Interactive Economics, a new online platform, aims to bring economics to a broader audience. (image: courtesy Rajiv Sethi)

Perhaps the best way to learn a new subject is to play with it. That's the inspiration behind a new, free platform called Interactive Economics, or IE, that aims to deepen students' understanding of economics in a rapidly evolving world. The project, launched on April 11, was spearheaded by SFI External Professor Rajiv Sethi and Homa Zarghamee, colleagues at Barnard College. 

"Many of the social and political upheavals we are witnessing can’t really be well understood without some knowledge of economics," Sethi says.

Sethi, Zarghamee, and others are continuing to add new self-contained lessons around key questions, such as how to measure income inequality across countries with different population sizes and levels of prosperity, or how interest rates affect borrowing and lending decisions. 

Rather than simply read about those things, Sethi says, "IE allows students to build their own exercises, to click and drag and play with the material so that the structure of economic models starts to become clearly exposed." In a lesson on specialization and trade, for example, students can play with technologies and production levels for different goods to understand when a country is better off trading or producing something itself.

Although IE can be used independently, its main goal is to supplement textbooks and classroom instruction. In fact, Sethi got the idea for IE while working on the Curriculum Open-access Resources in Economics (CORE) project, a set of online textbooks which were co-developed by SFI Professor Samuel Bowles. Through his CORE work, "I realized that students were capable of reaching great heights if the material were presented to them in ways that facilitated genuine interaction at their own pace," Sethi says.

IE's creators hope to reach instructors, students, and others around the world. Since its launch two months ago, the site has seen 1,200 active users from 65 countries around the world. "We felt that we could bring economics to a broader audience, including students who may feel they don’t have the aptitude or interest, by presenting material in a fresh and engaging manner, and so far we're succeeding."