Learning Techniques in Economics at the Principles Level

Article excerpt


When a student who has not performed satisfactorily on an exam approaches us for study advice, we find ourselves at a disadvantage. Teachers in other disciplines have researched and written extensively on the most effective methods of learning their respective subjects, but economists have paid only scant attention to this issue. What are the discipline-specific learning techniques that are uniquely suited to economics? What are the best ways to learn economics in college?


The academic economic profession has come to adopt a mostly one-sided approach to learning economics. The literature in economic education focuses almost exclusively on the "teaching" of economics; improved teaching will lead to better learning. Excellent instruction cannot be the only relevant factor for learning. If our objective is to produce students who are well versed in the principles of economics and can learn independently, we must also improve our understanding of and communicate the best learning techniques for economics.

What should be the student's responsibility? We tend to take blame when learning in the classroom is inadequate. This approach is unfair and unproductive. The instructor agrees to teach and the student by enrolling supposedly commits to the responsibility of learning. A student's degree of motivation is a major factor in determining how much is learned. Evidence indicates learning in a classroom is indeed a jointly produced good (Saunders 1990).

We first present a story, a lecture on a real-world problem involving the concept of price elasticity of demand. We then use this story/lecture to illustrate each of the ten tips in learning that we believe would enable students to achieve superior results in learning introductory economics. We end the paper with some concluding remarks on economic education.


Economics is different in many ways from other social science and business disciplines. The premise of economics is analysis and critical thinking. Study practices should be adapted to learn this analytical thought process through skills training.

We have attempted to address the issue of the best learning techniques for economics providing our own list of the top ten study tips to aid the student in the learning of economics. Perhaps this list should have come from a blue-chip panel of economists, the best teachers in the discipline. We hope, however, that our student-directed suggestions based on research findings(1) and personal teaching experience will improve students' ability and efficiency in learning economics. We discuss how the student can implement the ten learning tips by illustrating each in the context of a specific topic, an introductory lecture on the price elasticity of demand.(2)

The next section presents an illustrative lecture/problem on the concept of price elasticity of demand. We will then illustrate each of the ten learning tips using this story. It will become clear why instructors in economics should care about their students' learning methods.


Suppose you just began your dream student job; you are assistant athletic director for your college soccer team. The athletic director, John Jones, tells you that one of his main problems is revenue intake from home soccer games. He wants each game to produce more revenue from ticket sales but is unsure how the $8 ticket price should be adjusted. The stadium seats 9,000 and currently on average 2,000 fans attend each game.

Wanting to shine in your new profession, you inform Mr. Jones that you would like to tackle the revenue intake predicament. A pleased Mr. Jones agrees to provide you with data on ticket sales based upon historical price adjustments.

As your boss anxiously awaits your policy recommendation on ticket pricing, you feel the pressure mounting. …