Friday, January 9, 2015

Why I think we should pay for online courses?

In my review of year 2014, I mention teaching commercial version of BBST Foundations. I was asked for more information or backstory to why I think online courses should have fees and though that would be a good thing to share. It was definitely a perspective I had not considered myself.

If you're into testing, you probably know what AST (Association for Software Testing) BBST (Black-Box Software Testing) course series is. It's a brilliant online course on testing and it is ridiculously cheap. Some of the courses in the series AST offers for free. The most expensive in the series is $200. That is basically nothing.

BBST Series of online courses are different. They are not just a talking head of video and exercises you do on your own, but they are fun, engaging, challenging and include relevant amount of group work. They teach different things to newcomers and more seasoned professionals, and are worth the time investment in what you can learn on the courses. But they are also different in the sense that the time investment a student needs to put is not light hanging around in the classroom for two days, but half-days here and there in cycles of half-a-week for four weeks. And time is money for your organization, you in training is probably time away for invoicable work - a term I keep hearing from management quite often.

I'm suggesting that what AST does with making the courses free to participate is a bad idea in long term, and that it is an idea I cannot support. I don't really actively talk against it, it's really none of my business. But I want to actively talk towards making it possible to create course contents like this. It should be financially sustainable for the creators.

You probably know if you stop to think about it how the classroom teaching works. You hire a teacher who will facilitate the learning experience with you, come in with material that makes it effective, but essentially, you will feel like you are paying for their time. Online training in general has changes our ideas of what we are willing to pay for, so that reusing a video is not considered time we would want to pay for, and if we are able to create exercises that can be done individually, scaling that makes it significantly cheaper. But most online trainings are not anywhere near the experience you can get with a good classroom training. 

The BBST series has been created with significant funding from research institutes over a period of a decade or more. The main creators are Cem Kaner and Rebecca Fieldler, and creating the course contents has not only seemed to be their full time job, but also a hobby. The course experience shows the dedication that has been put on the contents. Research financing works so that it stops at some point. It does not go on indefinitely. At some point, even research funding expects that the research starts to pay back and either become financially sustainable or wither away. AST using the open source version of the BBST materials is one approach to making the research results financially sustainable: running low cost organization based on international volunteers.

As with all things in software, change and improvement is inevitable. So it is with the BBST series. So someone should spend significant time still looking at the effectiveness of the teaching material, develop it further. And that someone should get paid for their time.

This is why I'm in support for the Kaner Fieldler Associates version of BBST series. First of all, it has the up-to-date materials that fix some of the problems the AST version has as some of the lessons are missing from the research results, and were only done after the research time was over. Second, there's full courses in the series like the absolutely wonderful domain testing course, fourth part in the BBST series.

I hope to see many commercial courses - public and company specific - emerge for KFA (Kaner Fieldler Associates) BBST to support the future development of great teaching materials for testing. I was happy to participate in delivering with this ideal with Altom Consulting. And while my efforts are now elsewhere, I would like to see people support the future of the BBST materials by choosing courses that they will pay for.

There was just today a nice post on getting paid for speaking that hits the same chord. Traveling around the world on someone else's expense is fun, but speaking from a personal experience: it is taking unpaid days off client work. We should be ready to pay for value, or we get talks and trainings by marketers that are shallow and sometimes infested with marketing interests over actual learning outcome.