers so that they can design better products and policies. Second, we use simple interventions to help people make better choices or to let them accomplish their goals. Third, we study the consequences of human behaviours on the economy and offer prescriptive advice. Our research cluster produces guides for practitioners, white papers, and works with a number of partners to pilot and test nudging programs. We have done research with welfare organizations and NGO’s, with for-profit and not-for-profit enterprises, government agencies and policy organizations, and in a wide array of countries including Canada, U.S.A., India, China, Europe, Singapore and Hong Kong.
 
Two short videos that describe our work are available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsy1E3ckxlM
and  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XH_Bzxp8-dA

Will I need any statistical expertise to learn about experimental design?

Statistical background will help, but is not required. The materials will cover the basic ideas of experimental design, structure and types of of experiments, and the interpretation of results. At the end of this course, you will be able to read research papers and interpret the results reported there. If you have the skills to analyze datasets, the course will point you to additional materials that will help you refine these skills in the context of experiments and randomized trials. However, you will not be tested on your ability to analyze data.

How is assessment done in this course?

Students will be assessed based on three components.

a) Weekly short quizzes

b) Participation in debates via a discussion board

c) A nudge challenge; a final project where students will propose a solution to a specific decision-making problem.