Dr. Carly Urban guest post: Digital vs. Traditional Financial Education
Since the start of the pandemic, the effectiveness of online education is an ongoing discussion. An impressive young scholar, Alessia Sconti, has something to say about relative effectiveness across a digital and a traditional high school financial education program in a 2022 published paper.
The setup is very cool. Within one very large Italian school, three classrooms get “traditional” education, three get “digital” education, and the remaining 28 classrooms get no financial
education. Each classroom has about 19 students, and students are between 16 and 18 years old. She randomizes which classroom gets which education, so the results have a causal interpretation.
Both traditional and digital financial education consist of one two-hour lesson each week for a month. Both include four main lessons: human capital; prices and inflation; savings and
payment instruments; mortgages, insurance, and retirement. The lessons come from the Museum of Savings (a museum of savings—how cool is that?). Here’s a link to the videos in case you want to check them out for yourself! Attendance is compulsory. So how do the programs differ?
- Lecture-based, including slides and a case study each week that explains a scenario with two scenarios: one to follow and one to avoid.
- Story-telling based on student experiences.
- Peer and instructor interaction.
- Instructor is a professional financial advisor.
- “Learning by entertainment,” including videos that include concrete experiences.
- Computer-assisted learning platform students are already familiar with from other classes.
- Competition with peers in simulations and digital quizzes (with nicknames instead of real names)
- Q&A period
What are the findings?
1. Overall: Both traditional and digital financial education improve financial literacy in the short-run (3 weeks after the class concludes), but traditional education has a longer-run impact (3 months after the class concludes).
2. Digital financial education is not universally effective. The table below shows for whom financial literacy improves, and when. Traditional financial education improves financial literacy in both the short- and long-run for all subgroups listed. Digital financial education doesn’t substantively change financial literacy for all groups.
What do the results tell us?
Traditional financial education is alive and well. It improves financial literacy in the short-run and long-run for all groups. It remains a “first best” option. This digital program was well-thought out, well-designed, and used a platform that students were already familiar with. Unfortunately, its effects were not as prevalent three months after the education. Digital financial education failed to improve financial literacy for students from lower-income backgrounds. It did help two groups who tend to have lower financial literacy on average: female students and students with lower math skills.
Online education isn’t going away. It’s scalable, usually cheaper, and can be easier to adapt to a constantly-evolving financial landscape. While the effects in this study aren’t universal or long-
lasting for everyone, the digital program used is a good starting point that should probably be tweaked as opposed to starting from scratch. We’re not there yet—digital is not the best option
for financial education—but it’s getting there.