Thinking of Teaching a Course on Building a Financial Spreadsheet

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Thinking of Teaching a Course on Building a Financial Spreadsheet

Post by Tombobene »

I'm thinking about approaching my local community college to see about teaching a short adult education course and would appreciate any guidance you may have.

I recently retired from a 35-year career that involved a significant amount of time building spreadsheets. Additionally, over the past 10 years or so, I have developed my own financial spreadsheet that has evolved into something fairly sophisticated. My fundamental wisdom to impart to others is that rather than relying on pre-built financial calculators one might find on websites, or complex spreadsheet models built by others, most people are best served by building their own spreadsheet and incorporating what's important to their specific use case.

I'm envisioning the course to be a three-session virtual workshop to build a personalized financial model. I would share a very simple financial model as a starting point, and help the students tailor their own model to their circumstances. It would be a group exercise, but with each person building their own individualized spreadsheet. We would cover spreadsheet techniques needed to build a model – from simple formulas to complex, depending on the students' needs. For example, someone might want to know how to pull in the latest market prices. If so, we'd cover that in the session, and another student may or may not find that useful for their model. Regardless though, each student would benefit by hearing what can be done. The students will be encouraged to make up dummy figures in their spreadsheet during the workshop, so their specific financial information remains private. Any thoughts on what would make such a class worthwhile? Any cautions? Thanks!
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Re: Thinking of Teaching a Course on Building a Financial Spreadsheet

Post by DesertGator »

Well, I'm all for financial education. The question is what theories/calculation etc does the spreadsheet model? Perhaps your spreadsheet modeling skills are penultimate, but you follow and therefore will be teaching some poor financial advice, strategy etc. Perhaps the spreadsheet calculates accurately, but the chosen metrics, KPI's etc are the "wrong" ones to focus on (just playing Devils' Advocate here).

Having done some teaching for a community college before, you might not have the credentials they require, or you might have alot more hoops to jump through than you want.

I'd like to suggest another approach: Create a relatively simple online course, where the student buys the course online. You now have a potentially much larger market/impact since you won't be limited to the local area. Student gets downloadable spreadsheets, and you walk them through setting it up, etc. You could make videos they watch, and/or hold live webinar sessions. There are a number of course/teaching platforms out there if you don't want to do any site-building and don't mind a revenue share or want their built-in marketing. There are also multiple LMS systems that are inexpensive and can be used on a self-hosted website if you have a little technical skill or don't want to revenue share.

Good luck!
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Re: Thinking of Teaching a Course on Building a Financial Spreadsheet

Post by Johninvestor »

I would be interested in such an online course. Much better to do it online with video and examples, and charge a fee for access to the videos and sample spreadsheets. I’m trying to teach myself Excel and learn more about spreadsheets, and for me to learn effectively I need to be able to watch and rewatch example and explanatory videos.
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Re: Thinking of Teaching a Course on Building a Financial Spreadsheet

Post by humblecoder »

In my mind, there are two potential ways you can approach such a course:

1. Have the focus of the course be on the nuts-and-bolts of using MS Excel (ex: how to import data, how to use the various formulas and financial functions), and use some hypothetical personal finance situation as a means to teach those items. For instance, let's say you want to illustrate how to use the NPV function is Excel. You can construct some hypothetical scenario where you want to compare different Social Security claiming strategies.

2. Have the focus of the course be on DIY financial planning / forecasting, and use MS Excel has a tool to help realize that plan. For instance, you want to illustrate why a particular withdrawal strategy might be optimal. You can use a model that is built in MS Excel to show the pros and cons of said strategy.

I would choose one or the other as the focus, rather than trying to put the focus on both. Otherwise, you run the risk of not doing justice to either of those areas.

EDIT: Just one thought about making it a personalized experience for each person. In my experience with classes like this, the more personalization that you are going to offer, the more difficult the class is going to be. It is going to be difficult if not impossible to try to cater to everyone's individual needs. Plus, in a technically-oriented class such as this, consider the amount of time that you are going to be spending trying to troubleshoot various issues that people are going to run into. That is going to take away from instruction time. Every minute you spend with one person on their own specific situation is one less minute you are teaching to the entire class. If you have something that is more scripted or templated, it will make the class run much smoother.

If you insist on a class where everybody is building their own personalized spreadsheet, you will need to keep the class VERY VERY small in order to be successful. I would recommend 5 people as the absolute max, and even that might be too many!
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Re: Thinking of Teaching a Course on Building a Financial Spreadsheet

Post by sailaway »

Why are you thinking of doing this through the local cc, rather than approaching your local library for community space, for example? Have you looked into the local cc policies on continuing education courses? For example, one limitation I have seen is that a short course has to be paired with other short courses to fill a semester.

Rather than having students invent dummy numbers, you should provide sample numbers for different scenarios. Making up numbers takes too much focus away from the other things they have to learn, especially if this is only a 3 session course.

Do you have a local bogleheads chapter? Perhaps they would be interested in having you test drive such a course at their meetings.
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Re: Thinking of Teaching a Course on Building a Financial Spreadsheet

Post by LeftCoastIV »

Great idea. That said:

Troubleshooting Excel issues virtually will be difficult. For example, someone accidentally creates a circular reference and you can’t physically see the mistake they’ve made, etc... Or they struggle with the syntax of Excel, simple things like a missing comma in a formula.

I might wait until you can do this in person, and then maybe start with a pre-built model first.
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Re: Thinking of Teaching a Course on Building a Financial Spreadsheet

Post by chemocean »

Reminds me of a task I had in the late 1980s when I build a spreadsheet (Lotus 123) chemical model (double precision using the new 8087 chip). One professor thought it was great, but another professor asked why didn't I just learn how to use the off-the-shelf Fortran-based model that was recently released for PCs.
Several years later,I hired the second professor to teach me and my colleagues how to run the Fortran program that had a more friendlier PC interface.

I once tried to learn C, but it got boring because I did not have an end project in mind. I agree with the OP that the end project needs to reflect the student's goals. However, I think that defining the students goal for the project will probably take the entire three sessions.

I think a two step-approach where someone teach personal finance. A final exam question would asks the students what would they like to keep track of: spending, net worth, annualized gains etc. and why. From their answers, you could then teach how to use off-the-shelf products for some of the tasks, while teaching spreadsheet skills for more specialized tasks. For instance, I use Quicken to keep track of my net work, then pop the account data in a spreadsheet that I developed that includes matrix algebra conduct my rebalancing.
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Re: Thinking of Teaching a Course on Building a Financial Spreadsheet

Post by Tombobene »

Terrific input - thanks all. I am going to give this some more thought based on the collective thoughts.
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