For all of us, the most powerful lessons we ever learned about money management were in hindsight. They come from the stories we tell ourselves about what happened, and what the problem was. The lessons come from how we solved those problems, or, even more memorably, failed to solve them. The purpose of teaching financial literacy in school is to teach foresight—to teach students what they will need to know about financial management before they make memorable mistakes. But we know from research on learning, and, more specifically, from research on teaching financial literacy, that students learn from doing—just the way we did.
The case study method for teaching financial literacy is based on doing. The method brings real life financial dilemmas into the classroom as unfolding stories. As a classroom approach, this was developed at the Harvard Business School by varying the Case Method used by the law school. At the law school, students analyzed cases that the courts had already settled. In contrast, the business professors wanted to put their students in the shoes of real people confronting real dilemmas. The cases presented here are faithful to the intent of those Harvard professors. They are often disguised accounts of a real dilemma and, while they illustrate principles of financial planning, as in real life, they rarely have one precise answer.
See an adaptation, available for download here, of John Hammond’s guide to learning by the case method.