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August 18, 2016

Ready, Set, STREAM: The Great Courses Streaming Subscription Now Available on Amazon Video

CHANTILLY, Va.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--As of today, with the availability of “The Great Courses Signature Collection” on Amazon Video, engaging, content-rich video learning has never been easier to access.

“Knowledge is considered by many to be the new currency, and we are committed to sharing the wealth by providing the world’s greatest professors teaching the subjects people want to learn most, to the widest audience possible,” said Ed Leon, Chief Brand Officer of The Great Courses. “With The Great Courses Signature Collection, we're able to offer a cross section of our most popular and highly-rated courses in a new, easily accessible, and affordable way.”

“The way people watch TV is changing, and customers want easier access to their favorite videos, regardless of device or subscription,” said Richard Au, Director, Content Acquisition, Amazon Channels. “We’re thrilled that Amazon Prime members will now have the option to subscribe to The Great Courses Signature Collection on Amazon Video and view all the great premium content they have to offer.”

At launch, the subscription will consist of 87 courses made up of over 2,000 half-hour lectures with new content added on a regular basis. The curated collection will highlight some of the most popular selections from the vast Great Courses library. Subjects covered include: Economics & Finance, Health & Fitness, Ancient History, Modern History, Hobby & Leisure, Literature & Language, Mathematics, Music & Fine Arts, Philosophy & Religion, Professional Development, Science and Travel.

The Great Courses Signature Collection further expands consumers’ access to The Great Courses, adding more than 600 devices connected to the Amazon ecosystem–including connected TVs, gaming consoles, and Blu-Ray players–to the list of devices that can stream the popular video courses.

The Great Courses Signature Collection will feature a 7-day free trial and will be priced at $7.99 a month, making it the most affordable way to enjoy The Great Courses to date.

Contact The Great Courses with questions or visit us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or YouTube. #LifelongLearning #TheGreatCourses #SignatureCollection #TGCSignature #Economics #Finance #Health #Fitness #History #Hobby #Literature #Math #Music #Art #Philosophy #Religion #Science #Travel


About The Great Courses
The Great Courses is the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium-quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Delivered in engaging, expertly produced video and audio (in convenient online, digital, video on demand and disc formats), these carefully crafted courses provide access to a world of knowledge from the most accomplished professors and experts. The content-rich, proprietary library spans nearly 600 series with more than 15,000 lectures designed to expand horizons, deepen understanding, and foster epiphanies in the arts, science, literature, self-improvement, history, music, philosophy, theology, economics, mathematics, business, professional advancement, and personal development. Creating unique learning experiences since 1990, The Great Courses is the premier brand of The Teaching Company Sales, LLC of Chantilly, Virginia, which is owned by Los Angeles-based Brentwood Associates. More information can be found at www.thegreatcourses.com.

Contacts
Media contact for The Great Courses:
Trish McCall,
310.824.9000
tmccall@olmsteadwilliams.com

 

May 03, 2016

The Great Courses and Mayo Clinic Jointly Create Health and Wellness Courses

CHANTILLY, Va., May 03, 2016 -- The Great Courses, the leading global media brand for lifelong learning, is working with Mayo Clinic to create premium video courses in health and wellness. The collaboration, which will produce at least nine courses, brings together a worldwide leader in medical care, education, and research with the top producers of engaging educational media for personal enlightenment and enrichment.

“By sharing our knowledge through video, we can broadly deliver Mayo Clinic’s health-care expertise to help people stay well or to find answers when they are ill,” said Paul Limburg, M.D., M.P.H., medical director for Global Business Solutions at Mayo Clinic. “Through these courses, people can access our physicians' insights into current medical research and practice.”

The first course, The Science of Integrative Medicine, will be taught by Brent A. Bauer, M.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program.

The course focuses on complementary and integrative medicine practices and what science can—and cannot—prove about their effectiveness. Nearly 40 percent of all Americans report using these treatments, which include acupuncture, yoga, tai chi, herbal remedies, traditional Chinese medicine, hypnosis, meditation, biofeedback, and spinal manipulation.

“Our highly educated, multifaceted customers enjoy learning from the best-in-class experts from our elite content relationships,” said Ed Leon, chief brand officer for The Great Courses. “They learn photography from the best photographers at National Geographic, cooking from The Culinary Institute of America, art and culture from the Smithsonian, and now they will have the top source for health and wellness information—the doctors of Mayo Clinic. We can't imagine a better resource, and we look forward to producing in–depth, cutting–edge medical education for our worldwide audience.”

The course is available in multiple formats at www.thegreatcourses.com. On May 30 it will be added to The Great Courses Plus, the new subscription learning–on–demand platform from The Great Courses, which streams more than 6,000 individual video lectures covering a universe of subjects from the world's greatest professors.

Future series already in development with Mayo Clinic include:

  • Mayo Clinic Guide to Pain Relief
  • Mayo Clinic Diet and Exercise for Weight Loss
  • Mayo Clinic Guide to Aging Well
  • Mayo Clinic Guide to Preventive Medicine

The Great Courses services millions of lifelong learners and has delivered more than 19 million courses since 1990 via CDs, DVDs, digital downloads, and streaming apps. Each year the company hones its media production values, graphics, and animation, always aimed at creating learning experiences that ignite the minds and imaginations of its customers. The result is a global community of lifelong learners who include noted business and political leaders worldwide.

Contact The Great Courses with questions, or visit us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or YouTube. #lifelonglearning #MayoClinic #TheGreatCourses

About The Great Courses
The Great Courses is the nation's leading developer and marketer of premium–quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Delivered in engaging, expertly produced video and audio (in convenient online, digital, video on demand, and disc formats), these carefully crafted courses provide access to a world of knowledge from the most accomplished professors and experts. The content–rich, proprietary library spans more than 575 series with more than 14,000 lectures designed to expand horizons, deepen understanding, and foster epiphanies in the arts, science, literature, self–improvement, history, music, philosophy, theology, economics, mathematics, business, professional advancement, and personal development. Creating unique learning experiences since 1990, The Great Courses is the premier brand of The Teaching Company Sales, LLC of Chantilly, Virginia, which is owned by Los Angeles-based Brentwood Associates. More information can be found at www.thegreatcourses.com.

Contacts
Media contact for The Great Courses:
Trent Freeman,
310.824.9000
tfreeman@olmsteadwilliams.com

 

February 4, 2016

The Great Courses Plus now available in the Windows Store for Windows 10

NEW video learning service from The Great Courses features thousands of topics taught by the world’s greatest professors.

CHANTILLY, Virginia, February 4, 2016 – The Great Courses has announced the release of a Windows 10 App for The Great Courses Plus—their subscription video-on-demand service that provides lifelong learners with a whole new way to access the highly-rated, in-depth, college-level courses the company is famous for creating.

 

With the release of this Windows 10 app, The Great Courses Plus will be able to reach millions of customers who have already adopted Windows 10 as their operating system of choice, and will further position the firm to take advantage of the large number of Windows users who are expected to upgrade to Windows 10 in the upcoming months.

“It’s anytime, anywhere learning, and as much as you want.” said Ed Leon, Chief Brand Officer at The Great Courses, now celebrating its 25th year. “This is an entirely new audience that doesn’t just binge watch, they binge learn. They’re demanding a diverse array of subjects at their fingertips. And they want to access it from any and every device they own. Our new Windows 10 app will help them to do just that.”

“Microsoft is excited to have The Great Courses Plus available through the Windows Store,” said Steven Guggenheimer, Corporate Vice President of Developer Platform & Evangelism and Chief Evangelist for Microsoft, Corp. “Many people at Microsoft, including myself, have been learning with The Great Courses for years and it’s great to see their new service available on our platform.”

The learning-on-demand platform, which officially launched nationally in late 2015, features world-class professors presenting engaging, in-depth video lessons on thousands of subjects. Members get unlimited access to lectures online, via connected television or mobile devices for a monthly or annual subscription fee.

Video series from The Great Courses have typically sold through catalogs and online for hundreds of dollars on DVD. The Great Courses Plus video streaming service offers full access to more than 5,000 lectures. New members can sample the service without risk in a one-month free trial. Plans start as low as $29.99 with a yearly subscription. Unlike other streaming services that merely aggregate content, The Great Courses Plus features only originally produced content, and the company will offer new courses on a monthly basis, while keeping all the courses in the current library available for as long as they remain relevant to users.”

The company has built a reputation with its customers for developing in-depth educational content on subjects that people want to learn about. The top 10 subjects across millions of video views were:

  1. Science
  2. History
  3. Philosophy, Religion & Intellectual History
  4. Professional & Personal Development
  5. Literature & Language
  6. Music & Fine Arts
  7. Travel
  8. Mathematics
  9. Food & Wine
  10. Health, Fitness & Nutrition

The most popular individual lectures reveal a wide range of interests, which The Great Courses Plus believes epitomizes their new generation of information-hungry customers. The top ten were:

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Foundations – The basics of cognitive behavioral therapy for training your brain to increase motivation, manage emotions, and improve interpersonal skills
  2. Making Great Pictures – Study of what makes a photo iconic from National Geographic’s “Fundamentals of Photography”
  3. History’s Mysteries – How science solved concepts that were once unexplainable, hosted by Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson
  4. Quantified Self-Assessment for Therapy – Setting SMART goals for personal improvement
  5. Pronouncing Classical Latin – Admiring the beauty and history of Latin
  6. Rome: The Eternal City – A journey along the Tiber River from Smithsonian’s “The Essential Guide to Italy”
  7. Music as a Mirror – Themes, concepts and terminology for how to listen to and understand great music
  8. Mastering Rubik’s Cube – Step-by-step method for solving this mind-bending puzzle
  9. Ramesses II: Heartbeat of History – On the battlefield with the Egyptian Pharaoh from “Living History: Experiencing Great Events of the Ancient & Medieval Worlds”
  10. Cooking – Ingredients, Technique, and Flavor – The science of taste with The Culinary Institute of America from “The Everyday Gourmet; Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking”

Hundreds of new lectures were recently added, and the knowledge offerings continue to grow each month. Select courses are produced in partnerships with The Culinary Institute of America, National Geographic, and Smithsonian.

The Great Courses, which services millions of lifelong learners, has delivered more than 20 million courses since 1990 via CDs, DVDs, digital downloads, and streaming apps. Each year the company hones its staging, graphics, and animation, always aimed at igniting the minds and imaginations of its customers. The result is a global community of lifelong learners who include noted business and political leaders worldwide.

For more information go to www.TheGreatCoursesPlus.com.

 

September 15, 2015

The Great Courses Launches Subscription Streaming Service

The Great Courses Plus offers unlimited streaming of nearly 5,000 lectures on mobile, laptop, and TV for one flat monthly rate

CHANTILLY, Va.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Great Courses, now celebrating its 25th year, today announced that it is testing a new video learning service called The Great Courses Plus (www.thegreatcoursesplus.com), featuring award-winning professors covering nearly 5,000 subjects. Members will enjoy unlimited streaming to watch lectures online, on connected TVs, or on mobile devices for a flat monthly subscription fee.

 

 “It’s time for ‘binge learning’ to be added to the popular vernacular,” said Ed Leon, Chief Brand Officer at The Great Courses, which services millions of lifelong learners today. “Our customers have been binge learning for decades with video and audio series containing dozens of lectures each. Now they will be able to enjoy individual lectures on thousands of different subjects or binge on an entire course on everything from ‘Greek and Roman Technology’ and ‘The Science of Mindfulness’ to ‘The Everyday Gourmet: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking,’ ‘Fundamentals of Photography,’ and ‘The Art of Storytelling.’”


The Great Courses Plus will include videos on science, history, music, math, religion, philosophy, literature, economics, health and wellness and professional development taught by professors from leading universities without the pressure of schedules, homework, or tests. Select personal enrichment topics including cooking, photography, and cultural travel are produced in partnership with The Culinary Institute of America, National Geographic, and The Smithsonian.


“Learning is a lifestyle,” said Scott Ableman, Chief Marketing Officer at The Great Courses. “Our customers are insatiable learning omnivores. They want to understand the threads that tie together history, science, arts, travel... The Great Courses Plus is designed to fit that lifestyle.”


More than 5,000 customers are currently participating for no charge in The Great Courses Plus invitation-only beta, which is in testing on the web and on select smartphones and tablets. Additional beta invitations are being extended weekly until commercial launch, planned for fall of 2015. Apps will be available for iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire, Chromecast and Roku by the time of commercial launch, with additional devices and connected TVs planned for later in the year.


While one video series from The Great Courses has typically sold for hundreds of dollars, The Great Courses Plus streaming subscription will offer access to nearly 5,000 lectures from The Great Courses library for $29.99 per month with an annual subscription, or $49.99 per month with no annual commitment. Additional video series are being added to the service monthly, and will continue to be added after launch. Unlike other streaming services, there are no plans to remove series as long as they remain relevant.


Since 1990, The Great Courses has delivered more than 19 million courses via CDs, DVDs, digital downloads, and streaming apps. Each year the company hones its staging, graphics and animation, always aimed at igniting the minds and imaginations of its customers. The result is a global community of lifelong learners who include noted business and political leaders worldwide.


About The Great Courses
The Great Courses is the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium-quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Delivered in engaging, expertly produced video and audio (in convenient online, digital, video on demand and disc formats), these carefully crafted courses provide access to a world of knowledge from the most accomplished professors and experts. The content-rich, proprietary library spans more than 550 series with more than 14,000 lectures designed to expand horizons, deepen understanding, and foster epiphanies in the arts, science, literature, self-improvement, history, music, philosophy, theology, economics, mathematics, business, professional advancement, and personal development. Creating unique learning experiences since 1990, The Great Courses is the premier brand of The Teaching Company Sales, LLC of Chantilly, Virginia, which is owned by Los Angeles-based Brentwood Associates. More information can be found at www.thegreatcourses.com.

Contacts
Media contact for The Great Courses:
Roxanna Eke
310.824.9000
reke@olmsteadwilliams.com

 

September 3, 2015

Before YouTube and online classes, there were the Great Courses

Nevin Martell, The Washigton Post Magazine

1. Scour the world for talent
“A piano has 88 keys, but at any one time, I can only hold down 10,” James Giordano explains as he mimics playing a Steinway baby grand, his hands moving in the air above his plate.
He’s sitting at a center table amid the lunchtime bustle of Georgetown’s Cafe Milano, an upscale Italian institution favored by the moneyed neighborhood residents. Dressed in designer jeans and a sharp dark blazer with a white shirt open at the top, the 55-year-old sports a shaved head and a closely cropped, graying goatee framing an impressively white set of teeth. He looks more like a businessman than a renowned neuroscientist and neuroethicist.

 

“I’m playing a little bit more than a tenth of that piano, yet I can make that puppy sing,” he continues, his fingers dancing up and down the imaginary keyboard. “If I’m Jerry Lee Lewis, I’m hammering that bad boy. It’s about the speed. It’s about the coordination. The same is true in the brain. If I used all the brain at every second, it would be noise. You would make no sense of it.”
The Georgetown University professor is debunking a popular urban myth: that if people could just gain access to more of their brains, they would be infinitely smarter. Unfortunately, one of Hollywood’s timeworn tropes — most recently explored in “Lucy” and “Limitless” — is nothing more than a screenwriter’s fever dream.


Listening raptly across the table is Will Schmidt. With youthful features, a blue blazer and khaki slacks, the preppy 36-year-old is director of professor recruiting for the Teaching Company. It is best known for the Great Courses, long-form audio and video lecture series on topics from philosophy and photography to Buddhism and the barbarian empires of the Steppes. The programs are designed to give lifelong learners a continuing education without the classroom time, homework assignments or credits earned. Self-described fans include Bill Gates and George Lucas, who delivered taped opening remarks to a Great Courses conference in Charlottesville in June. (The first choice, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, a Great Courses professor himself, wasn’t available.)


Since its inception in 1990 , the Teaching Company has created more than 500 courses, which company officials report have sold 14 million copies. Though the firm is privately owned and doesn’t make earnings public, it claims to have racked up sales of $100 million last year.


What sustains the company in a crowded marketplace that includes amateur podcasts and competitors such as Lynda.com is a constant stream of new talent. That is where Schmidt comes in. Think of him as an A&R guy for nerds. He and his colleagues refer to their talent as “rock stars,” though the official term is professors.


Today he’s sizing up Giordano for a course on neuroethics, the study of the ethical, legal and social issues surrounding neuroscience in research and its applications in medicine, national security and beyond. So far, Giordano seems to be acing the audition. The professor is clearly used to working a room, talking with abundant energy and gesticulating to punctuate points.


For Great Courses, a professor’s persona and ability to engage a virtual audience is as important as their academic credentials. To find the right mix of brains and bravado, Schmidt devours TED Talks, online lectures and podcasts. “The best source, though I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this on tape, is RateMyProfessors.com,” he says. Customers also suggest potential professors. “If someone says, ‘I’ve been a lifelong customer and I’ve purchased 50 of your courses and I think this guy would be great,’ I’m going to take that person seriously,” Schmidt says. “Now that person might teach erotic medieval poetry, which we could never use, but I’ll still take a look.” He isn’t sold on anyone until he has laid eyes on the lecturer in person. Schmidt travels the country several times a month to audit classes and attend academic conferences, such as MathFest, the annual summer meeting of the Mathematical Association of America with panels titled “Innovative Approaches in the Calculus Sequence” and “Heavenly Mathematics: The Forgotten Art of Spherical Trigonometry.”
“I had no idea what was going on,” Schmidt says. “It’s the only place where I’ve felt like the stupidest but most attractive person in the room.”

2. Know your audience
Schmidt and his colleague, Ryan Davis, know what kind of talent to seek out because they know exactly who’s buying the lecture series. The courses are advertised in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic and the New York Times Book Review. According to in-house research, more than half of today’s Great Courses customers hold advanced degrees, the average customer is older than 50 and nearly half make more than $100,000 annually.


They must, to afford the investment. Great Courses range from $20 for a short audio download to more than $500 for a 48-lecture DVD set on an introduction to Western visual art. This fall, the company is rolling out an online subscription service that will offer hundreds of full courses and thousands of stand-alone lectures for a monthly fee of $49.95.
To justify the expense, when some competitors offer college-level lectures for free, the Great Courses producers leave nothing to chance. Whereas decades earlier, courses were built around instructors, the company now relies on marketing data to identify subjects customers are clamoring for.


The research has revealed that customers disdain anything too dry and incomprehensible, as well as anything too dumbed down. So the company has staked out a niche somewhere between the academia-generated offerings of massive open online courses (or MOOCs), such as Coursera and edX, and basic-cable edutainment such as “How William Shatner Changed the World.”


3. Find deep pockets
Great Courses, which turns 25 this year, is the brainchild of former lawyer Tom Rollins. As the story has it, he was at law school, looking down the barrel of a final exam on the federal rules of evidence that he wasn’t prepared for. To cram he watched 10 hours of videotaped lectures by acclaimed legal professor Irving Younger. Not only did he find the videos entrancing, he received an A.
After serving as the chief counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, Rollins drew up a business plan based on the idea that he would record college-level lectures by what he dubbed SuperStar Teachers and direct-market them on cassette and VHS tapes to create a “home university” for lifelong learners. He rented a car and drove up and down the East Coast from Georgetown University to Colby College recruiting professors who had a reputation for delivering the goods as speakers.
One professor he signed up was Thomas Childers at the University of Pennsylvania, who would go on to teach a number of history courses. Childers later told Rollins he had only two thoughts: “Great idea. Get all the money upfront.”


Rollins figured he would need about $1.7 million to kick-start his company, so he began raising funds. “If there’s one thing I never want to do again it’s fly around the country, sometimes the Bahamas, to talk rich people out of $100,000 a pop,” he says.
After arranging the capital and moving the company’s headquarters from above his garage to an “instant office” in Arlington, Va., he set about recording lectures covering ancient Greek civilization, psychology, Shakespeare and political philosophy in front of a live audience in a basement auditorium of Georgetown Medical Center. Some of those early productions were fraught with unforeseen drama. One professor took one look at the 250-strong crowd, ran back into the hallway and vomited. “Then he came back and gave a pretty good speech,” Rollins says.


The company grew, eventually moved to Chantilly and now employs 250 people. Rollins sold the firm in 2006 to the private equity investment firm Brentwood Associates, whose portfolio includes Zoë’s Kitchen, Paper Source and Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar.
Says Brentwood co-founder William Barnum: “We look for companies that have great customer loyalty, that are usually owned by the founder, and have some unbelievably cool product and have a great customer following, but have run out of ideas.”


4. Be a little less square
The new owners ditched cassettes and upgraded the recording studios and post-production facilities. “We had to,” says chief brand officer Ed Leon. “Consumers got savvier. The expectations of somebody watching something on their personal screens or their television screens has become elevated.”


Brentwood Associates also encouraged Great Courses executives to expand offerings. “We’re doing academic approaches to slightly less long-haired subjects, as opposed to the Restoration [in 17th-century England] or the three years after the French Revolution,” says Barnum. “Now it’s bigger topics, like cooking and photography, but with a very academic approach.”


Great Courses is also starting to compete with Rosetta Stone by introducing more language-instruction courses in the next three years. “It’s a testament to our customers that the first language we rolled out was Latin” two years ago, says Schmidt. “Now we’re going to do languages that people actually speak, like Spanish, French and Italian.”


The company recognizes that loyal customers may grumble at this departure from longtime core favorites, such as philosophy, literature and history, and are treading carefully. “We don’t want to annoy the base,” says Andreas Burgstaller, senior creative director for marketing.
“We sound like a political party,” Burgstaller says. “We’re trying to encompass the edges while keeping the middle happy.”


5. Test everything — Then test some more
Kevin Manzel, director of innovation, likes to brag that the company produces “only hits.”
The secret?
“We test, test, test everything,” he says, “to mitigate the risk.”
Every aspect of the Great Courses — from which lecture series are produced to the design of the catalogues, apps and Web sites — is rigorously surveyed with customers. No incentives are offered for those who participate. “Our customers get that they are co-contributors to the content, and they take their role very seriously,” Manzel says. “We compete for people’s leisure time. It’s what they could be doing in otherwise unproductive time, like watching TV or reading a book.”


Before the company began producing photography and cooking courses, it polled its customers and determined that National Geographic and Culinary Institute of America were the gold standard for those specialties. Then customers were asked whether collaborating with those institutions would tarnish the prestige of the Great Courses.


Though some customers were split, the data ultimately gave the firm the confidence to proceed. “Fundamentals of Photography” and “The Everyday Gourmet: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking” are two of Great Courses’ biggest hits.


The company routinely abandons topic ideas, such as poker, or rejects potential partnerships after it floats the idea with customers and it doesn’t go over well. “They told us, ‘If you make a course with partner X it will decrease my perception of you,’ ” Manzel says. “So that was it. The Mediocre Courses doesn’t roll off the tongue.”


6. Add polish
After being vetted, a prospective professor writes an overview of her Great Course. Customers are polled on the idea. If it hits the threshold, a sample lecture is tested.


That’s what has brought Eric Snodgrass to the Great Courses television studios this afternoon. The director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois and consultant on climate forecasting is here to record a demo lecture on extreme weather.


“Tropical cyclones are one of the most powerful expressions of severe weather on Earth,” he tells the camera.
In the control room, Schmidt and Davis watch on a giant flat-screen monitor and follow the script on computers to see if it matches what Snodgrass is reading from the teleprompter.


Snodgrass nails the lecture on his first take. He does not have the bad habits and ticks that plague less-seasoned professors. Some sway while they talk. Others wander the set because they feel the need to fill the room. “It’s tough when you get someone who is in­cred­ibly passionate about what they do, but they’re just not a natural speaker,” says senior producer Alisha Reay. “The toughest affectation is people who want to shout to emphasize everything. It’s like they’re talking in all caps.”


Schmidt finds that the most difficult part for professors is exuding warmth. “It’s so hard to smile,” he says. “It’s such an artificial environment that the natural expression is a grimace.”


After some consultation with Schmidt, Snodgrass re-records a few lines to cover up minor flubs, then he’s finished.
“I thought it went well,” he says.


This lecture will be sent to customers who will rate whether the content and the professor are engaging, educational and intellectually rigorous while still being comprehensible to someone not versed in the subject. Only about half of the potential professors make it through this stage.


Schmidt calls it “professor Darwinism.”

7. Bring in some models
One-camera shots of a professor at a lectern don’t cut it these days. So Great Courses videos now feature custom-built physical or virtual sets and are packed with graphics and footage shot on location.
Stephen Ressler, a professor emeritus of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., builds his own models for his engineering courses.


He has superstar status around the Chantilly office. His first Great Course, “Understanding the World’s Greatest Structures,” is the company’s highest-rated product.


One afternoon, Ressler is standing in the studio with a replica of the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona, recording his third course, “Everyday Engineering,” about the underlying scientific principles of technologies people use all the time that they may not be aware of.
He fills the miniature reservoir with water, observes it for a second, then addresses the camera: “It leaks a bit, but structurally, it works fine because both the arch and the load are oriented horizontally,” he says.


For this course alone, Ressler has handmade 50 models, which he’ll use in 150 or so demonstrations, and he has developed 50 to 60 computer models. It took seven weeks working 18-hour days to make them all. He has also been building an addition on his house partly to accommodate the models he plans to build if he gets to do more Great Courses.

8. Cross your fingers
James Giordano’s lecture on predictive neurotechnology — “the ability to utilize neuroimaging to predict who may be aggressive, violent and/or a criminal” — went through three edits. After fine-tuning the script, Giordano recorded an audio lecture for customers to review. Results should be back in October, determining whether he gets a contract.


If he does get the green light, Schmidt estimates Giordano would earn a $14,000 advance for a 24-lecture course or $21,000 for 36 lectures, though the company would not officially comment on how much it pays. “Most academics are fine with that kind of money because it’s more than they make doing other stuff,” says Schmidt, who notes that professors also earn royalties.“If they’re a best-selling author, though, I might have to have my CEO talk to them.”


For Edward T. O’Donnell, an associate history professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., a gig with the Teaching Company “offered the prospect of paying some bills.”


So far, he has recorded two Great Courses, “Turning Points in American History” and “America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.” “It’s made a big difference financially,” he says. “With three kids in college, [the approximately] $22,000 in royalties almost takes care of one of my kids for a full year. ”


For Giordano, landing his own lecture series would offer more rewards than just money. After the recording session, he reveals that he has been a serious fan of Great Courses for years.


“This is like the kid who gets to play on his favorite baseball team,” he says. “So I’m crossing as many things as are crossable — toes, fingers, legs.”

 

August 9, 2015

Cutting the Cord: The Great Courses' new streaming service

Mike Snider, USA Today

Tired of binge-watching? Try some binge learning. Extended-learning company The Great Courses now lets you construct your own independent study syllabus and stream it at home and on the go.

The Chantilly, Va.-based company, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, has begun invitation-only testing of a subscription streaming video-on-demand service that includes 5,000 of its most popular lectures from its library of more than 14,000 lectures. Scheduled to go live this fall, The Great Courses Plus gives subscribers access to individual lectures from the educational firm's 7,000 hours-plus of content.

You can mix and match from a wide variety of courses about science, travel, history, photography, fine arts, music, religion and economics. The Culinary Institute of America, National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institution serve as partners on some of most popular courses available.

"It’s a different model and some of our current customers may be interested in it, but we see this as introducing an entirely different generation of customers to The Great Courses," said the firm's chief marketing officer Scott Ableman.

Traditionally, when a customer purchases a lesson plan from The Great Courses today, they get all of the lectures within a course. Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories and Tragedies has 36 individual lectures of about 30 minutes each — Julius Caesar: The Matter of Rome and Macbeth: Musing on Murder, for instance — and the course is sold as an audio download ($75.90), CD ($106.90), DVD ($151.90) and video download ($129.90). Once purchased, the course can be streamed, too.

Overall, the costs of The Great Courses range from as low as $16 to more than $500.

But subscribers to The Great Courses Plus ($49.95 monthly or $360 annually) get unlimited access to courses and can view individual lectures within each course at will.

"Now, you can dive into a half-hour lesson on the (Shakespearean era) Old Globe (Theatre), but then you may want to go to one of the other courses on the city of London or maybe learn how to cook something because you have a dinner party coming up and want to rediscover the lost art of cooking from the Culinary Institute of America," said chief brand officer Ed Leon. "We see this as the ultimate expression of the brand. You get thousands of lessons for one price."

Initially, The Great Courses Plus is available online and for Android devices in the Google Play store, with an iOS version for iPhones and iPads due soon. Just as The Great Courses will be adding more lectures to the service, so will it add more apps. Also in the works: apps for Apple TV, Amazon Kindle Fire, Roku and smart TVs from Samsung and Sony.

"This is for people who are naturally curious and interested in learning for the sake of learning without the pressure of schedules and homework and tests," Ableman said.

 

June 29, 2015

New Releases from The Great Courses Explore Sustainable Living, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Scientific Perceptions of Reality

CHANTILLY, Va., June 29, 2015 -- The Great Courses, now celebrating its 25th year as the leading global media brand for lifelong learning, has released three new series this month: "Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science", "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Techniques for Retraining Your Brain", and "Fundamentals of Sustainable Living".

“The courses this month will provide you a new mindset for living a sustainable lifestyle, show you how to retrain your mind using proven cognitive therapy techniques, and blow your mind by showing you how science is reshaping the very nature of reality,” said Ed Leon, chief brand officer of The Great Courses.

With more than 540 titles available, The Great Courses is celebrating its milestone 25th anniversary; with more than 15 million courses sold to a worldwide community of ardent lifelong learners including longtime fan Bill Gates, who has touted his favorite courses in The New York Times, Fast Company and "60 Minutes". The company has ongoing partnerships with premier content brands The Culinary Institute of America, National Geographic and the Smithsonian.

Courses are available in multiple audio and video formats, including digital streaming, downloads, DVDs and CDs.

Descriptions of New Courses:

Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science

Professor Steven Gimbel
Gettysburg College

 

Consider this once solid fact that was later thrown into doubt: Plants need sunlight; animals eat plants or other animals; therefore all life on Earth ultimately depends on the sun. This seemed indisputable, until scientists discovered colonies of life in the dark ocean depths, feeding on mineral-rich hot fluids from volcanic vents. These 36 lectures are created for people of all backgrounds – even those with no formal training in science or philosophy and explore many aspects of the perpetual search for reality, both scientific and philosophical.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Techniques for Retraining Your Brain

Professor Jason Satterfield
University of California, San Francisco

 

Most of us have something about our life that we would like to improve. The 24 engaging half-hour lectures of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Techniques for Retraining Your Brain will help you build a toolkit of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques, arming yourself with resources to examine your own thoughts, emotions and behaviors – setting yourself on the path to a better life as well as a review of CBT history and modern research.

Fundamentals of Sustainable Living

Professor Lawrence Gamble
Maharisha University of Management

Whether you live on acres of land or in a city apartment, the 12 lectures of Fundamentals of Sustainable Living provide practical and inspiring strategies to participate in the worldwide sustainability effort as simply or as ambitiously as you wish. These highly visual, informative lectures lay out a sustainability plan and provide information on all things sustainable regarding food, energy, water, shelter and heat.

About The Great Courses

The Great Courses is the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium-quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Delivered in engaging, expertly produced video and audio (in convenient online, digital, and disc formats), these carefully crafted courses provide access to a world of knowledge from the most accomplished professors and experts. The content-rich, proprietary library spans more than 530 titles with more than 7,000 hours and 14,000 lectures designed to expand horizons, deepen understanding, and foster epiphanies in the arts, science, literature, self-improvement, history, music, philosophy, theology, economics, mathematics, business, professional advancement, personal growth, and high school curriculum. Creating unique learning experiences since 1990, The Great Courses is the premier brand of The Teaching Company of Chantilly, Virginia, which is owned by Los Angeles-based Brentwood Associates. More information can be found at www.thegreatcourses.com.

Media contact:
Roxanna Eke
310.824.9000
reke@olmsteadwilliams.com

June 08, 2015

The Great Courses Summit Brings 70 Top Minds to Home of Jefferson

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., June 08, 2015 -- Seventy of the top professors nationwide will convene this week for the first ever “The Great Courses Educational Conference and Professor Summit” at the historic Boar’s Head Inn here, home of Jefferson and one of the cradles of American education. The Summit celebrates the 25th anniversary of The Great Courses, the leading global media brand for lifelong learning with more than 15 million courses sold.

“Our 25th anniversary presents the perfect opportunity to bring together the brilliant minds of our faculty to talk about trends and innovations in lifelong learning,” said Ed Leon, chief brand officer of The Great Courses. “Digital connectivity is revolutionizing learning, and we are uniquely positioned to prepare consumers worldwide to thrive in the new knowledge-based economy.”

The professors of The Great Courses are selected through a rigorous multi-step process with only a small percentage of applicants selected to develop lifelong learning courses.

Telephone interviews with the world’s greatest professors are available through Wednesday afternoon. Please contact Tracy Williams at 310-824-9000 or tracy@olmsteadwilliams.com to chat with them about their experience in the new world of knowledge for all:

  • Richard Wolfson – Professor at Middlebury College and The Great Courses (TGC) professor for Physics and Our Universe: How it All Works and other physics-related lectures.
  • Robert Greenberg – Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances and TGC professor for 26 music history courses including The 23 Greatest Solo Piano Works.
  • Vejas Liulevicius – Professor at University of Tennessee and TGC history professor on lectures like Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century.
  • Sharon Latchaw Hirsh – Professor at Rosemont College and TGC professor of How to Look at and Understand Great Art.
  • Lee Rainie – TGC keynote speaker and Director of internet, science and technology research at the Pew Research Center.
  • Michael Roberto – Professor at Bryant University and TGC professor for lectures including Transformational Leadership: How Leaders Change Teams, Companies, and Organizations.
  • Ron Davis – Professor at Georgetown University and TGC professor for Foundations of Organic Chemistry.
  • Kimberlee Bonura – Fitness and wellness consultant and TGC professor for How to Stay Fit as You Age.
  • Michael Yamashita – National Geographic photographer and co-professor of TGC’s National Geographic Masters of Photography course.
  • Patrick Allitt – Professor at Emory University and TGC professor for lectures like American Religious History.
  • The Great Courses also partners with top brands to deliver its courses, including National Geographic, the Culinary Institute of America and the Smithsonian Institution. The international community of The Great Courses includes longtime fan Bill Gates, who has touted his favorite lectures in the New York Times, Fast Company and on “60 Minutes.”

    About The Great Courses

    The Great Courses is the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium-quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Delivered in engaging, expertly produced video and audio (in convenient online, digital, and disc formats), these carefully crafted courses provide access to a world of knowledge from the most accomplished professors and experts. The content-rich, proprietary library spans more than 530 titles with more than 7,000 hours and 14,000 lectures designed to expand horizons, deepen understanding, and foster epiphanies in the arts, science, literature, self-improvement, history, music, philosophy, theology, economics, mathematics, business, professional advancement, personal growth, and high school curriculum. Creating unique learning experiences since 1990, The Great Courses is the premier brand of The Teaching Company of Chantilly, Virginia, which is owned by Los Angeles-based Brentwood Associates. More information can be found at www.thegreatcourses.com.

    Media contact:
    Tracy Williams
    310.824.9000
    tracy@olmsteadwilliams.com

June 02, 2015

June Releases from The Great Courses Span Milestones in World History, Advances in Robotics, and the Practicalities of Economic Theory

CHANTILLY, Va., June 02, 2015 -- The Great Courses, now celebrating its 25th year as the leading global media brand for lifelong learning, has released three new series this month: "Living History: Experiencing Great Events of the Ancient and Medieval Worlds," "Robotics" and "The Economics of Uncertainty."

“With these three exciting new series, lifelong learners can step back in time to witness important turning points in history, explore the robotics revolution that is transforming the world, and discover how to protect themselves against economic uncertainty,” said Ed Leon, chief brand officer of The Great Courses.

This is a milestone year for The Great Courses. It celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2015, having delivered more than 15 million courses to lifelong learners worldwide. This international community includes longtime fan Bill Gates, who has touted his favorite Great Courses in The New York Times, Fast Company, and on “60 Minutes.” The company has ongoing partnerships with premier content brands such as The Culinary Institute of America, National Geographic, and the Smithsonian Institution.

Courses are available in multiple audio and video formats, including digital streaming, downloads, DVDs, and CDs.

Descriptions of New Courses:

The Economics of Uncertainty

Professor Connel Fullenkamp
Duke University

 

Learn to cope with uncertainty and risk with advice from a master economist. Economic uncertainty is like the weather: you can’t stop storms, but understanding them prepares you. Uncertainty is beyond our control, but when you take the mystery and dread out of uncertainty, you can respond much more effectively. The practical and empowering lectures of The Economics of Uncertainty give you tools to deal with risk.

Living History: Experiencing Great Events of the Ancient and Medieval Worlds

Professor Robert Garland
Colgate University

 

Explore great moments of history through the eyes of everyday citizens. Living History spotlights 24 turning points where the tide of history changes irrevocably. Moving deeper into these momentous events, you step into the scene and hear the “heartbeat of history” by engaging with a variety of first-hand accounts and authentic primary and secondary sources to experience what it was like to live during these times.

Robotics

Professor John Long
Vassar College

Robots are real. They’re all around you. And they’re transforming your life. The future of civilization depends on collaborative robotics: humans and machines working together. With in-studio robot demonstrations and other amazing visual aids, Robotics demystifies the world of robots and provides a comprehensive introduction to these intelligent machines. This course is your passport to an astonishing new world.

About The Great Courses

The Great Courses is the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium-quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Delivered in engaging, expertly produced video and audio (in convenient online, digital, and disc formats), these carefully crafted courses provide access to a world of knowledge from the most accomplished professors and experts. The content-rich, proprietary library spans more than 530 titles with more than 7,000 hours and 14,000 lectures designed to expand horizons, deepen understanding, and foster epiphanies in the arts, science, literature, self-improvement, history, music, philosophy, theology, economics, mathematics, business, professional advancement, personal growth, and high school curriculum. Creating unique learning experiences since 1990, The Great Courses is the premier brand of The Teaching Company of Chantilly, Virginia, which is owned by Los Angeles-based Brentwood Associates. More information can be found at www.thegreatcourses.com.

Media contact:
Roxanna Eke
310.824.9000
reke@olmsteadwilliams.com

March 19, 2015

That's Edutainment!

In a 2013 episode of “60 Minutes,” Charlie Rose visits Bill Gates’s office to get a sense of where the billionaire philanthropist draws intellectual inspiration. First, Mr. Gates shows Mr. Rose the Codex Leicester, a 500-year-old Leonardo da Vinci manuscript that Mr. Gates bought in 1994 for $30 million.

Then, with just as much as enthusiasm and nearly as much reverence, Mr. Gates leads Mr. Rose to a bookcase filled with DVDs from the Great Courses. As the camera pans across various titles, Mr. Rose notes that Mr. Gates, a Harvard dropout, has now watched “hundreds of hours of college lectures” through these DVDs, which feature professors discussing, say, the search for the Higgs boson.

Still, at just 200 or so volumes, Mr. Gates’s collection was not nearly big enough to establish him as the world’s greatest Great Courses collector.

“We just had somebody last month who bought the entire library,” says Ed Leon, chief brand officer of the Great Courses. “It’s someone who seems to have made a lot of money in finance and retired to a tropical island. That’s where we shipped the entire library — over 500 courses.”

What does it mean when people who can afford to spend their time however they please hunker down in front of their flat screens to watch theoretical physicists or experts on other subjects lecture for hours?

Entertainment values have come to dominate many aspects of life, but another trend has been playing out, too. Call it the academization of leisure. It can be found in the live-streaming TED Talks lectures, the Great Courses, learning vacations, podcasts, science centers, brain-training games and retirement communities like Lasell Village in Newton, Mass., whose residents must complete “a minimum of 450 hours of learning and fitness activity each calendar year,” its website says.

These days, examples of what is often called edutainment are everywhere. As the word suggests, edutainment combines aspects of education and entertainment into products and experiences that seek to improve learning by making it not just painless but also pleasurable.

And while consumers will often pay prices that would please any Ivy League bursar, this kind of education is generally pursued on an elective basis, with no credits or certification at stake.

Learning through entertainment dates at least to Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack, which amused and instructed colonists with its mix of maxims, weather forecasts, math lessons and puzzles.

But traditionally, edutainment resulted from the kinds of things Neil Postman, a New York University professor and media theorist, criticized in his 1985 book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” In it, he argued that culture’s primary mode of discourse was shifting from print to TV, and that as a result, “politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce” had all been “transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business.”

In Mr. Postman’s formulation of the world, show business alone did the encroaching. Lessons about multiplication were put to music. Local TV news anchors adopted the mindless patter of variety-show M.C.s.

But what is most notable about the current edutainment boom is how often it uses formats and techniques from education and academia to invade domains that were once primarily recreational — or at least nonacademic.

In the old days, business people networked over martinis. Now they prepare to mingle by consuming multiple TED Talks lectures (TED stands for technology, entertainment, design). Likewise, it sometimes seems as if no luxury vacation is complete without a concierge biologist on hand to decipher the mating habits of the mantled howler monkey. And thanks to farmers markets, picking up milk and eggs has turned into a chance for informal symposiums on pasture management.

Finally, there is fare like the Great Courses and online learning sites like Lynda.com, CreativeLive.com and EdX.org. Such material is hardly fodder for channel surfers. The Great Courses (which also come in audio formats) feature a college professor lecturing from 12 to 24 hours on topics like ancient Mesoamerica or behavioral economics. The living room couch in front of the television now functions as a site for in-depth learning.

Many factors underlie the ascent of such learning products. An aging population has leisure time and money to spend. Digital distribution lets content creators focus on smaller audiences with more specialized interests, and it gives users access to these products anywhere and anytime. The proliferation of media that results has in turn created a market for live events like TED Talks, the music and multimedia gathering SXSW and the Comic-Con fan conventions, all of which offer lectures and symposiums that can turn up online later.

As long-established companies and personalities look for new sources of revenue in a rapidly shifting media market, they turn to educational offerings as well.

“I think like everyone else, we’re looking for new opportunities that bring in revenue and keep in line with our mission,” says Linda St. Thomas, chief spokeswoman for the Smithsonian Institution.

To this end, the Smithsonian has begun offering classes through the Great Courses line, as have National Geographic, the Culinary Institute of America and the Mayo Clinic. The Smithsonian, through its Journeys program, and National Geographic, through its Expeditions program, also offer more than 200 learning vacations a year, charging travelers thousands of dollars to forsake drinks by the pool for in-the-field instruction from art historians and volcanologists. The New York Times has ventured into this territory with its Times Journeys program, and it sells tickets to question-and-answer sessions with figures from the film and music industries, among others.

In “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” Mr. Postman lamented that a former Hollywood actor could be president. Now, former presidents are replacing professional entertainers as the top-billed stars on cruise ship vacations. Lech Walesa, former president of Poland, will visit with Smithsonian Journeys participants in Gdansk this summer. César Gaviria, former president of Colombia, will be on hand on a National Geographic Expeditions cruise off South America this fall.

While lunching with celebrity politicians on luxury cruises may seem frivolous, what has actually happened is that a purely recreational activity has acquired new intellectual ambition.

“There’s an increasing demand for meaningful experiences,” says Lynn Cutter, National Geographic’s executive vice president for travel and licensing. “When people have choices on how to spend their money, they’re valuing experiences more than material things.”

And learning is often a crucial part of these experiences, partly because Americans today are much more educated than their predecessors. In 1940, according to United States census data, only 25 percent of American citizens ages 25 or above had high school diplomas or their equivalents. And only 5 percent of American citizens 25 or above had a bachelor’s degree or higher. By 2009, 87 percent of this demographic had a high school diploma, and 30 percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Not that education ends with a bachelor’s degree these days, or even a Ph.D. In the fast-paced knowledge economy, lifelong earning requires lifelong learning. To keep their skills sharp and maximize income or employability, people turn to sites like CreativeLive.com to fine-tune their Photoshop expertise or learn how to use Instagram as a sales channel.

“We’ve served up more than two billion minutes of free education to every country on the planet,” says Chase Jarvis, the site’s chief executive and one of its founders.

Most of CreativeLive’s classes, which are clustered into categories like “Photo and Video” and “Art and Design” and streamed live from the company’s broadcast studios in Seattle and San Francisco, are intended to help people develop skills to put to professional use. “What we’re trying to do is create the most vibrant learning experience we can,” Mr. Jarvis says. “When we do a podcasting class, we get Alex Blumberg, a former producer for ‘This American Life,’ to teach it. And since he’s the best in the world at what he does, he puts on an amazing show.”

The surest way to dazzle today’s lifelong learners is through expertise and instruction, not gimmicky and tacked-on showbiz elements. And yet because there is a sizable paying market for educational media — CreativeLive.com offers the initial live broadcasts of its classes free, then charges $24 to $299 for on-demand access to them — producers are investing more in this material. As a result, the teaching talent becomes better, the production values improve and educational courseware can be just as engaging as any other form of media.

It often has to be, says Nick Macey, chief product officer of Rosetta Stone, a language-learning software company. Mr. Macey has to develop products that people enjoy enough to use regularly and intensively, because that is what it takes to learn a new language. “So whether it’s through highly entertaining content or live experiences with native speakers, we’re always looking for ways to engage our customers,” Mr. Macey says.

As material becomes more enjoyable, ultimately some people begin to approach even difficult and sustained feats of learning, like achieving conversational fluency in Mandarin, as a way to unwind at the end of the day.

“Educated people love to learn,” notes Randy White, chief executive of the White Hutchinson Leisure and Learning Group, a company based in Kansas City, Mo., that helps develop things like children’s play centers and farmers markets that combine education and entertainment.

These new educational approaches offer a more structured and productive experience than watching a situation comedy or a reality show. But the experience can also be as informal as you want it to be. “There are no exams,” the Great Courses website reassures. “No homework assignments. No prerequisites.”

Still, people accustomed to a steady stream of likes, retweets and other soft forms of assessment often view exams and quizzes as good things. Rouxbe.com is an online cooking school whose curriculum is so comprehensive that restaurants and culinary academies use it as a training tool. But according to Joe Girard, its chief executive, 80 percent of its customers are home cooks. And they want feedback.

“Not everyone thought that our customers would do quizzes,” Mr. Girard says. “But in the first six months that we introduced them, we had 500,000 quizzes completed. People love affirmation. They love to see that because they watched a video, they now know something they didn’t previously know.”

People also recognize that the Internet puts answers, experts and detailed instruction at their fingertips. And that increases their curiosity and willingness to tackle new subjects.

“Today, people learn online first,” says Jen Long, co-founder of GardenTribe.com, a California producer of online instruction for home gardeners. “There’s no driving to the nursery. It’s go to Google and type in, ‘What should I plant in my garden?’ ”

That is how it worked for one GardenTribe.com customer, Odessa Criales-Smith. “I did a Google search because I wanted to learn more about succulents,” she says. “I didn’t know what I’d find. I was just searching for any information at all.”

A software reseller who works from home in Lovettsville, Va., Ms. Criales-Smith often used online courses to obtain certifications for the various lines of software she sells. So when GardenTribe.com came up in her search results, she bought access to one of its classes.

“I was just looking for a hobby to chill on,” Ms. Criales-Smith says. “Succulents was a great relaxing thing to do.” After viewing the first video, Ms. Criales-Smith bought additional classes and watched them at night in bed, projecting them from her tablet onto her large-screen TV using Google’s Chromecast device.

Over time, she says, she turned into a “succulents fanatic.” And eventually, she began attending antiques shows and flea markets to sell arrangements that she makes of succulent plants. “Taking that class gave me the confidence to go ahead and start something,” she says.

That first GardenTribe.com class that Ms. Criales-Smith took now goes for $39. The DVD version of the Great Courses class “The Higgs Boson and Beyond” sells for $199.95. “Changing Tides of History: Cruising the Baltic Sea,” the Smithsonian Journeys vacation where you can talk about globalization with Lech Walesa, starts at $6,995.

It is not always clear if a product or event is being used as entertainment or, say, corporate training. So creditable estimates of the size of the edutainment industry are hard to come by. What is clear is that its target consumers are willing to pay for the experiences it can deliver.

“The most educated have the least amount of time,” Mr. White observes. “So when they spend their leisure time, they want it as productive and high quality as possible. They’re looking for experiences that can permanently change themselves — going to a fitness facility, gaining new knowledge. They don’t want to waste their leisure time.”

At the Great Courses, there is a rigorous process to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“First, we write up a synopsis of what we want a title to be,” Mr. Leon says. “Then we poll that with our customer basis.” If it performs well, the company starts looking for professors to teach the course. “I have a recruiting team that scours the country for just the right person.”

Candidates travel to the Great Courses studio in Chantilly, Va., and record a lecture. “We have a variety of people test for the same course,” Mr. Leon says. The samples are market-tested as well. “Our customers are going to spend 12 to 24 hours of screen time with this person, so it has to be someone who resonates with them.”

Once a professor is chosen, a course goes into full production. In 2015, the Great Courses will release about 40 new classes.

“This year, we’ve got 550 hours of content coming out of our studio,” Mr. Leon says. Because of all of that exposure to subjects like data analytics or world’s greatest churches, Mr. Leon says, “My production team is turning into semi-geniuses.” On an unnamed tropical island, a mysterious retired polymath may be, too.


About The Great Courses
The Great Courses is the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium- quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Delivered in engaging, expertly produced video and audio (digital streaming, downloads, DVDs and CDs), these carefully crafted courses provide access to a world of knowledge from the most accomplished professors and experts. The content-rich, proprietary library spans nearly 500 titles with close to 7,000 hours and 13,000 lectures designed to expand horizons, deepen understanding and foster epiphanies in the arts, science, literature, self-improvement, history, music, philosophy, theology, economics, mathematics, business, professional advancement, personal growth and high school curriculum. Creating unique learning experiences since 1990, The Great Courses is the premier brand of The Teaching Company based in Chantilly, Va. More information can be found at www.thegreatcourses.com.

Media contact:
Roxanna Eke
310.824.9000
reke@olmsteadwilliams.com

March 6, 2015

Personal Development: JetBlue and Virgin America on Board with Mobile Education

The way we learn on-the-go is reaching new heights as airlines jump on board with online education initiatives.

JetBlue and Virgin America are now offering free in-flight courses, which can be accessed right from passengers’ cellphones or tablets — so no more spacing out at 30,000 feet in the air, or anywhere for that matter.

"Air travel is one of the ultimate expressions of mobility, and as technology enables the entire culture to move towards increased mobility and on-demand selectivity, we see a greater and greater opportunity to become a vital part of people’s lives,” said Ed Leon, chief brand officer at The Great Courses, which partnered with Virgin America.

Instant access to knowledge has become the norm as mobile technology hangs at our fingertips.

In 2014, about 90% of Americans owned a cellphone, 67% admitted to obsessively checking it, and about 29% said they couldn’t imagine living without it, according to the Pew Research Center. And as of January, education app downloads on the Apple App Store ranked No. 2 at 10.1%, right behind game apps.

Virgin America passengers, as of Feb. 1, have access to 13 single lectures in audio or video format on topics such as Ancient Egypt, the art of cooking, economics, creative nonfiction, espionage and more; content will be updated every two to three months. The full courses, which run about 12 hours, are usually valued at a starting price of $29.95.

JetBlue, which launched its initiative in December with Coursera, is offering 10 e-learning videos from a list of respected institutions such as the University of Edinburgh, Berklee College of Music, and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

It’s not yet known how many people have taken advantage of the in-flight learning experience, but generally, most mobile learners believe the format and presentation enhances their ability to learn and have praised the convenience and time management benefits of it.

“When I see a block of time on my calendar, I think how can I put that time to good use?” said Juliana Aldous, content manager for technology at Lynda.com.

She went on to describe the annoyances of traveling: getting trapped at an airport or waiting for long periods of time.

“As a kid, I would pack a boredom bag — one filled with crayons, books and comics. But now as an adult, when I travel, my boredom bag has become my tablet. And travel time is an excellent time to find a nice chunk of time to concentrate on learning a new skill.”


About The Great Courses
The Great Courses is the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium- quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Delivered in engaging, expertly produced video and audio (digital streaming, downloads, DVDs and CDs), these carefully crafted courses provide access to a world of knowledge from the most accomplished professors and experts. The content-rich, proprietary library spans nearly 500 titles with close to 7,000 hours and 13,000 lectures designed to expand horizons, deepen understanding and foster epiphanies in the arts, science, literature, self-improvement, history, music, philosophy, theology, economics, mathematics, business, professional advancement, personal growth and high school curriculum. Creating unique learning experiences since 1990, The Great Courses is the premier brand of The Teaching Company based in Chantilly, Va. More information can be found at www.thegreatcourses.com.

Media contact:
Roxanna Eke
310.824.9000
reke@olmsteadwilliams.com

January 26, 2015

Mile-high IQ club: Become a genius on your next flight

God knows there are plenty of ways to dumb yourself down on an airplane — knock back a few $8 Mas Sabroso Margarita mixes, then swipe your credit card for “The Gambler” on demand and you’re off to the races.

But actually boosting your brain power from your 32 inches of legroom? Sort of unheard of. But now some noggin-joggin’ pros from Chantilly, Va., called The Great Courses have joined up with Virgin America to offer passengers various (and free!) A/V lectures through the airline’s already crowded Red in-flight entertainment console.

It’s Great Courses’ first time sharing its goods in air.

With topics ranging from Ancient Egypt to the art of high-stakes decision making, the infotainment series just launched this past Super Bowl Sunday (Pete Carroll sure as hell could’ve brushed up on the latter course, but I digress).

These lectures come from The Great Courses’ massive 530-title library that they’ve amassed over the last quarter-century (thing-or-two-knower Bill Gates is a fan) in the areas of history, music, science, literature, language, health, nutrition, personal development and whatever else you can nerd out on. Modal Trigger

In other words, if you can’t wait for Obama’s free community college plan to kick in, here’s a great way to help get your seatback learnin’ on (and the only way in-flight, as far as we know).

If nothing else, maybe they’ll give you the confidence to tackle those in-flight magazine crosswords with a pen, for a change!

Courses currently on tap:


About The Great Courses
The Great Courses is the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium- quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Delivered in engaging, expertly produced video and audio (digital streaming, downloads, DVDs and CDs), these carefully crafted courses provide access to a world of knowledge from the most accomplished professors and experts. The content-rich, proprietary library spans nearly 500 titles with close to 7,000 hours and 13,000 lectures designed to expand horizons, deepen understanding and foster epiphanies in the arts, science, literature, self-improvement, history, music, philosophy, theology, economics, mathematics, business, professional advancement, personal growth and high school curriculum. Creating unique learning experiences since 1990, The Great Courses is the premier brand of The Teaching Company based in Chantilly, Va. More information can be found at www.thegreatcourses.com.

Media contact:
Roxanna Eke
310.824.9000
reke@olmsteadwilliams.com

January 26, 2015

Flying Gets Smarter: The Great Courses Boards Virgin America Flights

CHANTILLY, Va., January 26, 2015 – The Great Courses, now celebrating its 25th year as the leading global media brand for lifelong learning and personal enrichment, is taking to the skies. Virgin America will offer a series of enlightening lectures with stellar professors on demand through the Red in-flight entertainment system.

“Travelers choose to fly Virgin America for a unique travel experience, and we’re excited to help them pass the time in a rewarding and informative way,” said Ed Leon, chief brand officer of The Great Courses. “We hope to connect passengers with a wide sampling of free lectures that will transport them to a world of knowledge that includes Ancient Egypt, espionage, nutrition, cooking from the Culinary Institute of America, the secret life of words, the Inexplicable Universe with Neil deGrasse Tyson and much more.”

The initiative with Virgin America starts February 1 and will include both audio and video lectures from the company’s library of more than 530 titles spanning history, music, science, literature, language, health, nutrition, personal development and more. The lectures will be available along with other on-demand entertainment content.

The Great Courses has sold more than 15 million DVDs, CDs, digital downloads and digital streams of its courses and counts Bill Gates among its longtime fans.

Lectures available on Virgin America flights:

About The Great Courses
The Great Courses is the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium- quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Delivered in engaging, expertly produced video and audio (digital streaming, downloads, DVDs and CDs), these carefully crafted courses provide access to a world of knowledge from the most accomplished professors and experts. The content-rich, proprietary library spans nearly 500 titles with close to 7,000 hours and 13,000 lectures designed to expand horizons, deepen understanding and foster epiphanies in the arts, science, literature, self-improvement, history, music, philosophy, theology, economics, mathematics, business, professional advancement, personal growth and high school curriculum. Creating unique learning experiences since 1990, The Great Courses is the premier brand of The Teaching Company based in Chantilly, Va. More information can be found at www.thegreatcourses.com.

Media contact:
Roxanna Eke
310.824.9000
reke@olmsteadwilliams.com

December 09, 2014

The Great Courses Debuts New Collaboration with The Culinary Institute of America in December New Releases

CHANTILLY, Va., December 09, 2014 -- The Great Courses, the leading global media brand for lifelong learning and personal enrichment, has released four new video courses for December: “The Everyday Gourmet: The Joy of Mediterranean Cooking” in partnership with The Culinary Institute of America, “Your Best Brain,” “Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques” and “Essentials of Tai Chi and Qigong.”

“This month’s releases come just in time to help people navigate the stressful holiday and year-end season,” said Ed Leon, chief brand officer of The Great Courses. “From our newest collaboration with The Culinary Institute of America on mastering the healthful diet of the Mediterranean, to exercises for both the body and mind based on the practice of tai chi as well as the latest neuroscience research; plus expert tips for the writer in us all – there’s something for everyone to enjoy – and these courses are very thoughtful gifts.”

The Great Courses launches new courses monthly, with 48 tiles releasing in 2014 equaling almost 600 hours and 1,200 lectures by the world’s greatest professors and experts. The company sold its 15 millionth course this year and serves a worldwide community of ardent lifelong learners including longtime fan Bill Gates – who has touted his favorite great courses in The New York Times, Fast Company and on “60 Minutes.”

In addition to The Culinary Institute of America, the company has ongoing partnerships with premier content brands National Geographic and the Smithsonian. Courses are available in multiple audio and video formats, including digital streaming, downloads, DVDs and CDs.

Descriptions of New Courses:

Essentials of Tai Chi and Qigong

Professor David-Dorian Ross
TaijiFit

 

International Master Tai Chi Instructor David-Dorian Ross, who has been practicing tai chi for more than 35 years, offers a complete introduction to the practice, history, benefits and philosophy of these immensely rewarding activities. In 24 half-hour lessons, learn the fundamentals of tai chi and qigong, including the 24-movement Yang family short form, the most widely recognized and performed tai chi routine in the world. Ross’ easy-to-follow practical instruction and insight is aimed at both physical and mental health.

The Everyday Gourmet: The Joy of Mediterranean Cooking

Chef Bill Briwa
The Culinary Institute of America

 

Across 16 informative, inspirational lessons, learn how to revitalize your culinary repertoire and take full advantage of the benefits of a Mediterranean diet by creating iconic regional dishes right in your own kitchen. With more than 30 years of experience as a professional chef and culinary instructor at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA), Chef Bill Briwa offers detailed demonstrations of the techniques, ingredients and signature dishes that make Mediterranean cuisine so delectable to the palate and beneficial for your well-being.

Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques

Professor James Hynes
Novelist and Visiting Professor

Whether huddled around the campfire, composing an email to a friend, or sitting down to write a novel, storytelling is fundamental to human nature. But as any writer can tell you, the blank page can be daunting. Professor James Hynes, who has taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the University of Michigan and The University of Texas, shares the fiction writer’s techniques over 24 lectures, offering an apprenticeship on how fiction works and also how to read like a writer.

Your Best Brain

Professor John Medina, Ph.D.
University of Washington

A generation ago, we were barely able to map the regions of cerebral cortex. Thanks to rapid advances in technology, today’s neuroscience research goes far beyond trying to understand how the brain works, and into the search for proven ways to optimize brain performance. Over 24 exciting lectures, Professor John Medina, an award-winning molecular biologist, will share science-backed strategies for improving memory, boosting creativity and keeping the brain healthy.

About The Great Courses
The Great Courses is the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium- quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Delivered in engaging, expertly produced video and audio (digital streaming, downloads, DVDs and CDs), these carefully crafted courses provide access to a world of knowledge from the most accomplished professors and experts. The content-rich, proprietary library spans nearly 500 titles with close to 7,000 hours and 13,000 lectures designed to expand horizons, deepen understanding and foster epiphanies in the arts, science, literature, self-improvement, history, music, philosophy, theology, economics, mathematics, business, professional advancement, personal growth and high school curriculum. Creating unique learning experiences since 1990, The Great Courses is the premier brand of The Teaching Company based in Chantilly, Va. More information can be found at www.thegreatcourses.com.

Media contact:
Roxanna Eke
310.824.9000
reke@olmsteadwilliams.com

October 30, 2014

Five New Releases from The Great Courses Empower Learning in Photography, Travel, Gardening, Space Science, World Cultures and more

CHANTILLY, Va., October 30, 2014 -- The Great Courses, the leading global media brand for lifelong learning and personal enrichment, has released five new video courses: National Geographic “Masters of Photography,” Smithsonian “A Visual Guide to the Universe,” “Understanding Cultural and Human Geography,” “How to Grow Anything: Make Your Trees and Shrubs Thrive” and “The World’s Greatest Churches.”

“This month’s new releases represent the ultimate expression of the breadth and depth of our courses. You can learn about everything from exoplanets, to the spread of culture and languages, to how to take a stunning wildlife photo,” said Ed Leon, chief brand officer of The Great Courses. “Our customers eagerly anticipate new releases because they know that each month will bring new learning adventures that expand their horizons and enrich their lives. It’s entertainment for people whose idea of being entertained is learning.”

The Great Courses launches new courses monthly, with 48 tiles releasing in 2014 equaling almost 600 hours and 1,200 lectures by the world’s greatest professors and experts. The company sold its 15 millionth course this year and serves a worldwide community of ardent lifelong learners including longtime fan Bill Gates – who has touted his favorite great courses in The New York Times, Fast Company and on “60 Minutes.”

The company’s ongoing partnerships with premier content brands include: The Culinary Institute of America, National Geographic and the Smithsonian. Courses are available in multiple audio and video formats, including digital streaming, downloads, DVDs and CDs.

Description of New Courses:

How to Grow Anything: Make Your Trees and Shrubs Thrive

Professor Melinda Myers
The Ohio State University; M.S, University of Wisconsin, Madison

 

Over 12 engaging lectures by horticulturalist, certified arborist and nationally syndicated host Melinda Myers, everyday gardeners will discover everything needed to make trees and shrubs an integral and manageable investment. Learn techniques for shopping, planting and caring for trees and shrubs in a variety of landscapes, climates and seasons to improve curb appeal and add character to landscapes.

National Geographic: Masters of Photography

Professors William Albert Allard, Stephen Alvarez, Ira Block, Jodi Cobb, Annie Griffiths, Ed Kashi, Michael Melford, Cory Richards, Jim Richardson, Joel Sartore, Steve Winter and Michael Yamashita

 

A team of award-winning National Geographic photographers will share best practices acquired over their lifetimes capturing the exotic, historic and beautiful for the publication that’s become the gold standard for photography. Learn trusted, visually illustrated techniques over a series of 24 lessons in the truly one-of-a-kind master class on everything from getting the right light to capturing action.

Smithsonian: A Visual Guide to the Universe

Professor David M. Meyer
University of Wisconsin; Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles

Professor David Meyer, an award-winning teacher and distinguished astronomer at Northwestern University, provides a stunning new perspective on the dynamic universe by sharing scientific stories behind astronomical discoveries. Produced in partnership with the Smithsonian, the 18 lavishly illustrated lectures span our neighborhood of the solar system to the farthest reaches of space and time.

Understanding Cultural and Human Geography

Professor Paul Robbins
University of Wisconsin–Madison; Ph.D., Clark University

Over 24 eye-opening lectures, Professor Paul Robbins of the University of Wisconsin–Madison will lead an interdisciplinary voyage across time and around the world to put human activity into geographical context. Learn how the environment influences human life and discover the underlying structures and global connections that explain why the world is the way it is.

The World’s Greatest Churches

Professor William R. Cook
Wabash College; Ph.D., Cornell University

 

Join Professor William Cook of the State University of New York at Geneseo for a unique journey into faith, art and history. Take a guided tour through 24 visually breathtaking lectures, which include nearly 2,000 photographs taken by Professor Cook of the churches and cathedrals built between the 6th and 20th centuries considered the most outstanding architectural masterworks in the world.

About The Great Courses
The Great Courses is the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium- quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Delivered in engaging, expertly produced video and audio (digital streaming, downloads, DVDs and CDs), these carefully crafted courses provide access to a world of knowledge from the most accomplished professors and experts. The content-rich, proprietary library spans nearly 500 titles with close to 7,000 hours and 13,000 lectures designed to expand horizons, deepen understanding and foster epiphanies in the arts, science, literature, self-improvement, history, music, philosophy, theology, economics, mathematics, business, professional advancement, personal growth and high school curriculum. Creating unique learning experiences since 1990, The Great Courses is the premier brand of The Teaching Company based in Chantilly, Va. More information can be found at www.thegreatcourses.com.

Media contact:
Trent Freeman
310.824.9000
tfreeman@olmsteadwilliams.com

September 5, 2014

So Bill Gates Has This Idea for a History Class ...

In 2008, shortly after Bill Gates stepped down from his executive role at Microsoft, he often awoke in his 66,000-square-foot home on the eastern bank of Lake Washington and walked downstairs to his private gym in a baggy T-shirt, shorts, sneakers and black socks yanked up to the midcalf. Then, during an hour on the treadmill, Gates, a self-described nerd, would pass the time by watching DVDs from the Teaching Company’s “Great Courses” series. On some mornings, he would learn about geology or meteorology; on others, it would be oceanography or U.S. history.

As Gates was working his way through the series, he stumbled upon a set of DVDs titled “Big History” — an unusual college course taught by a jovial, gesticulating professor from Australia named David Christian. Unlike the previous DVDs, “Big History” did not confine itself to any particular topic, or even to a single academic discipline. Instead, it put forward a synthesis of history, biology, chemistry, astronomy and other disparate fields, which Christian wove together into nothing less than a unifying narrative of life on earth. Standing inside a small “Mr. Rogers"-style set, flanked by an imitation ivy-covered brick wall, Christian explained to the camera that he was influenced by the Annales School, a group of early-20th-century French historians who insisted that history be explored on multiple scales of time and space. Christian had subsequently divided the history of the world into eight separate “thresholds,” beginning with the Big Bang, 13 billion years ago (Threshold 1), moving through to the origin of Homo sapiens (Threshold 6), the appearance of agriculture (Threshold 7) and, finally, the forces that gave birth to our modern world (Threshold 8).

Christian’s aim was not to offer discrete accounts of each period so much as to integrate them all into vertiginous conceptual narratives, sweeping through billions of years in the span of a single semester. A lecture on the Big Bang, for instance, offered a complete history of cosmology, starting with the ancient God-centered view of the universe and proceeding through Ptolemy’s Earth-based model, through the heliocentric versions advanced by thinkers from Copernicus to Galileo and eventually arriving at Hubble’s idea of an expanding universe. In the worldview of “Big History,” a discussion about the formation of stars cannot help including Einstein and the hydrogen bomb; a lesson on the rise of life will find its way to Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. “I hope by the end of this course, you will also have a much better sense of the underlying unity of modern knowledge,” Christian said at the close of the first lecture. “There is a unified account.”

As Gates sweated away on his treadmill, he found himself marveling at the class’s ability to connect complex concepts. “I just loved it,” he said. “It was very clarifying for me. I thought, God, everybody should watch this thing!” At the time, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had donated hundreds of millions of dollars to educational initiatives, but many of these were high-level policy projects, like the Common Core Standards Initiative, which the foundation was instrumental in pushing through. And Gates, who had recently decided to become a full-time philanthropist, seemed to pine for a project that was a little more tangible. He was frustrated with the state of interactive coursework and classroom technology since before he dropped out of Harvard in the mid-1970s; he yearned to experiment with entirely new approaches. “I wanted to explore how you did digital things,” he told me. “That was a big issue for me in terms of where education was going — taking my previous skills and applying them to education.” Soon after getting off the treadmill, he asked an assistant to set a meeting with Christian.

Christian emailed to say that he thought it was a pretty good idea. The two men began tinkering, adapting Christian’s college course into a high-school curriculum, with modules flexible enough to teach to freshmen and seniors alike. Gates, who insisted that the course include a strong digital component, hired a team of engineers and designers to develop a website that would serve as an electronic textbook, brimming with interactive graphics and videos. Gates was particularly insistent on the idea of digital timelines, which may have been vestige of an earlier passion project, Microsoft Encarta, the electronic encyclopedia that was eventually overtaken by the growth of Wikipedia. Now he wanted to offer a multifaceted historical account of any given subject through a friendly user interface. The site, which is open to the public, would also feature a password-protected forum for teachers to trade notes and update and, in some cases, rewrite lesson plans based on their experiences in the classroom.

Gates, who had already learned about the limitations of large bureaucracies through his foundation, insisted that the course be pitched to individual schools, rather than to entire districts; that way, he reasoned, it could grow organically and improve as it did so, just like a start-up company. In 2011, the Big History Project debuted in five high schools, but in the three years since, Gates and Christian — along with a team of educational consultants, executives and teachers, mostly based in Seattle — have quietly accelerated its growth. This fall, the project will be offered free to more than 15,000 students in some 1,200 schools, from the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies in New York to Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, Mich., to Gates’s alma mater, Lakeside Upper School in Seattle. And if all goes well, the Big History Project will be introduced in hundreds of more classrooms by next year and hundreds, if not thousands, more the year after that, scaling along toward the vision Gates first experienced on that treadmill. Last month, the University of California system announced that a version of the Big History Project course could be counted in place of a more traditional World History class, paving the way for the state’s 1,300 high schools to offer it.

“We didn’t know when the last time was that somebody introduced a new course into high school,” Gates told me. “How does one go about it? What did the guy who liked biology — who did he call and say, ‘Hey, we should have biology in high school?’ It was pretty uncharted territory. But it was pretty cool.”

The American high school experience, at least as we now know it, is a relatively recent invention. Attendance did not start to become mandatory until the 1850s, and the notion of a nationwide standardized curriculum didn’t emerge until the turn of the century. But by the early 1900s, most children were taking the same list of classes that remains recognizable to this day: English, math, science and some form of history. For much of the 20th century, this last requirement would usually take the form of Western Civilization, a survey course that focused on European countries from around the rise of Rome through modernity.

But by the early ‘70s, as the Vietnam War heightened interest in nations outside Europe, Western Civ was on the decline. In pedagogical circles, a book called “The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community,” by William Hardy McNeill, a historian at the University of Chicago, persuasively argued that Western Civ was not merely biased against other cultures but also failed to account for the enormous influence that cultures had on one another over the millenniums. In 1976, McNeill told a roomful of teachers at an American Historical Association meeting, “I find the apathy truly amazing; suicidal; absurd.”

In the wake of McNeill’s rebuke, Western Civ was slowly replaced by World History, a more comparative class that stressed broad themes across cultures and disciplines. Over the past 30 years, World History has produced its own formidable academic institutions and journals; these days, three-quarters of all American students take World History. The course was just beginning its ascent as David Christian, then a young professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, was incubating his own form of cross-disciplinary scholarship. Christian, who was teaching a course on Russian history, liked to examine his subjects from a number of unconventional angles. In the 19th century, “on average, 40 percent of Russia’s revenues came from vodka sales, so what I realized is that if Russians stopped drinking vodka, you can’t pay for the army, and the superpower collapses,” he told me. “So I thought, Here’s a modern government building its power by selling a mind-altering substance. I was looking at it at the fiscal level, at the treasury level — but also in the village and also in the tavern.”

Christian began wondering if he could apply this everything-is-connected idea to a larger scale: “I began thinking, Could I teach a course not of Russia but of humanity?” He soon became infatuated with the concept. “I remember the chain of thought,” he said. “I had to do prehistory, so I have to do some archaeology. But to do it seriously, I’m going to talk about how humans evolved, so, yikes, I’m in biology now. I thought: To do it seriously, I have to talk about how mammals evolved, how primates evolved. I have to go back to multicelled organisms, I have to go back to primeval slime. And then I thought: I have to talk about how life was created, how life appeared on earth! I have to talk geology, the history of the planet. And so you can see, this is pushing me back and back and back, until I realized there’s a stopping point — which is the Big Bang.” He paused. “I thought, Boy, would that be exciting to teach a course like this!”

His interest in transcending borders perhaps derived from his own peripatetic childhood. Born in Brooklyn to an American mother and a British father, Christian spent the first seven years of his life in Nigeria and then was shipped off to an English boarding school. (To this day, his accent — a bewildering mix of Colonial English, Eton and Jackie Gleason — reflects this unusual provenance.) Sitting along a wooden table in a Midtown Manhattan hotel, Christian delighted in recounting the first year he taught his history-of-everything course, in 1989, at Macquarie. Perhaps unwisely, he had committed to teaching it to incoming freshmen, some 300 students. “We didn’t know what we were doing, but the really magical thing, and I think it’s what still drives me today, was the reaction of the students,” he said. “What this course can do, however it’s taught, is validate big questions” — How did we get here? for instance, or Where are we going? — “that are impossible to even ask within a more silo-ized education.”

The Macquarie course quickly became oversubscribed, and within a few years, Christian was receiving calls from other universities, asking for advice on how they might offer something similar. In 2005, he received an invitation to speak at a conference in Boothbay Harbor, Me., where he was spotted by a scout for the Teaching Company, who asked him to tape the class in their studios just outside Washington. The 48-lecture DVD set was released in early 2008. Gates was one of his first viewers. Christian, who is 67, now travels the world as something of an evangelist for the spread of the Big History Project. (His TED Talk, “The History of Our World in 18 Minutes,” has been viewed more than four million times online.) Since introducing the course to high-school students, he and Gates realized that they needed to make a few adjustments to help it catch on. They have monitored teacher feedback closely and decreased the course in size, from 20 units to 10. True to Christian’s original style, however, the high-school course links insights across subjects into wildly ambitious narratives. The units begin with the Big Bang and shift to lesson plans on the solar system, trade and communications, globalization and, finally, the future. A class on the emergence of life might start with photosynthesis before moving on to eukaryotes and multicellular organisms and the genius of Charles Darwin and James Watson. A lecture on the slave trade might include the history of coffee beans in Ethiopia.

“Most kids experience school as one damn course after another; there’s nothing to build connections between the courses that they take,” says Bob Bain, a professor of history and education at the University of Michigan and an adviser to the Big History Project, who has helped devise much of the curriculum. “The average kid has no way to make sense between what happens with their first-period World History class and their second-period algebra class, third-period gym class, fourth-period literature — it’s all disconnected. It’s like if I were to give you a jigsaw puzzle and throw 500 pieces on the table and say, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m not going to show you the box top as to how they fit together.’ ”

One muggy and overcast afternoon last fall, I met with Gates and Christian in a conference room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Gates, who operates a bit like an unofficial head of state, is managed down to the precise minute by an innumerable team of handlers and schedulers and assistants. The table before him was filled with strewn papers and gadgets, a handful of folders with old-fashioned Brother P-Touch labels and two Microsoft Surface tablet computers. A plainclothes security detail stood watch in the hallway.

Gates, who is 58, was wearing a rumpled blue monogrammed shirt. He is slim and speaks in a sort of nasal staccato, often adding exclamation to sentences that might not seem to require them. But his curiosity about education is innate and at times obsessive. Without prompting, he recounted getting a bad grade in an eighth-grade geography course (“They paired me up with a moron, and I realized these people thought I was stupid, and it really pissed me off!”) and the only C-plus he ever received, in organic chemistry, at Harvard (“I’m pretty sure. I’d have to double-check my transcript. I think I never ever got a B ever at Harvard. I got a C-plus, and I got A’s!”). Since starting his foundation in 2000, Gates has donated about $30 billion to organizations focusing largely on global health and development. The Gates Foundation has spent more than half a billion on educational causes, which provides some context for the comparatively modest $10 million that he has personally invested in the Big History Project. Nevertheless, Gates has insisted on tracking this venture as he would any Microsoft product or foundation project. The Big History Project produces reams of data — students and teachers are regularly surveyed, and teachers submit the results from classes, all of which allows his team to track what’s working and what isn’t as the course grows. “Our priority,” he told me from across the table, “was to get it into a form where ambitious teachers could latch onto it.”

In our conversation, Gates was forthright about the challenges the project has faced, particularly early on. Few schools had teachers who were willing or able to instruct a hybrid course; some schools wound up requiring that two teachers lead the class together. Gates, who had hoped to avoid bureaucracy, found himself mired in it. “You’ve got to get a teacher in the history department and the science department — they have to be very serious about it, and they have to get their administrative staff to agree. And then you have to get it on the course schedule so kids can sign up,” he said. “So they have to decide, kind of in the spring or earlier, and those teachers have to spend a lot of that summer getting themselves ready for the thing.” He sighed. Perhaps the largest challenge facing the Big History Project, however, is Gates himself, or at least the specter of him. To his bafflement and frustration, he has become a remarkably polarizing figure in the education world. This owes largely to the fact that Gates, through his foundation, has spent more than $200 million to advocate for the Common Core, something of a third rail in education circles. He has financed an army of policy groups, think tanks and teachers’ unions to marshal support for the new rules and performance measurements that have been adopted by 44 states. Many education experts, while generally supportive of the new goals for reading and math skills, have been critical of the seemingly unilateral way in which the policy appeared to be rolled out. The standards have engendered public anger on both the right and left, and some states, including Indiana and Oklahoma, have decided to repeal the Common Core altogether.

In March, the American Federation of Teachers announced that it would no longer accept grants from the Gates Foundation for its innovation fund, which had already received more than $5 million from the organization. As Randi Weingarten, the A.F.T. president, told Politico, “I got convinced by the level of distrust I was seeing — not simply on Twitter, but in listening to members and local leaders — that it was important to find a way to replace Gates’s funding.” When I spoke with Weingarten last month, she elaborated on her union members’ problem with Gates. “Instead of actually working with teachers and listening to what teachers needed to make public eduction better,” she said, Gates’s team “would work around teachers, and that created tremendous distrust.” Teachers, she continued, feared that his foundation was merely going to reduce them to test scores. While Weingarten said that she tried to work with Gates to “pierce” the animosity, she ultimately chose to part ways because “our members perceived that we were doing things in our support of Common Core because of the Gates Foundation, as opposed to because it was the right thing to do.” It was a difficult decision, Weingarten said. “Bill Gates has more money than God. People just don’t do what we did.”

Beginning with the Carnegies and the Rockefellers, billionaires have long seen the nation’s education as a willing cause for their philanthropy — and, with it, their own ideas about how students should learn. The latest crop of billionaires, however, has tended to take the line that fixing our broken educational system is the key to unlocking our stagnant economy. Whether it’s hedge-fund managers like Paul Tudor Jones (who has given tens of millions to support charter schools) or industrialists like Eli Broad (who has backed “blended learning” programs that feature enhanced technology), these philanthropists have generally espoused the idea that education should operate more like a business. (The Walton Foundation, backed by the family that founded Walmart, has taken this idea to new heights: It has spent more than $1 billion supporting various charter schools and voucher programs that seek to establish alternatives to the current public-school system.) Often these patrons want to restructure the system to make it more efficient, utilizing the latest technology and management philosophies to turn out a new generation of employable students.

For many teachers, Weingarten explained, this outside influence has become off-putting, if not downright scary. “We have a really polarized environment in terms of education, which we didn’t have 10 years ago,” she said. “Public education was a bipartisan or multipartisan enterprise — it didn’t matter if you were a Republican or Democrat or elite or not elite. People viewed public education as an anchor of democracy and a propeller of the economy in the country.” Now, she said, “there are people that have been far away from classrooms who have an outsize influence on what happens inside classrooms. Beforehand, the philanthropies were viewed as one of many voices in education. Now they are viewed — and the market reformers and the tech folks — as the dominant forces, and as dissonant to those who work in schools every day. She took a deep breath and softened her tone: “In some ways, I give Bill Gates huge credit. Bill Gates took a risk to get engaged. The fact that he was willing to step up and say, ‘Public education is important,’ is very different than foundations like the Walton Foundation, who basically try to undermine public education at every opportunity.” Continue reading the main story Gates appears to have been chastened by his experience with the A.F.T. When he speaks about his broader educational initiatives, he is careful to mention that the change he supports comes from the teachers, too. “When Melinda and I go on the road and talk to teachers, it’s just so clear there is a real hunger for this,” he said. “If you can take a teacher and give him or her the help to become a great teacher, everyone benefits: the kids, the teacher, the community, the unions. Everyone.” Gates resists any suggestion that Big History is some sort of curio or vanity project. But some of this earlier antipathy has raised skepticism about his support of the Big History Project. “I just finished reading William Easterly’s ‘The Tyranny of Experts,’ ” says Scott L. Thomas, dean of the School of Educational Studies at Claremont Graduate University in California. “It’s about philanthropists and their effect on the poor globally. It’s this exact idea that here you have this ‘expert’ in the middle” — that is, Gates — “enabling the pursuit of this project. And frankly, in the eyes of the critics, he’s really not an expert. He just happens to be a guy that watched a DVD and thought it was a good idea and had a bunch of money to fund it.”

Diane Ravitch, an education historian at New York University who has been a vocal critic of Gates, put even it more starkly: “When I think about history, I think about different perspectives, clashing points of view. I wonder how Bill Gates would treat the robber barons. I wonder how Bill Gates would deal with issues of extremes of wealth and poverty.” (The Big History Project doesn’t mention robber barons, but it does briefly address unequal distribution of resources.) Ravitch continued: “It begins to be a question of: Is this Bill Gates’s history? And should it be labeled ‘Bill Gates’s History’? Because Bill Gates’s history would be very different from somebody else’s who wasn’t worth $50-60 billion.” (Gates’s estimated net worth is approximately $80 billion.) On some level, Gates’s experience in pushing through the Common Core seems to be a large part of what so excites him about the Big History Project: This small initiative, largely unburdened by bureaucracy, relies on technology and teachers who are willingly submitting to all matter of data analytics. He is pleased, he said, that the course has more than doubled in each of its first three years, and he expects that growth to follow in the future. One day, perhaps, Big History might even become a successor to Western Civ and World History. “The current thought is that in another three years, the quality of the material, the tools that let people add in new chapters and things, the broad awareness will be such that the community takes it over, and it achieves whatever natural level it’s going to get to,” he said. But he also noted that Big History — which is already being offered in South Korea, the Netherlands and, of course, Australia — had significant global potential. “It would be nice to find both educators and philanthropists[in foreign countries] that want to carry the torch — which actually, in some countries, I can think of people who would do it.” Continue reading the main story One morning, I entered a second-floor classroom at the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies, a public school in Carroll Gardens not far from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Brooklyn Collaborative Studies adopted the Big History Project as a pilot two years ago after Scott Henstrand, a longtime science teacher, watched Christian’s TED Talk. He pitched the idea to the school’s principal, Alyce Barr, and won her over. As class came to order and 30 or so teenagers scurried to drop their bags and take their seats, Henstrand introduced the day’s topic: “extinction events,” or why and how various life-forms have died out. He asked his students to contemplate their own extinction event — a somewhat heady question for the teenage mind. As they pondered their eventual nonbeing, Henstrand put on a short video lecture by Christian and took a seat among the students, whom he had clustered in groups of four. Afterward, they were handed iPads with which to generate facts to support their various arguments about human extinction, based on how other species had expired. “I felt that it was great to be able to have your own opinions and then share it with everyone and take in other people’s opinions and use everything that you compile to create new theories and new ideas, and in a way create your own sense of your own belief system,” said Benjamin Campbell, a senior. One of his classmates, a junior, overheard him and chimed in: “At first I hated it, because I was like, ‘I hate science.’ But it actually just opened my perspective that I never knew about. I wasn’t looking forward to it at all, and then I grew to love the class.”

Not all educators are so enthusiastic. Sam Wineburg, a professor of education and history at Stanford, told me that although he sees Big History as “an important intellectual movement,” he did not consider the class to be a suitable replacement for an actual history course. “At certain points, it becomes less history and more of a kind of evolutionary biology or quantum physics. It loses the compelling aspect that is at the heart of the word ‘history.’ ” Wineburg’s deepest concern about the approach was its failure to impart a methodology to students. “What is most pressing for American high-school students right now, in the history-social-studies curriculum, is: How do we read a text? How do we connect our ability to sharpen our intellectual capabilities when we’re evaluating sources and trying to understand human motivation?” he asked. “When we think about history, what are the primary sources of Big History? The original scientific reports of the Big Bang?” Wineburg, who also has developed an electronic history curriculum, scoffed. Barr, the principal in Brooklyn, however, came to feel that Gates’s course was better than the existing alternative. “If you were to interview many, many progressive social-studies teachers, they would tell you that World History is a completely flawed course. It’s spotty. It’s like fact soup. Kids don’t come out of it really having a sense of global history,” she told me. “So I said, ‘Why are we doing this?’ ” Last year, Barr allowed the Big History Project to replace World History, which is known as Global Studies in New York, as a required course. At the end of class, after Henstrand announced the homework assignment, he chatted for a few minutes about the future of the course. He was cautiously optimistic that it would catch on, but he also seemed to recognize how hard it is to innovate in the educational system. “I think many are driven by it, but there are also some that are like: ‘Oh, God, how do we fit this into the requirements of the day? How do we fit this and that?’ ” he said. “This course is a fundamental shift in how you deliver something. But there’s so many factors in American education that work against it.”

In many ways, education is a lousy business. Teachers are not normal economic actors; almost all of them work for less money than they might fetch in some other industry, given their skills and advanced degrees. Students are even weirder economic animals: Most of them would rather do something else with their time than sit in a room and learn algebra, even though the investment is well documented to pay off. By the same token, attempts to paint Bill Gates as a self-interested actor in his education projects don’t make much sense. Joel Klein, the former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, who charged Microsoft with being a monopoly while a lawyer at the Justice Department, laughed off the idea that Gates had an ulterior fiscal motive. “The notion that he has an agenda other than trying to improve education is just embarrassing,” said Klein, describing how Gates continued to contribute — and even increased his contributions — to New York City public schools during Klein’s tenure. “I can’t think there is a malevolent bone in his body.”

As I walked to the subway, I thought back to my conversations with Gates. Big History may one day become an heir to Western Civ or World History, but that didn’t seem to be Gates’s goal; it was more personal. Really, Big History just seems like a class that he wished he could have taken in high school. But he wasn’t a billionaire then. Now, a flash of inspiration on the treadmill might just lead to something very big.

Andrew Ross Sorkin is a financial columnist for The Times and a co-anchor of CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

About The Great Courses
The Great Courses is the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium- quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Delivered in engaging, expertly produced video and audio (digital streaming, downloads, DVDs and CDs), these carefully crafted courses provide access to a world of knowledge from the most accomplished professors and experts. The content-rich, proprietary library spans nearly 500 titles with close to 7,000 hours and 13,000 lectures designed to expand horizons, deepen understanding and foster epiphanies in the arts, science, literature, self-improvement, history, music, philosophy, theology, economics, mathematics, business, professional advancement, personal growth and high school curriculum. Creating unique learning experiences since 1990, The Great Courses is the premier brand of The Teaching Company based in Chantilly, Va. More information can be found at www.thegreatcourses.com.

Media contact:
Trent Freeman
310.824.9000
tfreeman@olmsteadwilliams.com

August 27, 2014

The Great Courses and the Smithsonian release ‘Experiencing America,’ first course from new partnership

CHANTILLY, Va., August 27, 2014 -- The Great Courses, the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium-quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment, today released the 24 episode video series “Experiencing America,” the first course from a new partnership with the Smithsonian Institution.

Richard Kurin, Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture for the Smithsonian, delivers the fascinating 12-hour narrative using iconic Smithsonian artifacts selected for their meaning and impact to America’s rich history. The objects range from the earliest years of the country to the digital age, including the original flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen “The “Star-Spangled Banner” – currently celebrating its 200th anniversary – George Washington’s self-designed uniform, Dorothy’s ruby slippers and Julia Child’s kitchen.

“People are fascinated with the stories behind these objects, and Dr. Kurin paints an engrossing history of America using the Smithsonian’s one-of-a-kind museum collection,” said Ed Leon, chief brand officer at The Great Courses, which has been touted by Bill Gates and David Gregory. “We’re pleased to help extend the Institution’s reach beyond its 30 million visits each year by examining the important historical context and cultural meaning of the nearly 100 objects featured.”

One of the most moving moments in “Experiencing America” is when Dr. Kurin features relics recovered from the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The objects include a crash-scarred logbook owned by a flight attendant on one of the airliners; the crumpled door of a New York City fire engine; and a fireman’s crowbar.

“When you’re in intimate proximity to one of these objects, as I am now, you have a link to that sweeping history. History is not distant. It’s not a stranger,” said Dr. Kurin, who also is the author of numerous scholarly articles and several books. He has worked at the Smithsonian for almost four decades, beginning in 1976 – the U.S. Bicentennial.

On the heels of selling its 15 millionth course, The Great Courses signed an unprecedented 10-year agreement with the Smithsonian to create engaging educational content from its collections housed in 19 museums and nine research centers in Washington, D.C.

About The Great Courses
The Great Courses is the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium- quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Delivered in engaging, expertly produced video and audio (digital streaming, downloads, DVDs and CDs), these carefully crafted courses provide access to a world of knowledge from the most accomplished professors and experts. The content-rich, proprietary library spans nearly 500 titles with close to 7,000 hours and 13,000 lectures designed to expand horizons, deepen understanding and foster epiphanies in the arts, science, literature, self-improvement, history, music, philosophy, theology, economics, mathematics, business, professional advancement, personal growth and high school curriculum. Creating unique learning experiences since 1990, The Great Courses is the premier brand of The Teaching Company based in Chantilly, Va. More information can be found at www.thegreatcourses.com.

Media contact:
Trent Freeman
310.824.9000
tfreeman@olmsteadwilliams.com

August 20, 2014

25 Places to Take Fun Classes in Washington

Whatever your passion, you can find a class in Washington. While the September 2014 “Learn Something New” cover article highlights some of the most interesting courses we found, there were simply too many good classes in the area to list. We didn’t focus there on academic or professional-development programs at local universities and colleges such as Georgetown and George Mason. Instead, we looked at workshops and courses, often short in duration, that help you explore a hobby or personal interest.

Looking for more classes? Check out the following centers of learning, not all of which were mentioned in the September issue. Each offers a wide range of classes.

Arlington Public Schools Adult Education Program | The county’s offerings include how to sell on eBay, staging a home, the art of small talk, repairing a car, using sign language, and researching your family genealogy.

The Art League | Along with an extensive slate of art classes—including painting, printmaking, sculpture, and fiber arts—the Art League offers short “jump-start” classes for beginners to try media such as pottery and felting.

CulinAerie | From Couples Cooking and Date Nights to Kaimana Chee’s series, Classics With an Asian Twist (Italian Classics, Southern Classics, and more), instructors aim to make cooking fun.

DC Department of Parks and Recreation | Rec centers throughout the District offer adult programs in jujitsu, Zumba, tennis, and lots more.

Digital Commons | This program through the DC Public Library offers such new-media courses as digital audio editing, blogging, 3-D printing, and mastering Adobe and Photoshop.

Fairfax County Parks | From martial arts to fishing to fine arts. Check out the gardening classes, in particular, at Green Spring Gardens.

Fairfax County Public Schools | Through the Adult & Community Education curriculum, adults can learn elementary home maintenance, cake decorating, how to use Twitter, and more.

Glen Echo Park | Ceramics, dance, music, photography, puppetry, and more.

The Great Courses | Prefer to take a class in your pajamas? This Chantilly company sells videos of lectures by engaging instructors from around the world, including George Mason University’s Robert Hazen (Joy of Science) and Catholic University’s Jennifer Paxton (Story of Medieval England).

G Street Fabrics & Home Decorating Center | This Rockville institution can fulfill all your DIY fantasies, whether that means instruction in embroidery, knitting, quilting, or fabric dyeing.

Herndon Parks and Recreationm Department | Swimming, belly dancing, watercolor painting, and more.

L’Academie de Cuisine | This local institution is a respected training ground for recreational cooks (in Bethesda) and professional chefs (in Gaithersburg). In Bethesda, we recommend the Basic Knife Skills classes as well as any of the fun demonstration classes offered by the husband-and-wife team of Sandy and Brian Patterson.

Levine Music | Along with lessons for children and teens, Levine offers adults voice classes, jazz jam sessions, beginner guitar, and more—including Rock Band for Adults, an eight-week course in which wannabe rockers are matched with fellow musicians and coached.

Live & Learn Bethesda | These mostly daytime courses—with such titles as Smartphones: Learning the Basics, Downsizing the Home, and How to Write Your Life’s Story—are often geared for those over age 50. But the classes are well priced (the nonprofit offers some for just $15 or $20) and open to everyone, even those who live outside Bethesda.

Loudoun County Adult Education | Beginning Arabic, crochet, astronomy, and more.

Montgomery County Recreation and Parks Programs | Scuba diving, Chinese watercolors, ballroom dancing, badminton—the list goes on.

Northern Virginia Community College | Besides academic and professional-development programs in fields such as accounting and graphic design, NOVA offers credit classes in areas like art appreciation, languages, the history of film, and visual arts such as painting and ceramics.

Prince George’s Community College | Noncredit courses include Boating Basics and Maintenance, Make-up Artistry, Nutrition & Weight Management, and Videography.

Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation | An array of intriguing classes, from underwater pole dancing to hula hoop.

Prince William County Department of Parks & Recreation | Stand-Up Paddleboarding, Women’s Self-Defense, Healing With Meditation, and more.

Reston Community Center | Computer skills, woodworking, bridge, chess, and more.

The Smithsonian Associates | Lectures, seminars, and courses in just about every aspect of art, history, and culture. Fall courses include Star Trek’s Never-Ending Voyage: How TV Future Became Real-Life Present; Moonshine Goes Modern; and Confucius and Friends: The Golden Age of Chinese Philosophy.

U.S. Botanic Garden | The garden in Southwest DC, near the Capitol, offers a surprising array of learning opportunities, from container gardening and plant-centric photography to urban farming.

Washington Studio School | This 29-year-old nonprofit offers classes in painting, drawing, sculpture, and other visual arts.

Workhouse Arts Center | In this Lorton facility, which once housed DC’s prison, are now 18 classrooms and an array of courses—from cooking and weaving to photography and glass-blowing.

The Writer’s Center | Founded nearly 40 years ago, this is one of the area’s most respected places for workshops taught by published authors, poets, and journalists. Subjects range from memoir to travel writing to blogging, and more. Instructors include songwriter Cathy Fink, novelist T. Greenwood, poet Nan Fry, and many others.

For more classes in Washington, pick up our September issue on newsstands starting August 21, 2014.

About The Great Courses
The Great Courses is the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium- quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Delivered in engaging, expertly produced video and audio (digital streaming, downloads, DVDs and CDs), these carefully crafted courses provide access to a world of knowledge from the most accomplished professors and experts. The content-rich, proprietary library spans nearly 500 titles with close to 7,000 hours and 13,000 lectures designed to expand horizons, deepen understanding and foster epiphanies in the arts, science, literature, self-improvement, history, music, philosophy, theology, economics, mathematics, business, professional advancement, personal growth and high school curriculum. Creating unique learning experiences since 1990, The Great Courses is the premier brand of The Teaching Company based in Chantilly, Va. More information can be found at www.thegreatcourses.com.

Media contact:
Trent Freeman
310.824.9000
tfreeman@olmsteadwilliams.com

July 4, 2014

For This Class, Professors Pass Screen Tests

CHANTILLY, Va. -- (The New York Times)--Attention, college professors: If you aspire to film a lecture series for the Great Courses, the extended-learning outfit here, be prepared to check your idiosyncrasies at the door.

“I had a professor who liked to rest his finger on his face,” Alisha Reay, a producer at the company, recalled, demonstrating the tic. “And he liked to use his middle finger.”

In two television-quality studios here, the company puts academics and other experts in front of cameras to record courses on a wide range of subjects — game theory, photography, ancient civilizations, differential equations, cooking with spices. The courses are aimed at people who want to further their education just for the sake of the knowledge (no tests or college credit here), but the filming process is an education, too, for the expert being filmed.;

“If I’m going too fast for my students, I can see it in their eyes,” Ron Davis Jr., a chemistry professor at Georgetown University, said during a break from his first taping session for Foundations of Organic Chemistry recently. “But these cameras don’t react.”

The Company was founded in 1990, at first marketing audiotapes, and in June released its 500th course (Understanding Modern Electronics). It has been busy of late, entering into partnerships with National Geographic to expand on a popular photography course, the Culinary Institute of America to develop a cooking series, and the Smithsonian Institution. It recently sold its 15 millionth course.

Ed Leon, the senior vice president for product development, said customers for the courses, which range from less than $40 to several hundred dollars and come in video or audio formats, might be broadening their knowledge of a particular country in preparation for a trip, enhancing a job skill or simply expanding their minds.

“We have binge watchers like Netflix does,” he said, “and it’s a real badge of honor among some of our regulars to be the first to finish a new course.”

The extended-learning world grows more competitive all the time, with online colleges and iTunes entering the mix. The company tries to stay competitive with a production process that is more sophisticated than simply taping professors delivering their classroom lectures. Instead, the Great Courses staff comes up with ideas for courses, tests them out through surveys, then looks for a professor who can develop that course. A screen test might be involved, and, yes, sometimes a professor flunks.

“That’s always a difficult conversation,” Mr. Leon said.

The professors who do make the grade often need a little help to become camera-friendly.

“There have been times when we had to write ‘Breathe’ or ‘Pause’ under the cameras,” Marcy McDonald, senior director of content, said. One professor had the crew members tape pictures of people under the cameras, so he felt as if he were talking to someone.

And plenty of professors need to be told to stop swaying. “That’s the most common thing,” Ms. Reay said, “and the camera magnifies it.”

In addition to professors who have to be purged of classroom habits that don’t work on screen, an increasing challenge for the Great Courses staff is professors who don’t know how to lecture at all. The “flipped classroom” model that is taking hold in academia — in-class time is devoted to hands-on activity rather than one-way instruction — means that some professors have little experience with organizing and delivering a traditional 30-minute talk.

“Now, fewer and fewer people lecture,” Ms. McDonald said. “That’s making it harder for us.”

A lot of the performance kinks are worked out in practice sessions, but the tapings are still a learning process at first. The filming is done with three cameras, so professors have to know which one to talk to, and when. Graphics, often elaborate, will be added in postproduction, so the professors also have to become accustomed to gesturing at something that isn’t there. Many work from a teleprompter, which also takes some getting used to. And there’s the clock.

“Rule No. 1 is, ‘Pause, pause, pause,’ and I’m looking at the clock and saying, ‘I can’t pause,’ ” Dr. Davis said after his first try, which he brought in at 35 minutes 34 seconds, a little long. Professors usually end up reshooting that first lecture after they have become more comfortable with the process, an adjustment Dr. Davis will certainly make: His course will ultimately consist of 36 half-hour lessons.

That same day, Paul Robbins, director of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, showed the benefit of experience, zipping through the 21st installment of his 24-lecture course on cultural and human geography in 29:48.

Developing a course of that length is a significant commitment, Dr. Robbins noted, and for the Great Courses audience, it requires shedding academic jargon.

“It means writing a textbook, and writing a really good textbook in plain language,” he said. “I’m thinking with a playwright’s hat rather than as a talking head.”

Not that the process lacks academic rigor. As the professors tape, staff members in a control room listen, and not in that zoned-out way you absorbed lectures when you were in school. They have to catch mispronunciations, garble, dropped words and more, so that the flubs can be fixed in postproduction. If the speaker leaves out a “not,” a law of physics can be radically altered.

For the lecturers, a Great Courses assignment pays off in royalties, which can stretch for years, since the courses stay in the catalog for some time. But there are also less tangible benefits.

“It had a transformative effect on me as a teacher,” said Jennifer Paxton, who teaches at the Catholic University of America and has recorded two history courses for the company and is working on a third. “One of the things they told me is that I should not hold back from really demonstrating the enthusiasm that I felt for the material. I think that, in a sense, I had drunk the academic Kool-Aid: You present something in a serious, sober manner.”

For instance, her Great Courses coaches encouraged her to demonstrate graphically what happened in a medieval battle.

“It was really like being unchained,” she said. “That experience was very profound. I came out and demonstrated the act of chopping the head off a horse. I had never done anything like that in lectures before.”

Robert Greenberg, by far the most prolific Great Courses instructor, with 618 lectures in the can, said that the course he was working on now would take him a year to develop, but that the effort pays off in front of cameras.

“The beauty of all that prep is, I walk into the studio, and that’s the fun part,” he said. “What is for some people the worst part, and that is the recording, is for me a great pleasure.”

About The Great Courses
The Great Courses is the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium- quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Delivered in engaging, expertly produced video and audio (digital streaming, downloads, DVDs and CDs), these carefully crafted courses provide access to a world of knowledge from the most accomplished professors and experts. The content-rich, proprietary library spans nearly 500 titles with close to 7,000 hours and 13,000 lectures designed to expand horizons, deepen understanding and foster epiphanies in the arts, science, literature, self-improvement, history, music, philosophy, theology, economics, mathematics, business, professional advancement, personal growth and high school curriculum. Creating unique learning experiences since 1990, The Great Courses is the premier brand of The Teaching Company based in Chantilly, Va. More information can be found at www.thegreatcourses.com.

Media contact:
Trent Freeman
310.824.9000
tfreeman@olmsteadwilliams.com

May 5, 2014

The Smithsonian and The Great Courses Partner for New Series of Lectures Spanning History, Science, Travel and the Arts

The Smithsonian and The Great Courses, a leading developer and marketer of premium-quality media for lifelong learning, announced a 10-year licensing agreement to produce new courses devoted to history, science, culture, travel, music and the arts.

“The Great Courses has a proven track record of creating engaging, immersive learning experiences,” said Carol LeBlanc, senior vice president for consumer and education products at Smithsonian Enterprises. “We are excited to help develop accessible and high-quality courses, based on the Smithsonian museums and collections, for a broad array of lifelong learners over the next decade.”

“We strive to bring our customers unique and compelling lectures from the world’s leading minds and scholars,” said Paul Suijk, president of The Great Courses. “Partnering with an institution like the Smithsonian, renowned for inspiring generations through learning and discovery, is a natural fit. We look forward to virtually exploring the Smithsonian’s treasured hallways under the expert guidance of its directors and curators as we create a must-have library for history, science and art enthusiasts.”

The first of the 12 courses scheduled for release beginning this fall include:

Experiencing America: A Smithsonian Tour through American History 

Based on Richard Kurin’s popular book, The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects, this course will reveal the stories behind iconic American artifacts, including President Abraham Lincoln’s hat, Dorothy’s ruby slippers, George Washington’s sword, Harriet Tubman’s hymnal and even the Space Shuttle Discovery. Eye-opening and thought-provoking lectures will share surprising takes on both familiar objects and little-known artifacts of profound importance to American history. Instructor: Richard Kurin, Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, Smithsonian

The Industrial Revolution

This fascinating and comprehensive course examines how a series of brilliant inventors and new scientific discoveries, as well as unprecedented social and industrial changes, permanently altered the fate of mankind. Taught by award-winning professor of American history Patrick N. Allitt and incorporating the Smithsonian’s unrivalled collection of industrial era artifacts, participants are sure to enjoy this riveting saga that explores the unfolding of the Industrial Revolution and its tremendous impact on world history. Instructor: Patrick N. Allitt, Professor of American History, Emory University

A Visual Guide to the Universe

Participants will explore the universe like never before in this visually expansive course that examines the best images ever produced by instruments such as the Hubble Telescope, the Kepler Space Telescope and many more. Taught by award-winning professor of physics and astronomy David M. Meyer and vetted by curators at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, this course delivers both a thorough understanding of all the fascinating and exotic objects the universe contains, as well as a spectacular visual tour showcasing the finest astronomical images ever created. Instructor: David M. Meyer, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Northwestern University

The Great Tours and Smithsonian Journeys: Essential Sites of Rome, Venice and Tuscany

Italy contains an embarrassment of riches and sites of historical importance for any cultural traveler. This course will introduce the essential sites, historical context and viewing tips for understanding the riches of ancient Rome, the architectural wonders of Venice, the medieval and renaissance splendor of Tuscany and much more. The course will also feature footage and information from the Smithsonian Journeys tours to the volcanic ruins of Pompeii and the medieval town of San Gimignano. Instructor: Kenneth R. Bartlett, Professor of History and Renaissance Studies, University of Toronto

About The Great Courses

The Great Courses is the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium-quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Delivered in engaging, expertly produced video and audio (digital streaming, downloads, DVDs and CDs), these carefully crafted courses provide access to a world of knowledge from the most accomplished professors and experts. The content-rich, proprietary library spans nearly 500 courses with close to 7,000 hours and 12,000 lectures designed to expand horizons, deepen understanding and foster epiphanies in the arts, science, literature, self-improvement, history, music, philosophy, theology, economics, mathematics, business, professional advancement, personal growth and high school curriculum. Creating unique learning experiences since 1990, The Great Courses is the premier brand of The Teaching Company of Chantilly, Va., which is owned by Los Angeles-based Brentwood Associates. More information can be found at www.thegreatcourses.com.

About the Smithsonian Institution

Founded in 1846, the Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex, consisting of 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities. There are 6,000 Smithsonian employees and 6,500 volunteers. Approximately 30 million people from around the world visited the Smithsonian in 2013. The total number of objects, works of art and specimens at the Smithsonian is estimated at 137 million. Website: www.si.edu.

# # # 

Media contact:
Linda St. Thomas,
Smithsonian
(202) 633-5188
stthomasl@si.edu

Trent Freeman, The Great Courses
(310) 824-9000
tfreeman@olmsteadwilliams.com
March 27, 2014

The Great Courses Presents: New Courses in World Literature, Parenting and Comparative Religion

CHANTILLY, Va.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Great Courses — the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium-quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment — has released three new courses: “Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of Literature,” “Scientific Secrets for Raising Kids Who Thrive” and “Sacred Texts of the World.”

“Our library of unmatched quality content continues to expand with these new courses in world literature, parenting and comparative religion,” said Ed Leon, chief brand officer and head of product development for The Great Courses. “It’s an extremely competitive process to be selected to teach one of our courses, and our customers benefit by learning from the best instructors in the world, combined with top-quality production values to create a premium learning experience.”

The company, which creates engaging lectures that capture a curious audience that includes Bill Gates and David Gregory, host of “Meet the Press,” has attracted hundreds of the nation’s top academics, as well as educational institutions interested in developing co-branded content. The latest partners include The Culinary Institute of America (cooking courses) and National Geographic (photography courses). All titles are available in audio and video formats, including digital streaming, downloads, DVDs and CDs.

The Great Courses launches three to five courses each month, with 48 total planned in 2014 equaling almost 600 hours and 1,200 lectures from some of the world’s greatest teachers and experts.

Descriptions of New Courses:

Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of Literature
Professor Thomas A. Shippey
Saint Louis University; Ph.D., University of Cambridge

Heroes hold a special place in our imagination. What do they have in common? What impact have they had on our culture? Broaden your understanding of the hero archetype in this fascinating 24 lecture course, which examines these characters in the context of world history and culture. Gain a new perspective on your favorite heroes and meet new and unexpected friends.

Scientific Secrets for Raising Kids Who Thrive
Professor Peter M. Vishton
The College of William & Mary; Ph.D., Cornell University

Raising children is one of the most rewarding and important, yet challenging, endeavors a person can undertake. Learn scientifically-proven techniques for raising healthy, happy and intelligent children in this informative and comprehensive 24 lecture course taught by a world-renowned child development expert and father.

Sacred Texts of the World
Professor Grant Hardy
University of North Carolina at Asheville; Ph.D., Yale University

The sacred texts of the major religions are a vast and extraordinary canon rich with wisdom for any who seek it. Delve into sacred writings such as the Upanishads and Sutras of India, the Bible, The Qur’an, the Daodejing and more in this exceptional and rewarding course that explores how these texts have shaped the identities, philosophies and actions of billions of people throughout history.

About The Great Courses
The Great Courses is the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium- quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Delivered in engaging, expertly produced video and audio (digital streaming, downloads, DVDs and CDs), these carefully crafted courses provide access to a world of knowledge from the most accomplished professors and experts. The content-rich, proprietary library spans nearly 500 titles with close to 7,000 hours and 13,000 lectures designed to expand horizons, deepen understanding and foster epiphanies in the arts, science, literature, self-improvement, history, music, philosophy, theology, economics, mathematics, business, professional advancement, personal growth and high school curriculum. Creating unique learning experiences since 1990, The Great Courses is the premier brand of The Teaching Company based in Chantilly, Va. More information can be found at www.thegreatcourses.com.

Media contact:
Trent Freeman
310.824.9000
tfreeman@olmsteadwilliams.com

 

January 20, 2014

National Geographic and The Great Courses Create Content and Distribution Partnership

CHANTILLY, Va., January 20, 2014 – The Great Courses – the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium-quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment – is partnering with the world-renowned National Geographic Society to produce a series of comprehensive photography classes, video travel expeditions and engaging lectures by notable National Geographic photographers.

“This partnership allows us to create best-in-class educational materials, starting with photography courses taught by our world-class photographers,” said Lynn Cutter, executive vice president at National Geographic Travel. “Our photographers will have the very best platform to share their one-of-a-kind expertise and further National Geographic’s mission to inspire people to care about the planet.”

“National Geographic and The Great Courses are both preeminent institutions made even stronger by this union,” said Paul Suijk, president of The Great Courses. “Our highly engaged customers expect to learn from the world’s greatest instructors, and our library of exceptional industry-leading learning products just got stronger with the addition of this compelling new content.”

The initiative launches with two titles from National Geographic Fellow and magazine photographer Joel Sartore: “Fundamentals of Photography” and “The Art of Travel Photography: Six Expert Lessons” (available at www.thegreatcourses.com). These titles will be followed by a series of lessons from National Geographic’s Masters of Photography.

“There is no greater or more aspirational example in the photography industry than National Geographic,” said Ed Leon, chief brand officer and head of product development for The Great Courses, which has been touted on “60 Minutes” by Bill Gates and more recently on Oprah.com. “These comprehensive courses feature expert tips and techniques that every level of photographer can aspire to learn.”

Under the new partnership, The Great Courses and National Geographic will offer at least a dozen additional courses over the next five years, including titles on the art of videography, photographer-led video expeditions that explore how to photograph some of the world’s most scenic locales, and on-location lectures on science, culture and exploration delivered by the remarkable explorers and experts of the National Geographic Society.

About The Great Courses
The Great Courses is the nation’s leading developer and marketer of premium- quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Delivered in engaging, expertly produced video and audio (digital streaming, downloads, DVDs and CDs), these carefully crafted courses provide access to a world of knowledge from the most accomplished professors and experts. The content-rich, proprietary library spans nearly 500 titles with close to 7,000 hours and 13,000 lectures designed to expand horizons, deepen understanding and foster epiphanies in the arts, science, literature, self-improvement, history, music, philosophy, theology, economics, mathematics, business, professional advancement, personal growth and high school curriculum. Creating unique learning experiences since 1990, The Great Courses is the premier brand of The Teaching Company based in Chantilly, Va. More information can be found at www.thegreatcourses.com. About National Geographic
Founded in 1888, the National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. With a mission to inspire people to care about the planet, the member-supported Society offers a community for members to get closer to explorers, connect with other members and help make a difference. The Society reaches more than 500 million people worldwide each month through National Geographic and other magazines, National Geographic Channel, television documentaries, films, books, DVDs, radio, maps, exhibitions, live events, school publishing programs, interactive media and merchandise. National Geographic has funded more than 10,000 scientific research, conservation and exploration projects and supports an education program promoting geographic literacy. For more information, visit www.nationalgeographic.com.

Media contact:
Trent Freeman
310.824.9000
tfreeman@olmsteadwilliams.com

 

November 05, 2013

The Great Courses Launches Comprehensive Cooking Curriculum in Partnership with The Culinary Institute of America

CHANTILLY, Va.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Great Courses, the nation's leading developer and marketer of premium-quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment, is partnering with another educational icon, The Culinary Institute of America, to provide a comprehensive cooking curriculum for food lovers and home chefs.

The first five titles under the partnership offer more than 30 hours of professional-level concepts and techniques in a series called “The Everyday Gourmet.” The partnership has been expanded to launch four additional courses through 2015.

The first five titles under the partnership offer more than 30 hours of professional-level concepts and techniques in a series called “The Everyday Gourmet.” The partnership has been expanded to launch four additional courses through 2015.

“Our customers have a tremendous appetite for learning that enriches their lives, and they depend on The Great Courses to deliver the very best educators in their respective fields – The Culinary Institute of America represents the epitome of this level of expertise,” explains Ed Leon, Chief Brand Officer and Head of Product Development for The Great Courses. “All of our content is geared toward the sophisticated lifelong learner, and we believe there is high, unfulfilled demand for an elite cooking curriculum that people can learn at home.”

The first five courses in the curriculum are now available at thegreatcourses.com:

  • “The Everyday Gourmet: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking”
  • “The Everyday Gourmet: Making Healthy Food Taste Great”
  • “The Everyday Gourmet: Baking Pastries and Desserts”
  • "The Everyday Gourmet: Making Great Meals in Less Time"
  • "The Everyday Gourmet: Essential Secrets of Spices in Cooking"

“These courses demonstrate many of the same essential step-by-step techniques that I provide students at the Culinary Institute,” said Chef Bill Briwa, chef-instructor at the CIA and the lead instructor for the series. "They’re perfect for practicing skills and building a repertoire needed to become a confident cook."

About The Great Courses

The Great Courses is the nation's leading developer and marketer of premium-quality media for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Delivered in engaging, expertly produced video and audio (digital streaming, downloads, DVDs and CDs), these carefully crafted courses provide access to a world of knowledge from the most accomplished professors and experts. The content-rich, proprietary library spans nearly 500 titles with more than 6,000 hours and 12,000 lectures designed to expand horizons, deepen understanding and foster epiphanies in the arts, science, literature, self-improvement, history, music, philosophy, theology, economics, mathematics, business, professional advancement, personal growth and high school curriculum. Creating unique learning experiences since 1990, The Great Courses is the premier brand of The Teaching Company based in Chantilly, VA. More information can be found at www.thegreatcourses.com.

Media contact:
Trent Freeman
310.824.9000
tfreeman@olmsteadwilliams.com