Online Studies

More and more experiments, surveys, and qualitative studies are being conducted online. Recognizing the significance of this shift, the BRL hopes to help researchers explore and leverage the various online research tools and services available today. While we encourage researchers at MIT to conduct lab and online studies through the BRL, we understand that other avenues of data collection may be more suitable for certain projects. This webpage introduces two of these avenues: research panels and crowdsourcing platforms.

Please contact the BRL Coordinator at if you have any questions or requests regarding online data collection. In particular, please reach out to the BRL Coordinator if you need the following:

  • Guidance on choosing the right panel vendor or crowdsourcing platform for your project
  • Assistance in contacting a panel vendor to obtain information or to launch a study
  • Technical support in using a particular crowdsourcing platform
  • General advice on conducting online studies

Research Panels

There are numerous research panels in the U.S. today, with sizes ranging from a few hundred to several million members. Panels are comprised of individuals who have expressed willingness to participate in research activities conducted by or through a particular company or organization. Newly registered panelists provide detailed demographic, psychographic, and behavioral information by completing a “profiling survey”, which gives researchers the ability to limit the target audience of their studies to individuals with certain characteristics. 

Typically, when a panel vendor receives a new research request, a project manager sets up an initial meeting with the researcher to discuss the details of the proposed study. The project manager then provides a quote of how much the research project is expected to cost. Once the researcher accepts the quote, the project manager begins recruiting participants and continues to work with the researcher as the study progresses.

The cost of conducting a study through a panel vendor is mainly determined by the following factors:

  • Desired sample size — The number of panelists the researcher hopes to have in the final sample.
  • Eligibility criteria — The requirements panelists must meet to qualify for the study. Stricter requirements usually result in higher costs.
  • Study duration — The amount of time each panelist is likely to spend on the research activity.
  • Mode of data collection — The data collection method(s) the researcher plans to use. It is generally cheaper to conduct studies online than by phone, by mail, or in person.
  • Add-on services — Many panel vendors not only assist researchers with data collection, but also provide a range of other services, such as research design consultation, survey programming, and data analysis. Researchers can use these services by paying additional fees.

The BRL has built a connection with three popular panel vendors: Dynata, NORC, and Qualtrics. Details about each of these vendors can be found below.

We especially encourage researchers to conduct studies through Dynata, our preferred panel vendor. As a result of our partnership with the company, MIT researchers can now enjoy a 15% discount when using the Dynata panel for online studies. Please contact us if you would like to take advantage of this special offer or learn more about Dynata’s pricing.

Research Panel Vendors

Crowdsourcing Platforms

Crowdsourcing is the recruitment of a large, often unassociated group of individuals to collectively undertake a project, typically over the Internet. These individuals may be asked to generate ideas, process data, create content, solve complex problems, or, as discussed below, participate in online research studies. Much like how companies use online job boards to advertise employment opportunities, one can visit certain websites to recruit Internet users for different types of tasks. These websites, known as crowdsourcing platforms, give researchers easy, on-demand access to prospective participants from all around the world. This section provides an overview of four crowdsourcing platforms: Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk), CloudResearch (formerly TurkPrime), psiTurk, and Prolific.

Crowdsourcing Vendors