Should Educational Content be FREE ?

Feel weird about that? Me too. That’s because the word “free” is complicated. People love getting things for free, but the word also has a handful of negative connotations and may hurt your business.

Is it more ethical to price a course for free if it leads to less people reading your content? What if that content is essential to your audience’s well-being/happiness/business success?

Charging for online course/content is linked to increased completion rates and this can be proved statistically.

Are students who enroll in a paid course more engaged than those who enroll in a free course?

Student engagement is at the heart of research because it has the greatest impact on educational outcomes. For example, higher levels of student engagement are associated with higher grade point averages, better attendance rates, and fewer dropped classes.

It has been found that in paid enrollment, students completed 36% of a course on average. In free courses, student completed just 9% of a course on average.

Additional research showed that the average completion of just 1 lecture in a free and paid course. Students are 3x more likely to complete just 1 lecture in a course if it’s a paid course rather than a free course.

“It has been found that the same course, when distributed free versus when a student pays, has a drastically different completion rate,” Nagpal explained. “When you give a coupon for a free class, the completion rate can be in the low single digits. When you charge for the same course, the completion rate can be 30 or 40%. The more you charge for a course, the more people actually complete it.”

While it seems selfless and charitable to give your course away for free, you’re ultimately signalling to your audience that your information isn’t valuable.

Few reasons why priced courses might produce more engagement than free courses :

Price communicates value

Without going too far into more nerdy economic, we know that people tend to value something that has an assigned value over something that’s free.

Marc Slocum, of O’Reilly Media said, “Free product comes with low expectations (“Hey, it’s free) and neutral perceptions (“What’s the worst that can happen?”)” and I 100% agree. Conversely, a product priced at a higher cost is perceived to be more valuable.

Let me ask you a question, do you want the car for 10k dollars, 50K dollars or 100K ?

Free can have spam connotations

Personally, when I think “free”, I think infomercials with an additional set of knives that come for free. I think used-car salesman. I think of people trying to mine my data while asking if I want to win a free trip. Not great.

Free is well known in the marketing world as a converting word. There’s little risk and people seem open to try free things. However, the word has been abused and can come off as spam if you’re not careful. Give things away, but do it with style.

Mail Chimp, a well-respected company in email marketing industry, has written extensively on the word free and its “spamminess”. They’ve detailed how using the word in your emails, and specifically the subject line, can send your email right to the spam box.

People feel obligation after they have paid for something

Once people have purchased your course, it becomes a sunk cost. Rational or irrational, this make us prone to loss aversion and framing effects. While we always think it’s worth your time to complete a course you purchased, knowing that you paid money for something pushes you to utilize that very thing.


Pricing your course doesn’t bar you from giving away content for free. Some of the best ways to grow your audience is by giving away pieces of content that:

  • Shows your audience what to expect from you
  • Conveys the value of your content
  • Generates reciprocity between you and your audience

Conrad, a co-founder at Fedora, recently wrote about the benefits of giving away a free mini-course. As the marketing adage goes, you’ve got to give, give, give and then take. Give away juicy content that makes people crave what’s coming next, but then charge for the rest of it.

This is how it works…..!!!


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