What Is ‘The Great Courses Plus?’
The Great Courses Plus is an extensive streaming service which builds on the success of the VCR, and later, DVD courses that you can get through the mail. They are a series of college-level video and audio courses taught by some of the best professors and lecturers around (many of them Ivy League trained). The Great Courses is the DVD version, add the ‘Plus’ and you’ve got the streaming service. This service is a product of The Teaching Company, which you can learn more about here. Now that we’ve got that sorted, why the heck should you care?
The Netflix for Learning
The Great Courses Plus has around 500 courses containing upwards of 10,000 lectures (as of this writing). Each lecture is typically around 30 minutes. This, in my opinion, is the perfect amount of time. I can fit in a lecture when I’m working out or during a lunch break, and don’t have to get cut off in the middle.
I first came across this service through a Facebook ad. After I saw it scroll by a few times, I clicked through to take a look. Honestly, at first it seemed a little spammy; as if they were expert marketers with little substance behind the clever and engaging ads.
I’m glad I did some more research.
I don’t typically go for this kind of thing. None of my friends had heard of The Great Courses Plus and the first several pages of Google contained only their own website or variations of it (some great SEO by the way). I consider myself more of an early majority guy rather than an early adopter in most situations. Luckily, I came across Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s course, The Inexplicable Universe, on Netflix. I’ve always liked listening to Dr. Tyson so I decided to give his lectures a try. After all, I had nothing to lose since Netflix long ago staked a claim on my wallet.
Neil DeGrass Tyson’s course contains six lectures of a half hour apiece. I was so interested in the topic and his method of reasoning, I watched all six episodes in one night. After that, I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d want to check out some of the other topics available. I watched a few of the lectures their channel posted on YouTube and cursed to myself under my breath. Crap, I thought, another streaming service I simply have to have.
The Great Courses Plus website lets you look through each of the courses and view trailers for most of them. There were a number of courses that intrigued me: Robotics, How to Draw, Victorian Britain, Paleontology, and Exoplanets to name a few. Eventually, I went ahead and bit the bullet. I bought a year’s worth in advance to get the monthly discount. Trust me, I didn’t do it lightly! $180 for a year is a little steep, but I did some back-of-the-napkin math and it works out like this: I estimate that I will watch more than 500 hours of Netflix this year. If I transfer half of that time to this new service, that would be 250 hours or about 500 lectures. That would make $0.36 per lecture or $0.72/hour. That’s some cheap entertainment!
How much did I end up using the service? Well, let’s just say more than I anticipated. It’s only been a week since I bought the subscription, but I’ve watched 33 lectures. If I kept up that rate, I’d watch 1,716 lectures. If I cut my time in half I’d watch 858. Still far more than I thought!
So, what have I watched so far?
I’ve completed How Color Affects You, Money Management Skills, and The Inexplicable Universe. I’ve also started Intro to Paleontology, Robotics, How to Draw, An Economic History of the World Since 1400, and Victorian Britain. It’s an eclectic mix, to be sure.
This is a short course, just 6 lectures, which talks about the way colors are perceived in society and the science behind how colors can be used to create various effects. The lecturer does a good job of incorporating a number of contexts and cites some solid science to back up his claims. This would have been a fascinating semester-long course for a core humanities class at the undergraduate level. It does come with some useful information like what color to wear to a job interview based on how you want to come across, or what color to paint your room to inspire more creativity.
Rating: 5 Stars
Money Management Skills
Taught by a professor of finance, this course takes a 12-lecture trip through just about every conceivable investment most people will make in their lifetimes. He discusses how to think about money, how to save for retirement, estate planning, stock and bond investing, and much more. For many people, this course may be an eye-opener. As the course goes on, he dives deeper into the weeds and provides solid advice that will apply to just about everyone. I’ve done a lot of study in this area before, so 80-90% of the material wasn’t new to me, but there were some nuggets with topics like estate planning that I’d simply never come across before. Personal finance is a must-have skill and if you take his advice, you could easily save yourself the cost of The Great Courses Plus membership.
Rating: 4.5 Stars
The Inexplicable Universe
Neil DeGrasse Tyson is an interesting guy. He acts like a kid in awe when he talks about the stars or historical figures like Isaac Newton. This six lecture course is widely available on Netflix, Amazon and YouTube for free or for cheap. I sense a marketing ploy! Nevertheless, Dr. Tyson does an excellent job weaving a story of the universe. From the history of physics to the strange idiosyncracies of quarks, you’re sure to learn something or, at the least, enjoy yourself.
Rating: 5 Stars
More to Learn
To be honest, I don’t see myself stopping with the above courses. However, perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the service is choosing what to watch next. I might as well not have a watchlist, because almost every course has weaseled itself into it. At one point I had this problem with Netflix. There were simply too many things I wanted to see. Eventually it did whittle itself down to a more reasonable mountain to summit. Much like Netflix, The Great Courses Plus is also adding courses faster than I could possibly watch them all. There is an upcoming one called Renaissance: The Transformation of the West which I really want to watch. There are going to be 48 lectures in this one!
Most of the courses have either 24 or 36 lectures, making the course 12 to 18 hours long in all. A select few of the very popular subjects get a 48 lecture course.
I once took a marketing course which talked about how buyers make decisions. It was fascinating to watch myself go through the process, from discovery to research to justification to purchase to searching for validation of my purchase through confirmation bias. Stepping back, it’s easy to see that their marketing worked on me. While their typical target market is a white executive who is over 50 and makes $100,000+ per year, I think they might have a new market segment to content with: the thirty-something hungry learner (and future exec)? In any case, this is definitely the service for lifelong learners.
The Great Courses Plus curates talented professors and lecturers to bring college-level courses without the homework or stress involved with formal education. Sure you won’t get a degree or certification, but you’ll be learning things that are worthwhile or at least fascinating on a personal level. Imagine watching an interesting documentary on Netflix. Have you ever finished and wanted to know more? Far more? Imagine watching 6 or 7 documentaries on a single subject and taking a deep dive into the subject matter.
This would be a great way to gauge your interest in a subject before pursuing it further. To this end, I think college-bound high school students should ask their parents to subscribe. If I had this in high school, I would have watched a lecture in twenty or thirty categories. If I liked one, I’d dive deeper. Eventually, I’d have a really clear picture of my likes, my aptitudes, and so on. My advice is to watch some of the lectures on YouTube. If the format is one you like, check out their free trial and spend some time in the courses. You might find your new Netflix!