Here’s a tip for getting a variety of college-level courses for cheap. Dirt cheap. This may be the best tip I have ever shared. I encourage you to read the entire entry.

The Teaching Company
The Teaching Company produces college-level courses from renowned instructors and sells them via catalog.

We bring engaging professors into your home or car through courses on DVD, CD, audio, and other formats. Since 1990, great teachers from the Ivy League, Stanford, Georgetown, and other leading colleges and universities have crafted 200 courses for lifelong learners. We provide the adventure of learning, without the homework or exams.

Available Courses
Courses are available in a variety of subjects:

Courses vary in length. I’ve purchased classes that comprised eight lectures of thirty minutes each (a total of four hours). I’ve also purchased a course that was made up of 48 forty-five minute lectures (a total of 36 hours).

These courses are awesome. They’re like the best classes you took in college — interesting, engaging, lively, exciting. And you can listen to them on your terms, when you have time. (I listen during my half-hour commute to and from work.)

I’d always had a passing interest in classical music, but had never bothered to take any classes on it. After reading rave reviews from Robert Greenberg’s How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, I bought it. I was blown away. This was as good as my best college classes, but cost much less.

The Teaching Company has an unusual pricing structure. For most of the year, courses are rather expensive. For example, if you ordered The Joy of Science on CD today, it would cost you $449.95. However, every course is put on sale at least once each year. The sale price for The Joy of Science on CD last January was $99.95.

The Key to Making These a Bargain
The Teaching Company lectures are an excellent deal when you purchase them on sale. Here’s the secret to making them an even better deal.

These courses have a surprisingly high resale value on eBay. The company has a reputation for quality, and people are willing to pay high prices to obtain their products, even used. When you’ve finished listening to a course, wait for it to return to normal pricing in the company’s catalog, and then auction it on eBay. (Be sure to follow my tips for eBay success.) You can recoup the majority of your purchase price.

Real-Life Examples
My first order with The Teaching Company cost me $91.80. I received two courses on CD — Iliad of Homer and Roots of Human Behavior. When I was finished, I sold these sets on eBay. I made $59.01. My net cost was $32.89.

My second order cost me $194.90. I received two courses on CD — How to Listen to and Understand Great Music and History of the English Language. I also received two courses on tape: Biology and Human Behavior and Soul and the City: Art, LIterature and Urban Living. When I finished with these, I auctioned the CDs on eBay. I made $161.82. My net cost was $33.08. And I still have the two courses on tape.

I’ve spent $65.97 for six college-level courses. My friends, this is an absolute steal. That’s just over $10 a course. Unbelievable.

But Wait! There’s More!
Using this method does require an initial chunk of change make your first purchase (and smaller amounts for subsequent purchases). If you can’t afford the courses even at sale price, you can buy them on eBay (but, as I mentioned, they do retain a high resale value). You may also be able to borrow them from your local library (though most library networks carry a limited selection, if any). Some people have formed Teaching Company groups: they split the costs of a certain number of lectures, and then pass them amongst each other.

Occasionally The Teaching Company sends out a coupon (usually something like “free shipping” or “save $25 on an order of $150 or more”). Also watch for great deals on courses that are being retired or revised.

Three more reasons I love this company:

  1. The Teaching Company offers a 100% money-back guarantee (including shipping!). You cannot lose.
  2. After finishing How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, I e-mailed the company to ask for more information. I wanted to know the specific music recordings used in the lectures. (Most are spectacular.) They sent me a spreadsheet of recommended recordings. How cool is that?
  3. The company offers a couple of optional e-mail updates. I’ve signed up for a monthly notice of cultural events in Portland: concerts, performances, lectures, etc. It’s a neat service.

Other fans of The Teaching Company include Kevin Kelly, Philip Greenspun, and the fellows at 2Blowhards.

Lifelong learning is one of the keys to success. An active mind breeds curiosity, and that in turn leads to knowledge, to confidence, and ultimately to financial security. The Teaching Company offers one of the best bargains in education today.

While preparing this entry, I discovered that I’d saved four tracks (out of 432) from How to Listen to and Understand Great Music. I ripped these because I thought they were especially fine examples. I’ve uploaded them so that you can hear the quality of instruction.

From Lecture 37 (“19th-Century Italian Opera – Bel Canto Opera”) comes this comparison of two renditions of “Una Voce Poco Fa” from Rossini‘s The Barber of Seville. Here are tracks eight and nine from Greenberg’s lecture. Track eight features one recording of the bulk of the aria. Track nine features the full aria (including the introductory bits). Both tracks include some of Greenberg’s lecture. (“That, my friends, will bring the house down.”)

From Lecture 45 (“Early 20th Century and the Modernist Movement – An Introduction”), I saved a Greenberg digression that also stretches over track 8 and track 9. Here he talks about how the technological revolution of the late-19th and early-20th centuries affected music, and especially brought about the decline of “musical amateurism”. From there he digresses further, discussing how technology affects our perception of time and distance. “Are we hard-wired for this new conception of time and movement?” asks Greenberg. I love this stuff.

I receive no compensation from The Teaching Company. I just love their products. (Though I’d sign up and promote an affiliate program if they had one.)

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