Recession teaching: Video and the financial crisis

As the old saying goes, it's an ill wind that blows no good. Even as Wall Street continues to melt down and the country plumbs the depths of the recession, one industry is hitting its stride. Financial education, which has long been based in a nearly-impenetrable mass of dull statistics and even duller textbooks, is finding new life as millions of consumers are eagerly exploring a crisis that is completely changing their lives.

Given the ubiquity of Power Point as the instructional tool of choice, it is hardly surprising that the new wave of financial education tools makes use of words, visuals, and even animation. While education videos are nothing new, over the last couple of years, they have made a quantum leap in terms of sophistication and entertainment value. For example, a year ago, Mercury Research and Consulting's prediction markets videos represented something of a standard for clear, easy-to-absorb financial education videos. Aimed at a mainstream audience, the short clips were slightly clunky, but clear and interesting. Even their lack of polish said a great deal: cheap and easy to produce, they showed that videos could be easily uploaded to YouTube, where they could simultaneously educate viewers and cultivate potential clients.

Fast forward a little over a year and financial education videos and graphics have more or less exploded. I was recently told about an online video, The Crisis of Credit, that illustrated the debt crisis in a short, compelling ten minutes.
The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

After watching the little film, I clicked over to YouTube to do a little more research. By the time I got there, the movie that I had just watched was already highlighted as one of the most-viewed clips of the day.

A few minutes later, I decided to check out the Good Magazine site. Founded in 2006, Good makes impressive use of visual tools to educate its readers, demonstrating everything from underwater cable to fuel efficiency in clear, easy-to-read infographics. The site is currently featuring a collection of financial crisis graphs. I was not surprised to discover that one of them was put together by Jonathan Jarvis, creator of The Crisis of Credit.

While graphs and charts are hardly a new technology, there was once a time when they were used to illustrate text. Increasingly, they are becoming the text. Part of this seems to be an outgrowth of an increasingly visually oriented culture that is far more comfortable with unpacking images and icons than sentences and paragraphs. With humorous sites like GraphJam capitalizing on the trend and traditional news-gathering organizations like the New York Times increasingly resorting to video, it seems likely that any lessons that we derive from the current crisis are likely to be absorbed visually.

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