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    The Teaching Company

    As a homeschooling mother of three boys who are highly visually-motivated learners, I’ve always noted the effectiveness of videos and DVDs for teaching purposes. Our home media library contains the entire Moody Science series, selected episodes from The Standard Deviants, and other educational programs. I’ve also been aware of The Teaching Company for years, but it wasn’t until my oldest son started high school that their course offerings became relevant to our homeschool.

    The Teaching Company, founded by Thomas M. Rollins in 1990, has a mission to ignite people’s passion for lifelong learning by offering great courses taught by the best professors from top universities. These lectures are recorded in a special studio located outside of Washington, D.C. The professionally-produced recordings are then made available in audiotape, CD, DVD, MPEG-4 and MP3 formats.

    In most cases, while the video version of a professor’s presentation is enhanced by the use of visual aids (e.g. charts, graphs, illustrations, or physical experiments), the visual content of a course can be easily explained to an audio audience. However, due to the highly visual nature of some subject matter, certain courses are available only on DVD. This means that the course requires the student to see the visual elements in order to understand the material.

    The Teaching Company offers hundreds of courses, the majority of which are typical of what would be seen in a university or college undergraduate program for non-majors. Subjects include: Business and Economics, Fine Arts and Music, Ancient and Medieval History, Modern History, Literature and English Language, Philosophy and Intellectual History, Religion, Science and Mathematics, and Social Sciences.

    While these mentally stimulating courses are targeted to adult education and lifelong learners, the Teaching Company does publish several courses taught by outstanding teachers on subjects traditionally covered in high school. Just think how neat it would be to have your child attend a class taught by a Harvard professor in the comfort and convenience of your own home – not to mention that it would look impressive on his or her high school transcript! The Teaching Company itself does not offer degrees or credits, however.

    Each individual lecture in a course is about 30 minutes in length, so the program can be listened to or viewed a little bit at a time. The lectures are titled so that you can easily go back to review a particular topic. Every course comes with its own guidebook, but assigning homework and giving tests is up to you. Transcripts are also available, which are softcover books of 170-250 pages. These contain slightly edited, written transcripts of all the lectures in a course, as well as a copy of the guidebook.

    List prices for the various Teaching Company courses range from a low of $25 all the way up to $625. Most seem to average around $200. The cost depends on how long a program has been available, the number of lectures it includes, and the various formats from which you can choose. Generally, the DVD format is most expensive. The MP3 format is least expensive (but it requires a high-speed connection).

    When you think about it, though, the Teaching Company courses are a relatively low cost for the number of DVDs, CDs or tapes you get in a set. Compared to real college tuition, they are actually pretty cheap! Even better, you never need to pay the full price because each course goes on sale at least once a year. During their annual Back-to-School special in August, many courses that are regularly priced at $254.95 can be purchased for only $79.95! This really gives you a superior value for a minimal investment.

    If more than one person in your family is benefiting from a course, the final cost will be reduced considerably. Another way to save money would be to start a Teaching Company co-op in which you share the cost while taking the opportunity to study and discuss the subject together with other students. Perhaps you could even try looking for used copies on eBay.

    It wouldn’t hurt to check at your local public library, either; because even if they don’t have Teaching Company titles in their collection, they may be able to order them for you through interlibrary loan. University and college libraries in particular probably carry these programs as a valuable supplemental resource to complement their own courses.

    I personally prefer DVDs that the whole family can watch together. However, the audio resources are excellent while traveling, such as during long flights or car trips. My husband always listened to Books on Tape during his daily 44-mile commute, but these would work just as well for that, too.

    My husband is a graduate of Arizona State University, but he was enrolled for one semester at Thunderbird, the American Graduate School of International Management. Thunderbird has been repeatedly ranked as the best business school in the world. While he was there, my husband remarked that taking a course taught by a world-class professor really does make a difference in what you get out of it. These special scholars are gifted communicators and experts in their field who have an impressive knowledge while radiating a contagious enthusiasm for their subject.

    Nevertheless, the instructor’s worldview can be an important factor to consider – especially in the areas of science, religion, and history. The Teaching Company provides a biography of each professor so you can review their background before purchasing their course. I noticed that some of the lecturers on religious topics are historians or philosophers from liberal Ivy League universities, others are theologians, one is from Houston Baptist University, and another is a former Benedictine monk. This information helps give you a clue as to their point of view.

    The Teaching Company does offer a lifetime satisfaction guarantee. Not only will they replace a tape or disc that becomes broken or damaged, but they will refund your money or exchange a course if you should find it to be less than completely satisfying. Most publishers do not guarantee that you will be personally satisfied with their books or recordings, but Thomas Rollins says his company values clients so much that he does not want them to have any product they do not absolutely love. He said, “We call our lectures The Great Courses, and if we do not deliver great courses, we do not deserve their money.”

    If you’re ready to graduate from The Standard Deviants and venture into something a little more serious, The Teaching Company courses provide a great foundation for a lifetime of learning. Below I’ve listed some examples of the courses that they offer:

    High School Courses • Algebra I • Algebra II • Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning • Basic Math • Change and Motion: Calculus Made Clear • Chemistry • Early American History: Native Americans Through the Forty-Niners • Economics • Geometry • How to Become a Super Star Student • Meaning from Data: Statistics Made Clear • The Joy of Science • The Joy of Thinking • Understanding the Human Body: An Introduction to Anatomy and Physiology • World History: The Fertile Crescent to the American Revolution

    College Courses • Abraham Lincoln: In His Own Words • American Ideals: Founding a Republic of Virtue • Books That Have Made History: Books That Can Change Your Life • Classics of American Literature • History of the English Language • How to Read and Understand Poetry • How to Understand and Listen to Great Music • Life and Work of Mark Twain • Life and Writings of C. S. Lewis • Lives and Works of the English Romantic Poets • Lives of Great Christians • Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind: Literature’s Most Fantastic Works • Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies • Shakespeare’s Tragedies • Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy

    See Also: (“The Teaching Company: Lifelong Learning College Courses for Everyone” by Dale Farris, Golden Triangle PC Club, July 2004. This article contains in-depth details on how they choose their instructors, produce their courses, and run their business.)

    Have you ever viewed or listened to programs from the Teaching Company? I'd like to know which ones are your favorites! E-mail:


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