The Internet is known for “rolling up” inefficient businesses. Email has supplanted the postal service. Online entertainment, including gaming, is eating into traditional TV and cable. Now education is under pressure — in a good way.
For starters, retirement courses online make planning easier than ever, and virtually free to all.
The new online learning model owes a lot to the Internet and its wide-open, pay-it-forward, come-as-you-are approach to everything. The first major player in online education was the Khan Academy, a not-for-profit startup created by a Harvard Business School graduate in 2006.
Now just about anything you might like to know can be learned online at no cost. Mostly video-based, the offerings range from the purely informal, such as the hugely popular TED talks, to the highest levels of academic rigor.
You can even audit full courses at Harvard, MIT, The University of California Berkeley and The University of Texas System online, for free. The site that aggregates the courses is called edX. Educators refer to the trend by the odd acronym MOOCs, for “massively open online courses.”
Of course, personal finance bloggers have been dialed into free teaching as a public service for years. Consider Next Avenue, just one of many sites crammed with great investing content on topics such as retirement planning. Bloggers often write from personal experience with flair, just like a great classroom professor.
Now it’s retirement planning’s turn. The New York Times recently did a good piece on the efforts of Joshua Rauh, a professor of finance at Stanford.
Rauh teaches graduate courses in retirement and pensions. He works hard to liven up what to many can be a deadly dull topic, adding videos and graphics to his own presentations on the basics of retirement saving and investing.
Rauh offers straight-up classroom content in his videos, running 45 minutes in length. The edX system has courses that go for weeks and require a few hours a week of commitment, not unlike a regular college class.
The TED talks are shorter, typically 20 minutes or so. The Khan Academy lessons, in comparison, are broken into small bites and organized by grade level and subject matter. A video lesson under seventh grade math at Khan, for instance, runs three minutes and covers just one type of fraction problem.
Real retirement courses online
We took a similar, small-bites approach at the Center for Retirement Investing, our own suite of retirement investing videos. They are short and focus on the specific problems of long-term investing, such as asset allocation, diversification and rebalancing.
Short though they are, the videos pack a wallop because of the men behind them: Ivy League powerhouses who have spent years at the lecterns of Princeton, Harvard and Yale. No mere academics (though they are widely published and recognized), these men have served on major boards, including the Vanguard Group.
They are Dr. Burton Malkiel of Princeton University and Dr. Charley Ellis, former managing partner of Greenwich Associates. Joining them on the video series, available on YouTube at no cost, is Jay Vivian, former managing director of the IBM Retirement Funds.
The initial videos — we’ll be adding new ones periodically — focus on exactly the types of questions retirement investors are asking themselves right now: How do I avoid a stock meltdown? What happens if interest rates go up? What happens if they don’t?
Hard questions. But they have disarmingly simple answers that Burt, Charley and Jay have direct experience testing over decades, through both rigorous research and the hands-on management of billions of dollars.
We hope the growing collection of their insights will serve those who seek to learn, who come as they are and want to pay it forward, exactly as these three men are doing now.