When FREE Really Isn’t Free

How Free Training Can Fail Employees Looking for Information

By: Frank Russell  

With the millions of videos on YouTube, why not just use it as a source for free training? Here’s how I recently got an expensive education using FREE videos.


A few months ago I came home to find suds all over my kitchen floor from a dishwasher that I’d loaded when I left for work that morning. I just had a plumber come out the week before to replace my old garbage disposal, and I was shocked at the cost. So I thought, hmmm… why not try to fix it myself?

I decided to go to the handy free online training resource, YouTube. I used the appliance model number and then did a search. Viola… up popped a number of repair videos. I chose the most popular and highest-rated video, and then watched as the “home technician” walked me through a step-by-step problem analysis. First, after draining the washer with a cup, I eliminated a clogged filter screen as the potential cause. Next, “my new virtual instructor” told me, if that wasn’t the problem, the culprit could be a burnt out pump motor. I was then directed to watch his next video on how to replace the pump.

At this point, my confidence was waning a bit.
For a novice, working with electricity and water didn’t seem like the safest bet. But again, following the step-by- by instructions, I turned off the appropriate circuit breaker to minimize the possibility of electrocution. Finally, I previewed the procedures for unhooking the mechanical and electrical connections to remove the pump.

With parts and water all over the floor, I suddenly had an epiphany!
Maybe I should go online to find out how much a new pump would cost. Using another FREE training tool, Google, I was eventually able to find the correct part, but here’s the rub. The price for the pump unit turned out to be almost as expensive as a new dishwasher. Not only that, but after a call to the part provider, I discovered it was only warranted for 90 days, and would not include any labor to replace the part if it became defective! My dishwasher was over 10 years old.

Carefully considering the age of the appliance, the restrictions of the warranty and the substantial time I had already spent on this project, I reluctantly decided to purchase a new unit and have it installed by an expert. While the cost of the new appliance, with delivery, installation and disposal of the old machine was almost $1,000, I was happy to be done with my DIY adventure. So after the installers left, I loaded up the brand new machine with dirty dishes and left for work.

Imagine my surprise when I came home that night to find suds all over my kitchen floor again! After a heated call to my appliance vendor, the installers returned. With a quick analysis, the experts determined that the “real” cause of the problem was NOT the pump after all, but a small plastic plug in the new garbage disposal that the original plumber forgot to remove after its installation the week before. It turns out there is a hose that connects the dishwasher to the sink drain and it runs through the garbage disposal. If the little plastic plug is not removed, it causes the dishwasher to backup when it tries to drain, thus causing suds all over the kitchen floor… a possibility not mentioned in my YouTube tutorial. So it turned out that the old dishwasher was perfectly fine. My hope is that it is sitting in a recycling center somewhere getting ready to become part of a Prius.

I calculate that my FREE training actually cost me $1,000, plus my time, (which was probably worth more than the grand) and a great big slice of humble pie.

Here’s my thought. What if we encourage or allow our employees to go out and find FREE content online that my not have been vetted by a professional subject matter expert, legal counsel, or HRD professional? What if we link them to FREE content sites and then an employee does what the video or course recommends, and it turns out to be wrong or even harmful? Who’s to blame or assume the liability? What is the real cost of time spent searching, evaluating, and attempting unproven techniques, suggestions or information that could be unclear, misleading or even incorrect? Finally, just because content is popular or entertaining does that mean it’s comprehensive, appropriate, or even correct for our employees, organization, or culture?

Yes, I learned a valuable lesson, and I’m sure I won’t make that same mistake again, but it may be another 10 years before I need a new dishwasher. So, for now, the next time I go out to learn a new skill on a FREE site, I’ll make sure it’s a little less expensive or potentially harmful, like bongo lessons!


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