René Kizilcec is a Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow, co-founder of Stanford’s multidisciplinary Lytics Lab, and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Communication at Stanford. He holds a M.S. in Statistics from Stanford University and a B.A. in Philosophy and Economics from University College London. During his Ph.D., René conducted research in Facebook’s data science group, and prior to coming to Stanford, he worked as a web designer and developer for a few years.

René’s research focuses on the role of social psychological factors in innovative technologies. In particular, he is interested in the psychological challenges to realizing the potential of digital environments, including desktop and mobile web applications, for diverse and global audiences. René’s research has examined processes of social identity threat, self-regulation, computer-mediated communication, and cultural psychology. Most of his work uses longitudinal randomized controlled trials in the field to rigorously evaluate how to increase performance and reduce inequalities with scalable and cost-effective psychological interventions. He has conducted experiments with thousands of participants in online courses to (1) close the online global achievement gap between members of more and less developed countries, (2) support goal pursuit across cultural contexts with self-regulation strategies, and (3) enhance the online learning experience by strategically placing social cues in videos. René uses data mining, machine learning, and natural language processing to develop deeper insights into individual behavior and motivation, to reveal heterogeneous treatment effects, and to inform user-centered design.

How can we create environments—virtual and physical—that are welcoming to people from diverse backgrounds and that empower them to achieve their goals? Digital environments are at the center of significant personal and interpersonal activity in education, healthcare, financial planning, social exchange, and commerce. However, faced with an overwhelming number of design choices, designers of these environments tend to focus on content and technical features rather than on situational cues, and may inadvertently imprint local norms and culture. Likewise, appeals to culturally contingent beliefs and motivations can be counterproductive. René is developing a framework that can guide evidence-based design of affirming technology. Technology of this kind provides the necessary conditions for any person, no matter what their background, to perform at their true potential. This research contributes to theory on social identity threat and generalizes the theory’s application to novel domains and to an international scale. Leveraging fine-grained records from digital log data, René aims to establish a detailed behavioral account of how situational cues give rise to social identity threat and affect performance. Through this research, he is developing new approaches both to measure how affirming a technology is and to adapt contextual factors in order to optimize the technology for different social groups.


A summary of earlier work on behavior and motivation in online courses:

A talk on Market Segmentation in Online Interactions Based on Motivation:

A conference presentation on “Deconstructing Disengagement” at the 2013 Learning Analytics & Knowledge conference:


Moocs data offers promise of perfect teaching on BBC Future (by Helen Knight), 30 Oct 2013.

Learning analytics at Stanford takes huge leap forward with MOOCs on Stanford News (by Ruth F. Mackay) and featured on ACM Tech News

Not All Online Students Are the Same: A Summary of Stanford’s MOOC User Study on MOOC News and Reviews (by John Duhring)