Understanding eight key elements of effective financial literacy training

Abstract: 

A large segment of the U.S. population is financially illiterate, with many people not understanding basic financial concepts and products well enough to make sound short- and long-term financial decisions (Amromin et al., 2009). In an increasingly complex domestic and global financial system, it is essential that individuals and families get the information, education, and tools they need to make good financial decisions. But many factors come into play when developing financial literacy training — and the training that a program chooses will necessarily reflect the unique needs of its audience. However, financial educator Inger Giuffrida has identified eight traits that help make financial trainings in general more engaging and successful. This practice is adapted from her article "Elements of Effective Financial Literacy Training."

Issue:

Research shows that not all financial education programs are effective in improving financial literacy and behavior; only some programs actually improve financial outcomes (Amromin et al., 2009). Accounting for all variables associated with successful financial literacy training — when, how, and where it is delivered, who is trained, and what information is presented — poses an important challenge for program developers and facilitators.

Action:

Financial literacy training should be structured to support participants' progress toward meeting their savings and asset goals; it should provide program participants with opportunities to develop skills and acquire knowledge necessary to effectively manage their own financial situation; and it should be designed to meet the participants where they are when they start the training and to build on what they know in an affirming and participatory way.

According to Giuffrida (2000), the eight traits that make financial training effective and engaging are as follows: 

1. Skilled Facilitator

A skilled facilitator is essential to an efficient and engaging training. The role is different from a traditional teacher role in which the teacher is seen as:

  • Possessing all essential information
  • Filling the minds of students with knowledge
  • Talking in the front of the room while the participants passively absorb information

Instead, a facilitator can be thought of as a learning guide or an animator; among other tasks a facilitator must perform, he or she:

  • Develops training that reflects the content and learning styles of the learners
  • Provides the framework for the thinking, doing, and discussing
  • Poses thought-provoking questions that lead adult learners toward their own solutions
  • Delivers relevant supplemental information
  • Establishes and maintains the learning climate, ensuring the contribution of each individual is honored
  • Provides effective feedback to those engaged in the learning process
  • Ensures a balance between allowing participants to be heard and keeping the training focused
  • Searches for common themes among participants and summarizes their contributions

Having a skilled facilitator at an adult training session is as important (if not more so) as someone with deep content knowledge. Specific content knowledge can be obtained through expert speakers (volunteer or paid); however, experts most often do not provide the essential elements that a facilitator brings to a training to ensure it stays learner-focused. Optimally, trainers will possess both content expertise/experience and good facilitation skills.

2. Planned Training Tied to Behavioral Objectives with a Focus on Application

This element is directly related to the principles of adult learning. Adults are very busy and want specific solutions to their problems. In other words, they expect to be able to do or know something new that is useful to themselves and their families. Poorly planned training is a sign of disrespect and wastes participants' time; effective training design begins with the identification and development of participant or behavioral objectives. Behavioral objectives (also known as learning objectives) state in specific terms what the session participants will know, be able to do, or feel about something by the end of the session. Behavioral objectives are written descriptions of specific observable behavior or measurable performance related to the knowledge being acquired, and they are written from the learner's perspective without concern for how the information will be conveyed (these are process or teaching objectives). Training content, method, and evaluation flow from the behavioral objectives. (More about adult learning principles and behavioral objectives.)

3. Content Relevant to the Audience

Training must be structured to reflect the needs of the audience. This can and should be determined through needs assessments prior to the development of training sessions. Even if an organization chooses to use existing curricula, an assessment of potential participants' needs is necessary to ensure the training addresses the issues most pertinent to the audience. Relevant content will keep the participants engaged in the training and returning session after session. 

4. Training Based On and Reflective of the Principles of Adult Learning

The design and implementation must incorporate the principles of adult learning. Adults have a great deal of life experience they bring to training; tapping into this experience during sessions validates adult participants' experiences and provides a richer learning opportunity for everyone, including the facilitator. (More about adult learning principles and behavioral objectives.)

5. Training That Balances the Diverse Realities of Multiple Learners

While the diversity of the learners is a key ingredient for a rich exchange of ideas and an exciting training, it can be one of the most difficult aspects of designing and delivering training for adults. Within financial literacy training groups, there may be people from different countries, regions of the U.S., religions, racial or ethnic groups, cultures, stages in the family life cycle, sexual orientations, as well as a range of ages, household income levels, and experiences. Every learning style will most likely be represented, and there may be people with learning disabilities or phobias in your group. Additionally, there will be people with different levels of:

  • Formal education
  • Experience with financial matters
  • Literacy and numeracy

Each of the factors listed above — in addition to many others — will impact the training design and delivery. Following are some basic tips for working with diverse audiences:

  • Develop materials that use inclusive language and illustrations
  • Cover a range of experiences in the examples used
  • Write and deliver materials at appropriate literacy/numeracy levels
  • Define new terms and use examples to illustrate the meaning of new or unfamiliar terms
  • Vary the training method and process regularly within a training session to appeal to as many learning styles as possible

If you're writing low-literacy level materials, ensure the content is age appropriate. There can be a tendency among inexperienced writers to use child-like phrases or subjects when trying to develop materials at low-literacy levels.

6. Adult-Oriented and Accessible Location

Financial literacy courses should be held in locations that are easily accessible to as many participants as possible. Following are some criteria to keep in mind when choosing a site:

  • Is the site accessible for people with disabilities?
  • Is the site on or near public transportation routes?
  • Is there childcare on site or nearby?
  • Is the training space big enough to allow for small group work as well as full group exercises?
  • Is the training space pleasant, neat, and clean?

Consider whether the facility is oriented toward adults:

  • Elementary schools, high schools, and youth centers are not appropriate sites for adult classes; many adults have had prior negative experiences in these buildings and holding your session in a youth-oriented facility may make it feel like "school."
  • The chair and desk sizes may not comfortably accommodate the wide variety of adult shapes and sizes.

The physical space is often an indicator to learners about how you as the facilitator view them. If the space is neat, clean, well-organized, and comfortable, you will convey respect to the participants. If, on the other hand, the room is dirty and cluttered, it may be taken as a sign of disrespect. Also, if the target market is geographically dispersed, you may want to hold the training in different locations during the course of a year. 

7. Training Schedule That Is Respectful of Audience Needs

Finding the ideal time to hold a financial literacy training course can be difficult. Generally speaking, evenings are best for adults since most work during the day. Weekends are also convenient for many participants, but often people want to focus on their families on Saturday and Sunday. The best way to determine when you should hold your training is to ask the potential program participants. Additional scheduling issues or the frequency of sessions — twice/week or once/month, etc. — and the time of year should be discussed.

8. Training That Includes Evaluation

Evaluation is the way to include everyone involved with the training/facilitator, guest speakers, staff, and participants in measuring the effects of the training. A well-constructed evaluation will ask for feedback on both content and process (method). Most importantly, evaluation provides an opportunity for the participants to contribute in improving their own learning experience as well as future trainings.

Outcome:

Overall, evidence concerning the benefits of financial literacy training is consistent with conventional wisdom — education can result in more informed consumers who make better financial decisions. Specifically, financial literacy programs with “discrete objectives” have succeeded in improving certain aspects of consumers' personal financial management, including maintaining a mortgage, increasing savings, and participating in employer-sponsored benefit plans (Braunstein & Welch, 2002).

Citations: 

Amromin, G., Ben-David, I., Agarwal, S., Chomsisengphet, S., & Evanoff, E. (2009). Financial literacy and the effectiveness of financial education and counseling: A review of the literature. Retrieved from http://www.chicagofed.org/digital_assets/others/region/foreclosure_resource_center/more_financial_literacy.pdf

Braunstein, S., & Welch, C. (2002, November). Financial literacy: An overview of practice, research, and policy. Retrieved from http://www.federalreserve.gov/pubs/Bulletin/2002/1102lead.pdf

Giuffrida, I. (2000). Elements of effective financial literacy training: Key components of effective and engaging financial literacy training. Columbia, MD: The Enterprise Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.practitionerresources.org/cache/documents/19330.doc


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