Episode 252 — College vs Online Courses


Episode 252 — College vs Online Courses

There are mixed feelings around the topic of a formal college education versus online courses. Colleges are really expensive and they tend to not be pushing the envelope in terms of what you can do. When you invest in yourself, you want to have access to the best people in the world on any given subject. You want to learn the condensed version of their knowledge in a limited amount of time. Also, it could be cheaper by a thousand times than going to a college.

In this Podcast, Allan McKay addresses a very common question: the pros and cons of college versus online education — and how to pick the best learning route for you.



[05:05] What Inspired This Podcast
[06:40] The Cons of Going to College
[08:41] Pros of Online Learning
[10:35] Learn from the Best
[13:03] Learn in Your Own Time
[14:26] A Recap


Hello, everyone! This is Allan McKay.

Welcome to Episode 252! I want to talk about a topic I hear a lot: Should I go to college or learn VFX online through paid-for courses or free training? I want to dig deep into this topic and put this question to rest — for good!

It’s crazy how many people are investing so much money into their college education, but once they’ve done that, they find out that the piece of paper they paid all this money for doesn’t count for much. The only thing that matters is your reel. The only thing that matter is that you can prove that you can sit down tomorrow — and do the work. Getting school education only matters to you: to wave that piece of paper and to say you have a degree. In our industry, having that piece of paper doesn’t matter because it doesn’t say that you’re talented. (Of course, it’s different if you’re a doctor!)

Software changes so drastically in our industry. It really comes down to the fact that ours is a results driven industry.

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Let’s dive in!


[00:54] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

[19:36] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!


[05:05] So I put out a video recently discussing how much I spend every year on training (www.allanmckay.com/241): going to conferences, online classes, books, etc. For me this was a chance to prove a point that no matter what level you’re at, you should be always investing back in yourself. It’s important to do that, instead of thinking, “I got a job now I can just cruise on by. I’ve made it!”


[05:38] One of the comments on the video caught me off-guard. The person found it very valuable but at the same time, he had extreme doubts about buying courses online. For him, it was about real colleges you could go to — and for him, that was where the real value was. He was extremely skeptical about online classes. The video I put out wasn’t specifically about online classes. It was about what I do to invest back in myself. However, the subject of having those doubts about online learning fascinates me. I think it’s a lot easier to blame online courses and the fear around that, rather than to put some work into it. So I thought it would be good to talk about the difference between online classes and physical [college courses].


[06:40] I was just at a workshop in Portland that was at a physical location. I don’t have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is that especially in visual effects, when you’re studying at a college — you aren’t learning from the best. I don’t mean to insult anyone who is a teacher out there. But I am stating that a lot of people who are working full-time as teachers, aren’t working full-time in the industry. There are different types of people who teach at a college: Some of them were never in the industry, some are students who got offered a job after graduating; there are others who were in the industry and it didn’t work out. Technology, techniques and the industry itself shift really quickly. If you don’t have your finger on the pulse, it means that you’re teaching dated material.

[07:47] Putting all that aside, it’s the curriculum itself. The curriculum will usually take a couple of years to update. Once they’re set in stone, they typically remain the same. That’s always an issue for me! They aren’t necessarily pushing the highest level of stuff. They’re pushing for the students not to struggle and to keep up with the material.

[08:13] Most importantly, with a lot of colleges, you’re paying up to a hundred thousand of dollars to study. To me, it’s insane to invest so much money! That’s why so many people are in debt for the next two decades, paying off their student loans. They often say that they learned more in the first two weeks of working in the industry — than they did in college. Because they’re learning what’s most relevant!


[08:41] There are mixed feelings around this topic. But it’s mostly this: Colleges are really expensive and they aren’t pushing the envelope in terms of what you can do. The reason I invest in myself: I want to have access to the best people in the world on any given subject. I want to learn the condensed version of their knowledge in a limited amount of time. There’s the convenience of online learning. But if I’m going to pay $2,000 for a course, it has to be with someone whom I trust and who has a lot of knowledge and experience. I may not get the direct access to them — but I do get the direct access to the information they’ve put together.

[09:40] So that’s the critical thing! I want to get the best in the world. This is why I love Master Class. If I want to learn directing, I’ll take a Master Class with Ron Howard. If I want to learn business from the CEO of Disney Bob Iger, I can drop a couple of hundred dollars and have access to some of the leaders in all of these realms (which otherwise would be hard to find). They’ve put all that knowledge into laser focused videos. I’m seeking out the best in the industry. I want to get that knowledge as quickly as possible. Typically, those courses will give you access to the teacher or to the community; and video is the quickest way to learn.


[10:35] That would be my comparison to a community college or a highly acclaimed college. Is that person who is teaching me the best at what they do? I’m pretty confident that they are not. So who are the people who are delivering this information? The simple fact is that the person is who’s teaching you is typically earning 30-50K a year. They aren’t earning 100K to a million dollars, as they do when they’re at the forefront of their industry. And the person I want to learn from is that highly acclaimed person who gets compensated and paid well. That doesn’t mean that I don’t also get information for free. I do! And I don’t put emphasis on this because I do get compensated on a much higher level. That’s why I have my FXTD Mentorship and other courses. But as I’m recording this, I don’t have any paid-for courses out there. I have free content because I get compensated in other ways. So I’m happy to give out as much value as I can for free!

[12:07] When a person who is in demand in the industry puts out information, they’re hard to get access to. They’re extremely busy. They aren’t going to quit their job and teach at a college, teaching older curriculum. They’re going to be developing new techniques and approaches, new mindsets. This is just a black-and-white comparison: Colleges aren’t able to compensate a leader the same way the leader can pick and choose where they put their time instead. No matter what it is, colleges are a 100 times more expensive than an online course, the level they’re delivering and the people who are teaching it are not going to match the best in the world.


[13:03] The whole point of my wanting to learn online is that I’m extremely busy. I want to pick and choose where and when I want to learn, and in the environment in which I want to learn. I don’t have time to go to a night college and sit there for hours on end. I want to learn at a rapid rate. I want to learn while I’m on a plane or in an Uber, late at night or early in the morning when I have time to learn. I want to have the accessibility of learning whenever I want. My time is scarce.

[13:40] On top of that, the people I’m learning from will be hard-to-reach people and their time is scarce. So I won’t have the access to them in the same way I would at a college. Most of these people, like Bob Iger, are extremely hard-to-reach people and you wouldn’t be able to get access to them at any kind of college. So being able to pay a certain amount of money and learn about a specific topic that I want to — is a luxury. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have access to this person.


[14:26] That’s the top level idea for me:

  • I have all that information condensed down. All the fat is cut away and it’s laser focused on getting a specific result.
  • It’s from someone who is otherwise impossible to reach.
  • I have the convenience of accessing that information whenever I want and wherever I want, with limited time on my end.
  • It could be cheaper by a thousand times than going to a college.
  • Not only do I save money but I save time. And it’s focused on the result I want.

[15:04] Those are the things I think about when I think about learning. I thought I’d mention that. But that’s not to say that there isn’t crap information out there, especially in visual effects. There is 98% crap. I can confidently say that! There are so many companies that are putting out content with the focus on making money, or they’re hiring people that do it for the exposure. They may or may not be compensated well for it, but they put out tutorial quality work. They keep their best information for themselves because they don’t want to “train the enemy” AKA you. That’s why I think you should do your research and make sure the training is right for you.

[16:05] That’s why I think all courses should have a money-back guarantee. Any course that doesn’t have that should be a bit of a red flag. My Mentorship offers a 30-day money back guarantee. You have an entire month to go through the course and make your choice. That’s a good position to be in. However, I have had a couple of cases from students asking for their money back 2 years later. Which is hilarious! You check their stats and they’ve logged in multiple times. But years later, they want to make their money back. There are other course out there that don’t offer a refund. If they fight you on it, to me it’s a big red flag.

[17:54] Going online, you’re always going to be thinking of pros and cons. There’s always a level of uncertainty. That’s why I always think of putting my customers at ease and doing what’s right by them. I always think about customer lifetime value. Rather than getting their money and running with it, it’s about putting good vibes out there, for everyone. So make sure you’re signing up for courses that have some type of a refund policy in place.

[18:40] For me, it’s always about my time being limited and the people to whom I want to have access will have limited time as well. This is the perfect fusion for me: I can get access to laser focused information. The last thing I want to add is that people want that piece of paper at the end of their studies. Here is the thing: In art, it’s a visual thing. The piece of paper may say you can draw, but can you? This is really important: your degree is not going to get you the job. But your references and your reel will! It’s always about being able to prove that you can do the work. Spending that year getting the degree is just prolonging getting into the industry and doing your thing. That’s the last critical thing we should think about!

I hope you enjoyed this Podcast and got a lot from it.

Next week, I will talk about an important topic of how to get paid by a client that doesn’t want to pay you for your work.

Please take a minute to share it with others. I would really appreciate that. Thanks for listening! I’ll be back next week.

Until then —

Rock on!


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