Teaching Economics from Real World Examples

By teaching "real world" economics, we can mean increasing the curriculum's

  • relevance to the students' own experiences as economic agents,
  • relevance to recent research, or
  • relevance to the work actually done by professional economists

In our national surveys, Economics students write favourably about lecturers who use imaginative real-world applications. Conversely, a frequent point of complaint is the teaching of mathematical models in the abstract, divorced from their application.

Papers and articles

Monojit Chatterji's 2005 conference keynote describes how he uses the economic experiences of his students as a focus of his teaching, and advises new lecturers to throw out concepts which no longer play a role in current research.

In "Economics for a Higher Education" (International Review of Economics Education, 2004), William E. Becker warns that existing curricula risk being seen as irrelevant both by students and by economic researchers. He comments on the paucity of mentions of recent Nobel prize-winning research in current textbooks, and describes classroom experiments to introduce this work to students.

In a 2007 conference keynote, Andy Ross of the GES describes the different questions tackled by economists in government and emphasises that a relatively small amount of them deal with "the economy".

In "Turning the Tide: Bringing Economics Teaching into the Twenty First Century" (International Review of Economics Education, 2003), Paul Ormerod advocates the introduction of agent-based modelling in classes to counter what he describes as the dogmatism of the existing curriculum.


The Journal of Economic Perspectives has a list of economic concepts and accessible articles that illustrate them, as alternatives to the standard examples.

Tim Harford, author of "The Undercover Economist" gave a keynote talk at our 2007 conference, available as online video. It includes many examples of real-world examples of economic thinking.

Our blog, Economics in Action, includes many short examples of unusual applications of economic research (some taken from the above books), as well as audio interviews with economists about their research.

Also on our WhyStudyEconomics site, there are student films which make a case for the relevance of economics to everyday choices. See in particular "Economics Dude", "Captain Economics", "24 Hour Economics" and "Everyday Economics".

The METAL Project online videos and DeSTRESS videos illustrate the application of mathematical and statistical concepts, respectively, to a variety of real-world decisions.

We have a lot of material on Teaching economics with case studies: see for example Incorporating Newspaper Articles into an Economics Course and Students' assignment as a piece of economics journalism.

See also our theme page on Classroom Experiments and Games.