Paying to Learn

Earlier this week, I was reading a friend’s blog post in which he argued that it’s silly to ever pay for education, given the vast number of free resources available online.

I disagreed. While I think it’s great that there are so many free resources – in fact, I’m trying to make this blog one of them – and I’m no fan of spending money when you don’t need to, I also know that sometimes you get what you pay for.

Sometimes the free resources really are the best. When I’m stuck with a technical problem, I search online to see how other people have solved it. If I want to know how a particular CSS property works, I again look it up online. I’m not sure I’ve ever spent a day at work where I didn’t use Google.

Reading On the other hand, when I’m trying to sit down and learn something, I usually turn to paid content. In particular, I like books. Yes, most technical books are providing the same information you can find with a Google search, but the author is providing an additional service: collecting what’s known about the topic, paring it down to what’s most relevant, and presenting it in a way that makes sense. (At least, if it’s a good book this will be the case.)┬áBecause there’s a financial incentive, someone who is an expert on the field can afford to spend a great deal of time sharing his or her expertise in a way that might not be possible on a free medium.

Similarly, while I know that many people have successfully learned material watching free videos on youtube, I haven’t been a fan of that method for two reasons: most videos on youtube don’t have subtitles (crappy automatically-generated subtitles don’t count) and if I’m trying to learn something, I’m presumably not knowledgeable enough about it to know which presenters actually know what they’re talking about. Lately, however, I’ve been trying Pluralsight, which has a ridiculous number of professionally produced videos, many with subtitles. Full disclosure: I probably wouldn’t have gotten around to trying them if I hadn’t gotten a free trial, as it’s hard to find enough time to justify the $25+/month – but now that I’ve tried it out I suspect I’ll want to continue once my trial runs out. Because I have limited free time, it’s worthwhile to me to spend money to increase my learning speed.

Of course, none of this is to say that you can’t do just fine with free resources, especially if you have more time than money. Although I’m no longer a starving student, I still feel the pull of getting something for cheap or free; just realize that you may be paying for those free materials with your time. Sometimes, spending money really is worthwhile.

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