Want to Design a Fun Educational Experience about Economics?

Are you a good storyteller? Do you like the idea of creating a fun educational experience so compelling that people can’t help but learn new things about the economy and in turn share the experience with their friends?

If so, let’s talk about collaboration possibilities! Think of the technologies within EconViz’s tutorials as a sort of “palette” that can be reused in new contexts, mixed in with new content and functionality. The palette includes components such as a dynamic circular flow diagram (or any flow animation), programmable balance sheets, and potentially much more.

EconViz FarmerThe existing tutorials do include a little bit of clip art intended to make the content slightly more interesting by way of some concrete examples. But while I’ve had ideas for building upon this to create an unfolding story interleaved with the full length of the educational content, I still haven’t actually done it. And I suspect there are people who would do a much better job of building a compelling (intriguing and/or entertaining) experience than I would. As an example, the How the Economy Works tutorial could have the farmer’s and baker’s appearances extended to span much more of the length of the tutorial, adding in a governor and other characters from a local village and building some fun interactions between them… But those roles are a bit cliched in economic examples and I suspect there are some great alternatives waiting to be conceived of!

With so many content creation tools available, why EconViz as a platform? I think it has two main advantages for educational content:

  • Animated/illustrated video content with high production values such as the RSA Animate series, the Econ4 demo films, and others are fantastic at what they do. However, my experience is that to the extent that they offer a learning experience, it is because you trust what they are saying is true because you trust them as experts, but you don’t actually see in tangible form why what is said is true. One of the motivations behind EconViz was to make the actual mechanics of the economy visible. I’ve seen studies suggesting that this approach has the best chance of helping with “unlearning” of false notions that are at odds with the new concepts being taught. In contrast, studies seem to show that a purely anecdotal or “statement of fact” presentation of ideas that conflict with a person’s existing ideologies offer backfires and triggers a mental reinforcement of the existing ideologies!
  • EconViz provides an opportunity for dynamic interaction, exploration and gamification that isn’t possible with standard video content. The EconViz content is designed to be interacted with — sliders, buttons, and other controls can drive the underlying models and show the results visually and immediately. Custom triggers (event-specific narration, animations, etc) could fire based on user input. Paths or outcomes could diverge based on user input. Some tutorial pages could require answering questions or altering macroeconomic flows (for example “your mission: restore full employment”!) in a certain way before the user could advance to the next page. Points and “badges” could accrue. There are plenty of options that would help reinforce the concepts presented.

Given the above two points about how EconViz is different, linear non-interactive scripts may be better suited to a traditional video format (and EconViz can’t help with that!)

Is this too ambitious? Perhaps, but it can’t hurt to get people thinking. Maybe it leads to something feasible, maybe not, but I’ve long been excited at the possibilities, and it would be great to have collaborator(s). In the case of an ambitious undertaking, Kickstarter would be worth considering (and might help fund a good artist, voice actor, etc as needed). My own specialty is software development — building the “engine” supporting the content and the experience.

Interested? You can comment below this blog post or email me at . And feel free to let the possibilities percolate and reply weeks or months from now… while I can’t promise to be on board with all ideas/scripts or promise that complex ones will be feasible, if you think EconViz might be a promising platform for your vision of compelling educational content, we should at least discuss what would be involved!

Your Feedback Makes a Big Difference!

Creating educational content for complex topics is challenging. EconViz has no staff of usability testers and no formal panel of test subjects that would support a higher quality process of iteratively testing and refining content between initial draft creation and publishing.

That means you and other visitors can have an extra large positive impact any time you submit comments, and there are lots of places to do so (anonymously if you wish) — the comment section under each blog post, comment pages for each tutorial, inline “submit feedback” mini-forms on each tutorial page, surveys at the end of tutorials, and email ().

A number of people did submit the survey for the How the Economy Works tutorial, which was a big help, and I don’t expect anyone to revisit old content (yes, I’ve been way too slow on publishing new tutorials!) so to be clear, this post is about the future more than the past. The top request from past visitors has been more content, so thanks for your patience so far!

Over the last couple years, a few people have very generously emailed me detailed feedback — thank you! The most recent example of this led me to realize that I’d made the How Loans Create Money tutorial TOO short (3 minutes) to be clear enough, so I’ve redone everything after the first page and extended it to around 5 minutes. And it will change again if need be.

Some great past requests/suggestions have also led to new advanced operations on the Macroeconomic Balance Sheet Visualizer.

And while I like positive feedback (to get a sense whether content is on the right track), I love negative feedback if it’s genuine! It’s important to know when something isn’t working. Based on a couple comments expressing displeasure with the voice narration, I’ve re-recorded the speech for Part 1 of the How the Economy Works tutorial. (Parts 2 and 3 come later). If it’s still not good enough, eventually I’ll look for different narrator(s). I also realize voice tracks are subject to individual preference and most of the time it’s not smart to shift directions based on too small a sample set of feedback, but I work with whatever I can if it seems to make sense 🙂

So if you’re going through a tutorial and thinking “this page doesn’t make any sense, but it’s probably just me, so I won’t say anything” or “the narration is irritating” or “I can’t take the site seriously with these graphics” or anything else — please consider taking 30 seconds to submit the quick embedded feedback form before leaving. I certainly don’t expect it from everyone, but even from just a small percentage of visitors, the feedback can be invaluable.

And as before, I recognize some of the most important feedback will come from those not already familiar with MMT, and EconViz’s quest for the right audience(s) is ongoing.