The Great Courses
The Great Courses is a series of college-level audio and video courses produced and distributed by The Teaching Company, an American company based in Chantilly, Virginia.
The company was founded in 1990 by Thomas M. Rollins, former Chief Counsel of the United States Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources. Rollins had been inspired by a 10-hour videotaped lecture series by Irving Younger he watched while at Harvard Law School, and began recruiting professors and experts to record lectures. Rollins invested all his money in the company, at one point using up all his credit cards, selling almost all his suits from his Washington days, and living in an attic. Because his company was for-profit, Rollins adapted course offerings to please customers; he threw out one course because the professor constantly insulted the viewers during lectures and he asked some other professors to re-record segments that had unsupported political commentary. By 2000 the company was well established, with about $20M in annual revenue. In October 2006, the company was acquired by Brentwood Associates, a private equity investment firm. In 2011, the firm had 200 employees. In 2016, the company offered a streaming service, charging $20 per month, and getting access via computer to about 280 courses in their catalog.
The company has created over 700 courses and sold over a total of 14 million copies since its inception.
Subjects include business, economics, fine arts, music, ancient and medieval history, modern history, literature and English language, philosophy and intellectual history, religion, science, mathematics, social sciences, professional development and better living.
Chief executive Paul Suijk described The Great Courses as the "Netflix of learning." Courses are offered on disks which are either DVDs or CD-audio, and the courses are geared to "lifelong learners." Customers tend to be older professionals and retirees who have had successful careers. Courses cost from $35 to over $500. As of 2018, there are over 600 different courses in their catalog. A fan of the series is Bill Gates, who said the courses have "incredible professors" who cover "every topic that you can think of".
The firm earns $150 million annually in terms of revenue, in 2016. In 2018, the firm has competitors in terms of MOOCs such as Coursera and Khan Academy. The production quality of the courses is "a cut above" free courses offered on YouTube, according to a report in The New York Times.
The firm sometimes sends recruiters to sit in on the lectures of college professors identified as being good teachers, to assess whether they might be suitable for course development; the best prospects would do a lecture for the Teaching Company, and if enough customers liked what they saw, the company would develop the course. Professors submit detailed outlines for each course, and company personnel would work with them to make sure that each 30 minute lecture was coherent and logical.
Analyst Heather Mac Donald, writing in the conservative publication City Journal, described the courses offered by The Teaching Company as more mainstream than what is offered at traditional American liberal arts colleges. She described the course selection as being driven by market forces, with the firm's founder, Tom Rollins, querying customers as to what subjects they wanted to learn about, and using market research techniques to figure out what courses to offer, and even what lectures to include, to satisfy an intensely loyal customer base. As a result, there is less emphasis in the catalog on issues such as sexism and racism and more of a focus on "everything the civilization has figured out so far and to discover new things", according to Rollins. She writes that the survey format predominates, with few in-depth courses on specific thinkers or philosophical schools, and more emphasis on covering the fundamentals of a subject, as if it was an introductory college course.
- Heather Mac Donald (2011-06-21). "Great Courses, Great Profits". City Journal (New York).
- Bales, Kate (February 16, 1994). "Ivy League Courses for Price of a Video". The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 14, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-21.
- Sarah Max (May 27, 2016). "Born in the VCR Era, Great Courses Seeks to Evolve". The New York Times. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
... top educators accessible to the masses, the Great Courses built a loyal audience of lifelong learners by making “the world’s greatest professors” ...
- Sarah Max (2013-07-29). "If Its Customers Love a Business, This Equity Firm Does, Too". The New York Times.
- "Before YouTube and online classes, there were the Great Courses". Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-10-09.
- Bill Gates (January 4, 2018). "The 4 Learning Hacks Bill Gates Swears By". Time magazine. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
...One of my favorite sources for interesting lectures is The Teaching Company. They get incredible professors to teach courses on pretty much every topic you can think of. I always take at least one of their DVDs to watch when I travel. Right now, I’ve got their courses on oceanography, the surveillance state, and physiology....
- Linda Mathews (1996-03-31). "Adult Education; No Tests and You Can Hit Rewind". New York Times.
- Kendra Nordin (2003-01-28). "From the college lecture hall to your headphones". Christian Science Monitor.
- Andrew Ross Sorkin (2014-09-05). "So Bill Gates Has This Idea for a History Class..." New York Times.