Why Aren’t The Great Courses by The Teaching Company Online?

If you aren’t familiar with The Great Courses by the Teaching Company you should be.  That is if you enjoy learning.  The Great Courses are a series of college like courses done by well known professors for educational entertainment.  I’ve bought several over the years and have checked out others from my library.  Originally they came on audio cassettes, and since evolved to DVDs, digital audio downloads, and now video downloads.  But what I’m asking is why aren’t they available for streaming?  The Teaching Company needs to create a Netflix like service for their educational videos so I can watch them on my TV, computer, iPad or even iPhone.

I don’t like owning stuff like DVDs anymore. Netflix streaming has ruined me for that.  Nor do I like owning MP3s, Rhapsody and Rdio have ruined me for owning music.  I like to pay a monthly fee and just call stuff up when I’m in the mood.  If the Teaching Company offered their library for $7.99 a month I’d subscribe.

Online education is taking the world of higher education by storm.  Educational videos from the TED Talks, Khan Academy and iTunes U are also gaining popularity.  There’s a market for fun learning, or edutainment, especially when it’s convenient.  The Teaching Company videos have always been rather staid in production format, reminding me of educational TV from the 1960s, but they are slowly learning to jazz things up with multimedia to support the lectures.  What The Teaching Company needs to do is get away from it’s old fashion 20th century marketing concepts.

The Teaching Company would do well to model its distribution on Hulu Plus and Netflix.  The $7.99 all you can eat video services are the way to go.  That’s $95.88 a year, about equal to one of their 36 part courses.  Now I’m sure The Teaching Company fears giving everything away for the price of one course, but how many people buy more than one course a year?  And would they attract more customers if they offered their courses in a much more convenient and easier to pay fashion?

Sooner or later someone is going to bring edutainment to the Netflix streaming model.  Right now there are several companies trying to copy Netflix, such as Amazon Prime Video, but they tend to offer the same kind of content – movies and old TV shows.  The same thing is happening with music.  There’s are a half dozen or more streaming music services all with almost the same 12-15 million songs.  I would think the entrepreneurial action would be delivering new kinds of content, and I’m thinking online education would be popular for a niche market.

The Power of Online Learning

Look at this sample lesson from Educator.com for Cascading Style Sheets.  It’s quite slick, and it illustrates the value of studying at the computer or TV screen.  You can pause the lecture at any point.  You can have your own text editor in another window to practice the lesson as you watch.  You can have a third window open to take notes.  Educator.com charges $35 paid by the month, or $240 paid by the year, to access all its courses, which mainly focuses on tutoring kids for high school or some basic college courses.  That’s a good value if you’re going to school and want extra help, but a little high for edutainment.

Free Online Education

These sites are offering free courses in a variety of formats. You can go to YouTube and search on any subject and find videos to help you learn too.  The Teaching Company has a lot of competition from free sources.  But their video and audio courses are well produced.  I don’t mind paying for them, but I have to say there’s lots of good free content out there.  Look at this MIT video on linear algebra.  It looks like being back in school with a professor at the blackboard.

Another free approach is from the Khan Academy.  And that’s the cool thing about having a variety of courses – if you are having trouble with a topic, just find another teacher with a different approach.

Look at this link to Educator.com’s lesson on linear algebra to see even another approach.  It uses a multiwindow technique, with the professor in one window, the exercises on a whiteboard in another, and the course outline in a third.

I wished The Teaching Company had some sample lectures I could link or show.  But here’s a lecture at YouTube on How to Read World Literature.  It is has a rather long intro, but even that explains the value of the lecture.  Often this is what The Great Courses are like, a professor who is passionate about his subject just talking to a class.  The Great Courses are a bit more slick, filming the lecture without distractions with better sound, but it’s the content that counts.

I think The Teaching Company has done a poor job of advertising itself.  I’ve asked a number of professors I know if they’ve seen one of The Great Courses videos and many have not.  Over the years I’ve met a few other Great Courses fans, but I feel The Great Courses are an acquired taste.  Most bookworms read fiction, but if you love non-fiction they may appeal to you.  Even then, you can read a book by Bart D. Ehrman or James Gleick and ingest facts far faster than you can by watching lectures.  However, there is something different about having a specialist just talk to you, and maybe show some sample photos or film clips.  Listening to people lecture sometimes helps with learning.

One reason why I like The Great Courses is they enhance my personal map of reality.  For instance I watched From Monet to Van Gogh: A History of Impressionism and learned so much, that when I went to Washington DC looking forward to seeing the Air & Space Museum, I actually ended up more thrilled at the National Gallery.  And since then I’ve read books about the history of Impressionism and the artists, bought impressionism art books, and took in every visiting exhibit of impressionistic paintings that have come to town since. 

I’ve read three books by Bart D. Ehrman on early Christian history, and now want to get his lecture series from The Great Courses.  What happens is you take up a topic and start studying it just for fun.  There are no stressful tests, no homework, no writing papers.  It’s just learning because it’s fascinating.

That’s why I believe I would enjoy The Great Courses if they were available like TV shows.  Instead of watching an old episode of Star Trek on Netflix, I could watch a lecture on British literature, or one about cosmology.  Watching the YouTube clip above about world literature makes me want to read outside of my normal territory of the US, Canada and Great Britain.

JWH – 10/22/11

10 Responses

  1. All this sounds fascinating, Jim. But I struggle to do everything as it is. I just can’t seem to find the time to do everything that sounds good, particularly when it comes to the Internet!

    But I must say that I’m enthused about the free educational materials available online. In Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, there’s an alternate history within the alternate history where we used television technology to educate the world’s poor, not to develop a population of obese couch potatoes.

    Well, the Internet has sure made a couch potato out of me, but I’m glad to see that there are better alternatives available, too. Not everyone will take advantage of these educational opportunities, but some will. That’s wonderful.

    • Yeah I wish I had a lot more time. Bill, you should have more time since you are retired. I have big plans and hopes for when I can retire in a couple years.

      Some of the Great Courses are just fun and are no harder to watch than TV. Others require work. I’m hoping to get into math again. I want to test my aging brain which is forgetting more and more. I want to see if I can make an old dog learn new tricks. But it’s hard. I’ve having a devil of a time learning a new programming language at work.

      Some of these online courses are for people like me who just want to learn something for fun – but other people are actually going to high school or college and use them as supplements with their own courses. It’s pretty damn cool that you can follow along with MIT courses. And I found a new potential group the other day. I was talking with this woman about her son who has gone science crazy. He was campaigning for evolution in his class when all the other kids were advocating religion. The woman wanted to get her son more support for his interest in science and I told her about these online courses. That’s why I got the idea to write the blog.

  2. I know I’m late but I just want to chime in and say I agree. I love the Teaching Company courses, but usually just get audio to listen in my car. If I could stream video directly to my tv I would buy more. And while I love the Netflix model idea, if the Teaching Co. was nervous about that, they could at least set up support for streaming individual purchases via a Roku channel like Netflix and Amazon have done.

    • The Teaching Company does sell digital copies now, but it’s for putting on iPads and such. What they need is a web site that streams all their content to any size screen, so if you want to watch it on your phone, or Ipad, or computer or laptop, etc. That way there would be no media to maintain or ship or backup.

      I’ve practically given up watching DVDs because I love streaming – it’s so convenient. I have several courses from The Teaching Company I’ve never watched simply because I’ve forgotten about DVDs. Messing with digital copies is a pain too. Streaming video from Netflix and Amazon has ruined me. I get their catalogs all the time and I just don’t want to buy anything because I don’t like the formats.

  3. Teaching company doesn’t have enough material to offer a monthly thing like Netflix. You could go through it in a year. I like CD’s so I can listen in the car. I want a DVD so I can watch it while I exercise & then watch it again and again and again if I want. The room I exercise in has a big TV but not a big computer screen. I don’t want to watch anything on my computer. If I want to see a movie, I want to lay on my side on the couch and watch on my TV. I’d rather not watch something than watch streaming.

  4. I totally agree with you, I also love the Teaching Company but fortunately now they do offer the courses for online streaming! And it works smoothly. I must say that they have been very slow to adapt to the changes in technology, even a few months back there were many courses still not available on digital video and mp3 format but now I think most of their content is also available on digital format and for online streaming. By the way, at the moment they are offering a 70% discount to almost all their courses. The discount is till the end of January I think, but I wonder if they will really bring the price back to its original then. Check this out
    http://www.path2yoga.net/2012/11/70-discount-on-great-courses-great-gift.html

    • By streaming I meant the Netflix model where you pay a monthly fee and get all you can view content. You can now buy the videos and watch them online or download them – that is far slicker than before. But one 36 part course on sale is around $90. That’s a pretty good deal until you compare it to all the free education courses that are showing up on the Internet today.

      I’d be more likely to use these courses if they came through my Roku box or iPad like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Rdio, etc. and paid a monthly fee. $7.99-$9.99 seems standard.

  5. I LOVE the Great Courses. I think they need to consider a Lynda.com type model. My one word of warning is they need to do it quickly as Coursera, EdX, and Udacity are already implanting in students minds that this should be free.

    • I’ve wondered what all the great courses now available for free will do to The Great Courses. Lynda.com is still on the expensive side, at least to me, for edutainment. We need a big company willing to go into the Netflix/Hulu Plus territory of $7.99 a month.

  6. I would pay up to $19.99/month for a streaming service. It would put me in hog heaven… and simplify my life not having to go to the library all the time to get the course. I hope this comes sooner rather than later..

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