Every week, students from around the globe log in and learn about personal financial management from Rensselaer student Alex LeBon. A junior majoring in physics, LeBon spent much of last summer working on—and starring in—a free online course developed by his stepfather, Peter Navarro, professor of economics and public policy at the University of California-Irvine (UCI).
“Managing Your Time, Money, and Career: MBA Insights for Undergraduates,” made its debut in August on the Coursera Massive Open Online Learning platform. Since then, more than 70,000 students have enrolled in the five-week course, which covers budgeting, debit and credit cards, loans, taxes, savings and investments, the stock market, and other finance-related topics.
Navarro, who developed the course at UCI’s request, is an advocate of peer-to-peer education. He believed the course would be more effective if students learned from one of their own, and invited LeBon to participate both on and off camera.
When he accepted, LeBon viewed the project primarily as a good summer job. He quickly realized that the project offered other benefits as well.
“Every week, I learned something new,” he said. “Essentially, I was taking the course by working on it.”
For LeBon, the biggest lesson was the importance of planning. “I had a general knowledge of budgeting and how much I wanted to spend, but no specific plan on how much I should set aside for emergencies and other expenditures,” he said. “Going through the course, I learned about all the different things you need to plan for, from unexpected injuries to business opportunities.
“If you have the right plan,” he added, “you can carefully manage your debt, and you will be less affected by ups and downs in the economy.”
Navarro outlined the course and left much of the research to LeBon, who typically wrote the first draft of the script and slides. Although the two share some screen time, LeBon does most of the narration.
Early course surveys indicate that Navarro made the right choice in featuring LeBon so prominently. “We had a pretty robust response rate,” Navarro said, “and the reaction to Alex, to learning from someone their own age, was overwhelmingly positive.”
The course consists of 10 video lectures. Each lesson includes a brief introduction and three easily digestible videos that students can view at their own pace.
The latest five-week offering of the course runs through November 17. Students can enroll at any time, at no charge, and access earlier lessons. Starting in January, the course will be available on-demand, also free of charge.
“The course provides insights that almost anyone can benefit from,” LeBon says. “I encourage students to take it, especially if they want to learn more about personal finances or if they’re having trouble budgeting or managing debt.”
More details, including enrollment information, are available at www.coursera.org/course/managingmoney.