Improving Financial Outcomes – Research Roundup, Part IV: Let’s Talk Techie

This is the final installment in a series of four posts summarizing the findings of a review of recent literature on the value of financial education to financial literacy and economic outcomes. The complete series will be published on the Bank’s Education Resources page.

“Technology expands access through flexibility of mode, place and pace. It also affords people a sense of autonomy, competence and self-determination that can increase motivation” (Way and Wong, 2010).  If financial education’s goal is to increase the ability of individuals to act competently on their own within the financial world, then it’s clear that the spread of technology is integral to attaining that goal.

In the spirit of ending this series looking toward the future, we’re devoting our last post to some thoughts on the role automation plays in efforts to improve financial outcomes. Technology provides financial education practitioners a forum in which to practice the “less is more” approach, while still having the option to guide program participants deeper into content, when needed. It can also facilitate and streamline the measurement of efforts which, in turn, will yield data that identifies best practices for improving financial capability. Ultimately, determining which technological advancements best serve the delivery of financial education is likely one of the most critical issues faced by practitioners today.

Although access can be greatly expanded through emerging communication channels, this should not make financial education practitioners think that they’re off the hook for shaping the proper content. In fact, the importance of properly targeting resources is underscored by a common frustration we’ve all encountered when doing research online: the glut of unsorted, ill-suited information that clutters our search results. Once the question of how to properly shape content is answered, practitioners must then tackle how best to deliver that content.  While it’s logical that communication advances can make delivery easier, the data is currently sparse on which specific advances produce the best outcomes. More research is needed regarding the extent to which social media and other innovative delivery channels are effective.

In the meantime, the concept of “gamification” is taking the financial education world by storm. Why? “Play and exploration have always been the way we construct new ideas and concepts, and that building such a scaffold of interconnected ideas has always been the source of our deepest knowledge and wisdom” (Osterweil, 2010). Many organizations in the field are finding it helpful to build their lessons in the form of online games and start the learning process early. Here’s a list of some games for kids that have been used by practitioners from across the financial literacy spectrum.

Finally, in addition to more obvious uses of technology in educational settings (e.g. webinars, video tutorials, etc.), we wanted to close with a few interesting examples from around the country of how some organizations are using technology creatively to make their delivery processes more efficient.

  • ·         BankOn D.C., in collaboration with the Financial Education & Literacy Advisers, created an online portal that helps clients identify goals, interests and needs, and measures learning outcomes while connecting clients with resources that help them achieve personal financial goals.
  • ·         The Los Angeles Economic (formerly, Community) Development Department, along with several local LA organizations, developed a computer-based intake questionnaire that gathers information about residents’ current financial services usage, level of debt, income and perceived future financial service needs—a type of data-collection tool that practitioners could easily build and customize for their specific audiences.
  • ·         There is also an online self-sufficiency calculator sponsored by the Workforce Development Councils of Seattle-King County, Washington. With this resource, families can look at their overall budget and determine the amount of income necessary to meet their basic needs without private or public assistance, as well as learn about other helpful resources.
  • ·         Lastly, BankOn Denver has a mapping interface that matches users with the most suitable financial institutions in their area based on search criteria such as zip code and the dollar amount available for opening an account.

We hope the findings and resources highlighted in this series will generate discussion among financial education practitioners and encourage exploration of emerging technologies, data and collaborative strategies for improving the financial capabilities of our most disadvantaged populations.

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