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. As of 2015, it had created over 700 courses and sold over 14 million copies.
In 1990, the company was founded 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 he 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 US$20M in annual revenue.
In 2011, the firm had 200 employees.
In 2016, the company began offering a streaming service, charging US$20 per month, with on-line access to about 280 courses from their catalog.
As of December 2019, the company lists the following categories and numbers of courses:
The following academics, among others, have authored courses. This list covers only instructors about whom an article exists.
Courses are offered on DVDs or audio CDs, or for Internet download or streaming. In 2018, the firm's competitors included MOOCs such as Coursera and Khan Academy. In 2016, the firm was earning $150 million annually in revenue.
The target market for the courses is primarily "lifelong learners". Customers tend to be older professionals and retirees who have had successful careers. As of 2018, the catalog included over 600 different courses, ranging in cost from US$35 to over US$500.
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.
The production quality of the courses is "a cut above" free courses offered on YouTube, according to a report in The New York Times. Chief executive Paul Suijk described The Great Courses as the "Netflix of learning". Bill Gates has been a fan of the series.
One conservative analyst has described the courses offered by The Teaching Company as more mainstream than what is offered at traditional American liberal arts colleges, describing the course selection as being driven by market forces, with the firm's founder, Tom Rollins, asking customers which subjects they wanted to learn, 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. The indicated result was that the catalog has had less emphasis 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". The analyst further noted 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 were an introductory college course.
... top educators accessible to the masses, the Great Courses built a loyal audience of lifelong learners by making “the world’s greatest professors” ...
...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....