'Markets with Frictions' is topic of second UW-Madison MOOC

Oct. 24, 2013

“Markets with Frictions” probably wasn’t a topic of conversation at the last party you attended — unless you’re an economist.

UW-Madison finance professor Randall Wright wants to change that. Leading the second pilot Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) at UW-Madison, Wright’s “Markets with Frictions” begins Oct. 30, bringing economic theory to a wider audience.

Photo: Randall Wright

Randall Wright

Wright, the Ray Zemon Professor of Liquid Assets at the Wisconsin School of Business, wants to reach people interested in how the economy works but who may not have the time or resources to earn a degree in economics, giving them an opportunity to learn about the impact of market frictions. More than 22,000 people from all over the world have signed up for the course.

Frictions in the global or national markets are costs, constraints and other issues that make positive outcomes difficult and lead to a less-than-ideal market. Examples include the coexistence of unemployment and job openings, credit market rationing or bubbles in the housing market.

Wright hopes the students in his six-week online class will walk away with a better understanding of economics and what economic scientists do. The class will provide another perspective from what most people see in the news media. Although you don’t have to be an economics major to take the course, Wright reminds students not to assume the course will be easy just because it’s delivered online.

“One doesn’t need an econ background per se, but one does need a relatively mature level of logic and analytic ability and cannot be afraid of equations, as they are all over the MOOC,” Wright says. “But as long as one understands that equations are necessary — or, at the very least, extremely useful — to be precise about complicated phenomena, and as long as one is willing to do some work, a lack of previous economics training is not a problem.”

Although you don’t have to be an economics major to take the course, Wright reminds students not to assume the course will be easy just because it’s delivered online.

MOOCs are a recent development in the area of distance education and build on earlier concepts for innovative course delivery. Courses use multimedia presentations, including video, and encourage learning through online interaction among students.

“Markets with Frictions” is one of four pilot MOOCs offered by UW-Madison in the 2013-14 academic year and was made possible by gifts to the Wisconsin School of Business Innovation Fund. The course is free and open to anyone, including current UW-Madison students, although it is not offered for credit. There is no limit to the number of participants.

While content differs, MOOCs provide access to instructors from universities all over the world by connecting learners through technology. Students watch videos, take quizzes, read materials and participate in online discussions with fellow learners from around the globe. MOOCs also allow students to learn at their own pace. To register for a course, visit the Coursera website for UW-Madison.

—Lavilla Capener