The Teaching Company

John Goerzen recently wrote in his blog about the value of a broad, classical education. I wholeheartedly agree, and this gives me the opportunity to plug a gem of a company that makes a product you may not realize you're interested in (I didn't until I heard about it).

I love to learn about random parts of the world and random bits of history and culture, even if I have no practical use for the knowledge. I do a lot of that by reading, but reading requires certain conditions and a level of attention, and I can never read as much as I want to. I also often want something more in-depth than a popularization can provide, but not as technical and focused as academic writings in the subject.

A college course is just about right, but I don't really want to take courses. Apart from the possible expense (although I could audit classes for free) and hassle of having to be somewhere at a particular time, courses are often also based around more reading and around homework and grades, none of which I'm interested in. I get completely irrational about grades and push myself out of proportion to their significance, which meant I had an excellent GPA in college and I still have nightmares about missing tests.

Enter The Teaching Company. What they do is find high-rated college professors, generally those who have won teaching awards, and have them record a course within their field of expertise but without the homework and grades. They then sell those courses on DVD, CD, or MP3 download (some visual-heavy courses are only available on DVD). Some of them are as long as a full college course and some of them are a bit shorter, but they're all meaty enough to really dig into a topic. A typical course is about 18 hours of material; some can be twice that length. And they're exceptional, better than just taking courses at a local college since they draw on the best teachers from all over the United States (I haven't seen any non-US teachers yet, although it wouldn't surprise me if there were some).

I listen to these while I'm exercising, on long car trips, while I'm walking back and forth to work, even while I'm grocery shopping — basically, all the places you'd listen to a book on tape. I've listened to several twice, since I wasn't always paying attention the first time. So far, I've gone through a course on Greek mythology, a literature survey covering plays, poetry and novels, a course on modern economics, two history courses (Vikings and China), and I'm currently listening to a course on opera mostly because I knew I didn't know anything about it.

The courses are a bit spendy (always buy them on sale — they have a weird pricing structure where courses go on sale on a rolling basis, and the non-sale price is ridiculously higher), but you can get a shorter one for around US$50 and from that get an idea of whether you're interested. (And while that's a lot to spend at once, it's actually a great deal for the length of material you get.) They have a very solid guarantee system, they'll replace lost or worn-out or broken CDs from CD sets for life, they have a reasonable on-line ordering system, and I've had nothing but positive experiences with them as a company. And as soon as you start buying courses, they tend to give you discounts and special deals and so forth.

Highly recommended. It's filled a gap I've felt for a long time but never had the time to read enough to fill normally.

Posted: 2008-11-15 15:38 — Why no comments?

Last spun 2013-07-01 from thread modified 2013-01-04