Why Do We Pay To Learn?

Written on:October 8, 2012
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Old Cash Register We choose how we spend our time and money. Even if learning is free, plenty of people would rather watch Honey Boo Boo than check out a free and open course from MIT or Stanford. Other times, we will pay to attend a conference and skip the sessions to hang out in the hallways. Several people get hung up on the price of ebooks, wondering why a digital file should command a dollar value when it’s not made of paper and not shipped, as if the “value” of a book is in the construction of the product itself.

At the bottom of this post is an invite to a FREE fun project for the coming year.

We are faced with choices all the time around whether we should spend money or not. Should you buy a $5 latte or just make coffee at home? Should you pay for Cable TV or just use Netflix and Hulu? Should you get a new outfit or make do with what’s in the closet? Do you have the time to learn all this?

So why do we pay to learn? Here are some thoughts to help you clarify your own answers.

“You Can Figure This Out For Yourself.”

Last year, I charged for a course on how to get more out of Google+. Some people were outraged that I wanted money to walk you through a class on something you could learn yourself, if you wanted to take the time. Just let those sentences percolate for a moment. I could learn Spanish if I hung out around more Spanish speaking people, or I could pay for the Rosetta Stone courses and then put them to use (boy, I really should do this, by the way).

Most everything in life is figure-outable. I could figure out yoga, if I spent a lot of time finding snippets of free classes on YouTube, or I could go to the class and get instruction. I could learn to be a better writer strictly by practicing more instead of committing to a 16-week course.

So, if you could figure it out, why do you choose to go to yoga classes or pay for a course? Because you want the guidance, and because someone’s done some of the assembly work for you.

You Already Know This

Most of the books we buy and the classes we take cover ground we already know. When you buy a book about a diet or weight loss, it’s not like you’re going to be surprised most times. “Wait, Devil Dogs aren’t on this list of acceptable foods either! What?”

We buy sometimes to reinforce what we already know. I just bought a book about bodyweight exercises (you can read about which one here), and I know all the exercises in there. In this case, I’m paying for the author’s sequencing, the way he assembles the advice. I paid for a webinar the other day on email list building techniques. Though I didn’t get much out of it, I did find one very simple piece of advice that I implemented almost immediately. Time will tell whether the money spent was worth it, but I suspect it was.

In my project with S. Anthony Iannarino, Finding the Superpower of Flight, Claudio Alegre said, The “2 asks” alone was worth the price of admission … count on my support for your next webinars. He paid $97 and felt he’d received his money’s worth for that.

I would feel that’s a strange response if it hadn’t happened to me. I spent thousands of dollars on a speaking coach myself, and learned something so major in the first 20 minutes of the all-day session with him that I could have walked out and felt that I’d received my money’s worth. To me, and probably Claudio, there was something said, finally, in a way I hadn’t thought of it before, that took a fairly simple idea and made it mine.

And What Should You Pay?

Don’t expect simple answers here. Ebooks are around $9.99 on Amazon, unless they’re self-published and then you can see prices ranging from free to $199. Yes, someone has an ebook priced the same as the Kindle Fire HD you could read it on. Does that shock or bother me? Not at all. If the information is worth $199, that’s what it’s worth.

My own writing class costs $497 for 16 weeks. In looking around at community college adult education non-credit programs, I’m somewhere in the middle. Only, my information comes with a lot of bonus information like video interviews with writing professionals, and an online forum, blah blah blah. Is it worth $497? I say absolutely. But not if you think you should buy a $4.95 magazine and learn from that. Not if you think there’s enough written about how to write to keep someone going.

Price is the most difficult part of the equation for most people to swallow. It’s also the hardest to understand (on either side: if you’ve ever had to price your own products or services, you know this).

How did I come up with my pricing?

I price almost entirely on my perception of the value of the course based on what I, myself, would be willing to pay for after having experienced similar products. Meaning, I don’t care what the market price rates are; I care what I think the exchange of value is worth. That’s my style. Your mileage may vary.

My Little Guide to What I Pay (vs What I Charge)

How I value information that I’m buying is different. I have a simple question:

If I pay _X_ for this, will I be able to make _X_ plus ___ from what I learn?

That’s it. Think about if. If I wanted to learn how to close $500,000 deals, it would probably be worth it to pay as much as $100,000 to learn. Hell, if you think about it, it’s probably worth it to pay $500,000 to learn it, seeing as how you’d have that skill and could close far more than one deal like that.

That’s how I tend to value information most times. The only other part of my equation: “Will I really do something with this information?” If I answer no, it doesn’t matter how much the course is worth.

Four Reasons Why We Pay to Learn

I believe that for most of us, there are four reasons why we pay to learn something.

  1. We have moved to a new level or a new role and need more knowledge than we had before.
  2. We would rather spend money than time getting our knowledge delivered to us in a fashion that we feel will help us succeed.
  3. We need a refresher in something we already know, or reinforcement to our own commitments.
  4. We haven’t yet owned and mastered the information and so we need more perspectives and more potential ways to absorb it until it can become our own knowledge.

You could scrape together some other reasons, but they won’t be as good. Those are the four that drive most of us.

We need to know more because we’ve grown.
We need to know more faster.
We need to know more because we are still accepting our ownership of the information.
We need to know more for mastery.

Do you agree? Is that how you evaluate what you buy and don’t buy? What did I miss in describing your choices and decisions? What do you do to determine the correlation between price and value? Would love your thoughts.



Announcing the 3 Book Diet Project

Starting on November 1st, I’m committing myself to read only the same three books for an entire year, and I want to encourage you to join me in this mission. What am I talking about? Learn more here (it’s FREE).

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