I’ve never liked the saying, “you get what you pay for”—which is often used to discount or warn against free or marked-down products or services.
Reason being, there is a lot that is good and valuable out there that can be had for nothing, or at a decreased cost.
So, a better way of thinking about it is, yes, there are free and relatively less expensive options available...but when those “same” things are priced higher, you often get more with your purchase.
Which leads me to our current state as parents—we are frantically searching for online learning options for our kids, and are finding an abundance of choices. Many are free, which is awesome, but others aren’t, and that stinks.
But before dismissing any opportunities, the next logical step - and the reason you’re here reading this - is to question “why?” Why are some of the seemingly same offerings more expensive than others? Especially at a time when many families are now having to cut costs where they can?
The simple answer is that it typically comes down to this:
The offerings aren’t in fact the same.
With online learning, especially, it’s confusing because everyone is using the same terminology to describe their offerings: online, virtual, interactive. But if you look beyond the surface, you’ll find there are a number of differences that truly separate free and paid online courses, and help to explain the prices attached.
Free online learning vs. paid
While I don’t know the ins and outs of every online learning platform available, I have noticed a few main differences between free and paid options.
1. Live in-person instruction
The biggest thing that sticks out to me is the fact that many free online learning experiences are devoid of any sort of live teaching component. Meaning, much of the course work is set up with the flow of “read info, click an answer to a question, advance.”
Of course, some content will be a video recording or sound clip, so students aren’t so much “reading” the info, and are consuming it through visuals or audio, but the point remains: it’s your child and a computer and prompts; no real human on the other side.
On the other hand, a paid option is more likely to have some sort of live instruction component, where there is an instructor doing live teaching; just like they would in a classroom.
2. Two-way communication and interactivity
Speaking of replicating the classroom experience, even in the situations where free online learning does offer live instruction, it might not allow for any sort of two-way interactivity between student and instructor.
For instance, participants may be able to chat questions at the end of each session, but it all depends. One instructor who is teaching thousands of students on the other end might not open up the opportunity for questions given the potential volume, and if they did, they might only have time to answer a few.
Why does this matter? I mean, think about the last time you had a question, either in the classroom, or maybe in a work meeting, etc. If you weren’t able to get that question answered, and thus were still unclear on a particular point while everyone moved forward, it’s easy to fall behind quickly. Especially if the next section or segment of that lesson or meeting builds off what was just previously presented, it’s near impossible to catch up.
With the above, it should now be obvious that a main benefit of two-way communication and interactivity is the ability for students to get their questions answered. Again, the lack of clarity leaves previously taught points more or less worthless, and a now muddled brain isn't able to fully grasp what’s coming next, either.
But another benefit to consider here is personalization. If an instructor is rolling out the same curriculum to a large group of students, it’s impossible to personalize those offerings without any sort of feedback from the students themselves.
So, even if half the class was struggling with a particular piece of what was being taught, the instructor would have to just continue on with the original curriculum plan.
On the other hand, the ideal scenario would allow for the instructor to tailor the teaching from that point forward in order to create clarity or drive a particular point home.
Over time, many of you will be turning to online learning for different reasons. But for many of us right now, we are seeking online learning because schools have shuttered and we need a way to keep our kids’ brains sharp until they open again.
With that being the case, one area where a free online learning platform falls short is socialization. Again. With many free learning options, your child simply navigates to a site and away they go; or, they navigate to a site, register as a user, and then they’re off on their own.
“On their own.”
Again, I don’t know about all paid options, but I do know with Virtual Tech Camps from iD Tech, students are online, but also learning alongside other students...in real time, with a live teacher who is interacting with and responding to the small group. Topics are communicated out, real time feedback is returned, and subsequent teachings can be formed from that feedback.
5. Engagement & encouragement
Last, think about the impact a good teacher might have had on you from your school days. Or, most recently, perhaps it was a great boss or professional mentor.
Being matched with someone who just seems to “get you” and your skills, challenges, and needs in terms of professional growth - and has the expert skills to help you navigate your goal path - is potentially life changing.
For instance, up until junior year in high school, I didn’t care at all about writing. But once a very good teacher of mine so clearly explained the potential impact of the written word, I was hooked. I now spend most of my professional and even free time blogging, writing, and the like.
For kids in a free learning course, this connection can still happen, don’t get me wrong. But having an “aha” moment from a computer prompt is probably rare. Having an “aha” moment from a live video is a little more plausible, but once that is experienced, the feeling can be easily extinguished depending on what happens immediately following.
But an “aha” moment from a live instructor who is teaching your child or a small group directly; who is fielding questions, and tailoring curriculum to help the group along? Now we are talking much better odds. Not to mention someone who offers the benefits of encouragement to push your child up and over hurdles and learning roadblocks. Now you’re really on to something.
The cherry on top is that once that these achievements are unlocked and light bulbs start to go off, there is someone on the other side offering their congratulations and positive feedback and reinforcement to propel a student towards their next challenge.
So, why are iD Tech Virtual Camps $399?
If you follow iD Tech through our mailing list or on social media, you’ve probably seen that we’ve recently launched Virtual Tech Camps. Our main impetus was knowing that kids would be home, without school, and needing a learning outlet.
With that said, we are also continuing to offer Online Private Lessons (as we have for several years), which provide students with one-on-one attention in subjects like coding, game development, and more. Our online coding courses for kids are especially popular.
Both are programs parents will need to sign up and pay for before using. While we’d love to be able to offer free learning to the masses, we also know just how crucial a live instructor is to the equation. That live instruction comes at a cost, as does our ability to create proprietary, custom content across a variety of relevant tech subjects.
With that said, we know times are tough, and are doing what we can to make our offerings something many can take advantage of.
For instance, Virtual Tech Camps are actually $499, but you can knock $100 with the promo code TOGETHER as long as social distancing is in effect. And for those interested in our Online Private Lessons, a friend/sibling can join for free; no added cost whatsoever.
In the end, online or on-campus, let’s band together. Learning opportunities are needed now more than ever. With 20+ years of experience and 1,500 iD Certified Instructors ready to teach and inspire your kids, we’re finding solutions to help your family right now.