Economics is a very significant field to master if you want to succeed in life, or at the least, understand how the world around you influences your conditions and decisions. Economics governs everything from the price you pay for your coffee to the Politics governing you and the rest of the country. But for anyone looking to self learn Economics, it can be an elusive subject.
There are basically two major ways by which one can self learn economics. The first and the most efficient way is to enroll in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). They are a fun and usually free source of knowledge. Alternatively, you could also read some books on economics.
In this section, we will cover all of this in greater detail. We will also be recommending some of the best MOOCs and books on economics, helping you make a better decision. We will also be sharing tips on how you can succeed in your self-learning quest.
Self-Learning Economics With MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses)
One of the easiest and the most modern ways to self-learn economics is through Massive Open Online Courses. Many universities have made a range of their economics lectures available online, either on their own websites or dedicated educational platforms like Coursera or edx.org. You will also find courses created by individual educators and professionals on platforms like Udemy.
Most MOOCs have filmed lectures that follow an order as you would have in a classroom syllabus. They are ideal for those who want to begin with the fundamentals and aren’t comfortable looking at complicated concepts right away. The good thing about courses such as this is that they are incredibly easy to follow along, even for those who don’t have a lot of background knowledge on the subject.
If you are an absolute beginner in economics, it might be helpful to take a microeconomics course. There are some incredibly popular ones available online, which we shall mention in the next section. If you are already familiar with the basics of economics, you might want to consider taking some more advanced courses, like those on Game Theory.
There are plenty of great MOOCs for self-learning Economics. In this section, we will highlight & discuss some of the most popular Economics courses available online. These courses are offered by some of the finest universities in the world, and all of them are completely free.
But if you’re not looking to just audit the courses and would like to get a certificate of completion for the courses you’ve taken, you can buy the courses for a certain fee.
Below, we will look at nine different MOOCs on Economics. They have been listed based on increasing order of difficulty. Some courses (like those on microeconomics) are repeated. You are free to browse both courses and choose the one that interests you more.
Principles of Microeconomics (MIT OpenCourseWare)
Course by: MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology
This course is taught by Dr. Jonathan Gruber, who is the Ford Professor of Economics at MIT. Gruber has also been involved with the National Bureau of Economic Research and the American Society of Health Economists, so you can expect some good real-world insights in his class.
This course consists of a series of 25 video lectures with related notes and assignments recorded at an undergraduate class at MIT in the fall of 2018. There are even some graduate-level microeconomics courses you can follow into.
Microeconomics Principles (Coursera)
Course by: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
This is another great microeconomics course. You will be taught by Dr. José J. Vázquez-Cognet, a professor in the Department of Economics at U of I, Illinois. This course promises a slightly different approach to the study of economics, focusing on real-life issues such as the environment, crime, love, marriage, education, health, labor markets, business, sports, etc. rather than a cold study of money.
This course will take approximately 27 hours to complete & is spread across eight weeks. By the end, you will be able to view the everyday aspects of the world through the eye of an economist.
Course by: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
This course is taught by Hadi Salehi Esfahani, Professor of Economics and Professor of Business Administration at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Unlike the previous ‘microeconomics’ course, also offered by U of I, Illinois, which focused on the finer aspects of the economy, this ‘macroeconomics’ course will focus on country level economics.
This course will take approximately 16 hours to complete and is spread across four weeks. By the end, you will be able to understand country-level policies, their primary influences, and how they affect the economy at large.
Financial Markets (Coursera)
Course by: Yale University
This course is taught by Robert Shiller, who is a Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale University. This is a great course to learn about all the ideas, methods, and institutions that facilitate all the risky financial endeavors in our society. You will be learning about banks, insurance companies & securities and how these institutions assess risk in the market.
The course takes approximately 27 hours to complete & is spread across seven weeks. By the end, you will have a good insight on financial risk management.
Economics of Money and Banking (Coursera)
Course by: Columbia University
This course is taught by Perry G Mehrling, who is a professor of economics at Barnard College. This can be used as an intermediate level follow up to the previous course.
You will be learning everything that will help you understand complex real-world economic phenomena such as the 2007-09 financial crisis, and be trained in a new way of economic thinking. This course was produced by the Institute for New Economic Thinking.
The course will take approximately 29 hours to complete and is spread across 13 weeks. By the end, you will have a good real-world insight into the economics of money and banking.
Game Theory I (Coursera)
Course by: Stanford University & the University of British Columbia
This course is taught by Professors Matthew O. Jackson (Stanford), Kevin Leyton-Brown (The University of British Columbia) & Yoav Shoham (Stanford). Once you are comfortable with the foundational knowledge of economics, you might be interested in game theory.
Game theory has been made popular in movies like ‘A Beautiful Mind.’ It is the system for the mathematical modeling of strategic interaction between agents (either rational or irrational).
This course takes approximately 12 hours to complete and is spread across eight weeks. This is the first of the two courses you can take on Game Theory.
Game Theory II: Advanced Applications (Coursera)
Course by: Stanford University & the University of British Columbia
This course can serve as a natural follow up to the one above. It is taught by the same three professors from Game Theory I. This course will familiarize you with some more advanced Game Theory topics such as social choice, mechanism design, effective mechanisms & auctions.
This course is spread across five weeks and takes approximately 9 hours to complete. By the end, you should be familiar with some pretty advanced Game Theory concepts.
Course by: Harvard Business School
This is an interesting addition to our list. Unlike the previous courses which focused on the theoretical aspects of economics, this course helps you understand that in terms of the real world. The course is taught by Tarun Khanna, who is a Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School.
The content will focus on the emerging markets of the world, like India and Africa, helping you understand the opportunities that lie therein for entrepreneurs. The course will focus on a diverse range of sectors such as healthcare, fintech, infrastructure, online commerce, etc. This is a great course to apply all the economic theories you’ve learned from the previous courses.
The course is spread across six weeks and will take approximately 24 hours to complete.
Tips for Self-Learning Economics With MOOCs
As fun and exciting as enrolling in a Massive Open Online Course may sound, it takes quite a bit of dedication to successfully complete these courses. Since these classes are mostly free and conducted remotely without any one-on-one interaction with the instructors, one will feel more tempted to abandon them.
There are a few useful tips that you can follow in order to successfully finish a MOOC as part of your self-learning journey in economics.
Make Sure You Are Absolutely Comfortable on a Computer
Since all MOOCs are taught online, you will need a computer in order to properly take a course. You need to make sure you are proficient in all the basic computer tasks such as web browsing, word processing, etc.
Create a Schedule and Stick to It
Most MOOCs have no particular timing structure. The videos and contents are all there, and you’re expected to cover a few hours worth of course per week. This loose structure can, however, be more troublesome than you’d expect. A lot of people actually end up missing their weekly quotas, which eventually discourages them from finishing the course.
The best way to prevent this from happening is to create your own schedule. Put aside some time during fixed days of the week to take the course. This is the only way most people can ever finish a MOOC.
Build a Proper Study Environment
If your idea of taking an online course at home involves staring into a laptop while resting in your bed, sorry to break your bubble, but that’s not how these things work. If you’re serious about learning anything from a MOOC, you will have to treat it like an actual class. We talked about setting a schedule and sticking to it in the previous section. We also recommend setting up a proper study environment.
This will involve a desk and a chair at the least. Avoid beds at all costs. Also, make sure you have your notebooks and pens near you. Treating a MOOC session like you would a college lecture is the best way to ensure that you succeed in learning from it.
Join a Learning Community
Most MOOCs have a learning community dedicated to the course. These communities are especially important when you’re taking a complicated course like economics. In these online communities, you will find other people who are taking the course just like you as well as people who have already finished it. Interacting with these people can make learning easier and more fun for you.
Or even better, if you can get one of your friends to take the course too, you will have someone you can discuss and compare your progress with. This will be a huge motivation moving forward.
Only Take As Many Courses As You Can Handle
This can’t be stated enough. Many folks who are new to the world of MOOCs often get tempted by all the free courses available. So their first instinct is to sign up for way more courses than they are able to handle. What ends up happening is that they don’t manage to finish a single of those courses.
So figure out how many courses you can realistically take in a week. Then set a schedule for each of them and then complete them before signing up for new courses. This is the only way to go.
Self-Learning Economics With Books
Let us now look at how one can go about self-learning economics the old fashioned way: through books.
While MOOCs are definitely the most modern way to self-learn economics, they are not for everyone. There are some people who want to get into more details while others simply want the knowledge without the mathematics involved in an economics course. Fortunately, there are plenty of well-written books on economics for both cases.
We will now look at 5 of the best books that can help you self-learn economics. You can also follow the respective authors for great insights on economics.
The Undercover Economist
Author: Tim Harford
The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford is a great book for anyone looking to understand how the economic system of the world governs everything. You will learn the tiniest things like why a Starbucks coffee is priced so high at certain locations over others or the right price for a second-hand car, to the bigger issues in our society like the economic rise of China and the state of the health care system in the United States.
The book manages to provide a comprehensive introduction to economics, covering topics such as globalization, supply and demand, market failures, international trade, comparative advantage, externalities, etc. And it does all of this by providing simple examples that are easy to grasp for the average reader.
If you’re looking to self-learn economics through books, this book can help you get started.
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner is perhaps the most popular modern book written about Economics. The authors take a unique approach to explaining economics to the average reader by viewing it as a study of incentives.
The book is divided into six chapters, and an overview of these chapters might help you get a better idea of what you will be offered:
- Chapter One: discusses ‘cheating’ with case studies from teachers, sumo wrestlers, and a Washington DC area bagel business.
- Chapter Two: discusses information control with case studies from the Ku Klux Klan and real estate agents.
- Chapter Three: discusses drug dealing and the economics of everyone involved in the process.
- Chapter Four: co-relates legalized abortion to a reduction in crime.
- Chapter Five: discusses how little effect good parenting has on children’s education.
- Chapter Six: discusses normative determinism with a case study of the pattern with which parents choose the name for their babies.
Some of these topics may seem pretty random, but there’s plenty of economics to learn in every chapter.
The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life
Author: Steven E. Landsburg
This book is very similar to Freakonomics in many ways. For starters, on the very first page of the book, the author Steven E. Landsburg states that “Most of economics can be summarized in four words: People respond to incentives.” Much like Freakonomics, the book discusses how certain government policies like the automobile safety legislation can have widespread economic consequences.
You will be learning all of the most important economic concepts like cost-benefit analysis, budget deficit, and unemployment. And most importantly, you will learn how you can use these ideas to understand otherwise unintuitive real-world phenomena like the correlation between safer cars and higher crashes.
The primary difference between Freakonomics and The Armchair Economist can be summarized by the author’s own statement on the two books’ similarity: “Freakonomics is out to dazzle you with facts; The Armchair Economist is out to dazzle you with logic.”
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
Author: Nissim Nocholas Taleb
Nissim Nocholas Taleb’s masterpiece The Black Swan is another great book that can help you understand the nitty-gritty of Economics. This book takes a unique approach compared to the previous entries on our list. It focuses on the ‘Black Swans’ of the world, which are events and circumstances that seem highly unlikely but can happen nonetheless, bringing with them huge economic consequences.
Upon its release in 2007, this book spent a staggering 36 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. This book is actually the second entry in Nissim Nocholas Taleb’s five-volume series called Incerto. The other books include Fooled by Randomness (2001), The Bed of Procrustes (2010 – 2016), Antifragile (2012), and Skin in the Game (2018).
Thinking, Fast and Slow
This is the final entry on our list but is, by no means, any less worthy than the books mentioned above. Thinking, Fast and Slow was written by Nobel Prize Winner, Daniel Kahneman, and a mathematical psychologist, Amos Tversky.
A lot of this book is focused on challenging the classical economic notion that human beings tend to make rational decisions. The authors justify this claim with examples like how people assume that attractive people are more competent. Reading this book can both help you become a better decision-maker and also get invaluable insights into behavioral economics.
Other Sources for Self-learning Economics
Perhaps you’re neither into MOOCs nor into books but would still like to self-learn economics. Fortunately, we live in an age of abundance. And there are enough resources for all kinds of learners available online.
One of the best and easiest ways to self-learn Economics is by watching YouTube videos. Crash Course Economics is a great start for a beginner in Economics. The series is divided into 36 videos, each about 10 minutes long that together cover pretty much everything there is to learn about Economics.
Another great channel worth following is Economics Explained. The videos in this channel make use of the creator’s comprehensive knowledge of Economics to explain and predict real-world scenarios. These videos are particularly helpful in following the events of the world through an Economic lens. And you will be gaining a lot of insights and Economic intuition along the way.
Khan Academy has some great videos as well. Their Intro to Economics series covers the basics of Economics in great depth. These include topics such as scarcity and the four resources, the economic way of thinking, and modeling tradeoffs: the production possibilities, comparative advantage, and the gains from trade, demand, supply, and market equilibrium. The videos are all short and the whole series is less than 4 hours in length.
These are just a few of the countless resources on Economics you can find on YouTube. This Joe Rogan Experience podcast with Freakonomics author Stephen Dubner is a great example of what you can expect to find in this platform.
You can practically learn and master Economics via YouTube. And the best part is you can do it at your own pace, unlike with MOOCs. And also, research shows that most people are better listeners than they are readers. So watching (not just listening to) a series of videos on YouTube could actually be a lot more beneficial and efficient than reading a book.
Sure eventually, you will find yourself switching between these multiple sources. But YouTube is a great place to start if you want to self-learn Economics.
Articles & Blogs
The final and the most abundant source for self-learning Economics are the myriad articles and blogs on Economics published all across the internet. We’ve already talked about the Freakonomics blog in a previous section. Well, the internet is actually full of other similar blogs.
Random Observations for Students of Economics is another great blog, especially for people who are self-learning Economics. The author, Greg Mankiw, is a Robert M. Beren Professor of Economics at Harvard University and uses the blog to keep in touch with his students.
Naked Capitalism is another great blog that can help us interpret the current capitalist system through the lens of economists. It is authored by several prominent economists and they all try to bring light to the policies and other mechanisms of the status quo that, time and again, led the world (the working class in particular) into recessions.
It’s also a good idea to subscribe to some prominent sources like The Economist and the Financial Times. You will be getting the latest news and events from around the world dissected by the economics lens. It’s also a great way to keep up with the world and soak in some economic insights along the way and you will be building plenty of economic intuition while you’re casually reading the news or analysis pieces.
Whether you choose to learn it or not, economics governs every aspect of modern life. So if you want to be successful in whatever you do, a sound knowledge of the subject is a basic prerequisite. Fortunately, we live in an age where self-learning economics is no longer as difficult and elusive as it used to be.
In this article, we recommended nine great Massive Open Online Courses and five great books on Economics. The secret to the successful self-learning of Economics is to take it one step at a time. And if you’re having trouble grasping complex topics, it might help to try and understand them through real-world examples.