I was doing a course on linguistics by the Teaching Company and I realized how much these courses have really given me and continue to give me so I decided to make a blogpost about it.
Learning languages is just one thing. What we can do and, I believe, what we should do, is to learn everything: physics, philosophy, biology, astronomy, you name it. There is so much information and so much interesting things to learn and there is something about knowledge that makes it valuable in itself.
The problem is that traditional learning is usually boring because we have resources that make it so. We have textbooks and teachers that make things dull and do not simplify things, dive into details just from the start and make it boring. Thus, if you want to learn, you are usually discouraged right from the beginning and you have to give effort to learning instead of just getting excited while learning it at the same time. So, the problem is in resources.
I have found a resource called The Teaching Company (TTC) where they partially solve the problem and which I have been using a lot and which I want to share with you now.
What is The Teaching Company?
TTC is a company somewhere in the United States who look at students’ ratings of professors, their users’ feedback, do additional surveys and auditions and in the end, pick the best university professors to do a 101 course on the subjects that they are teaching.
There is no homework, the information is usually put in a way where anybody can understand it with no previous knowledge required and there is a booklet with summaries and extra reading recommendations should you wish to do so.
Then they record the course, put it in audio or video and sell it. The obvious catch is that they sell it but, on the positive side, you can still borrow courses from a friend or find them at a local library.
How I have been using The Teaching Company?
Personally, I love audio for learning. I really like it very much because I can be doing something else (like riding a bike or walking or making myself a toast) and still use this time to listen to things if only I have a digital player with airphones.
This is like gained time from me, coming out of thin air. Most people use this time to listen to music but I barely ever listen to music anymore. It’s not like I’d do 24/7: I’d just pick my portable player from time to time and listen to some lectures.
This is an awesome use of time. Unlike in real classes, I can listen to stuff whenever I feel like it and I can stop whenever I want so that I could pick up from the place I have stopped later. I can also rewind things if I haven’t understood something the first time.
Most of the courses are about 24, 36 or 48 lectures with about 30 minutes each so it ends up being about 12 to 24 hours of listening time and one course takes me anywhere from a week to a few months (provided I listen to a few courses about different topics simultaneously).
I also very much like the policy of the company where they open the site up for comments and for true listener feedback where any visitor can see it publically.
Some of my favorite TTC courses
I have done probably over 10 TTC audio courses and I have been doing a few video ones lately (just because I got the opportunity and there is some really good video stuff: I prefer audio, though). I have very much enjoyed most of the courses I have done. I will make a list of some of my favorites on the top of my head now.
First, audio courses:
- Story of Human Language – this is about how languages change over time and how they are interrelated, a good listen since I kinda like languages…
- Philosophy of Mind: Brains, Consciousness, and Thinking Machines – this was probably my first TTC course and it got me hooked on this thing, they do mostly philosophy but I have very much enjoyed some of the courses there
- Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity – before I took this course, I read somebody write “if you do one thing for yourself this year, take this course”, I can relate to his opinion now after having taken it because it takes you from the very beginning to the very end of the universe, fascinating
- Religions of the Axial Age: An Approach to the World’s Religions – I got this course by chance by I couldn’t wait listening to new lectures. The ones about Buddhism were especially riveting.
- Great Ideas of Classical Physics – teaches you the fundamentals of classical Physics along with how these ideas came about, starts from complete scratch and I love it as an introduction to Physics in general
- No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life – I don’t think I was ready for the course at that time (I don’t know if I still am) but it was pretty solid course and it was nice to get some perspectives on new philosophy as well.
Audio courses update after two years (2011):
These are some more fascinating really good audio courses from the Teaching Company:
- Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality, 2nd Edition – an absolute must, an introduction to neuroscience and genetics and a lot of other fields. Really well done, funny. Robert Sapolsky is an out-standing professor.
- Medical Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths – this course is really easy to listen to and it is very captivating, it’s probably the third in terms of being the easiest to listen to after McWhorter’s courses from all the courses I have taken; it’s eye-opening as well
- Ancient Greek Civilization – I was in Greece last summer and I listened to this introduction to Greece, I must say I really liked it but I had found it a bit boring at first; listening more and being in the context of events helps!
- Classical Mythology – I also did this while in Greece, also liked it after having found it a bit difficult at first
- Stress and Your Body – more by Sapolsky, it explains stress and all its mechanisms really well
- Memory and the Human Lifespan – probably my second favorite easy-to-listen-to course after those from McWhorter; I did this one in record time and I absolutely loved it, this one is truly a hidden gem
- Famous Greeks – did this in Greece too, this one consists of a lot of interesting stories that are worth knowing
- Particle Physics for Non-Physicists: A Tour of the Microcosmos – this one was one of the physics courses I did: very informative, very neat
- Einstein’s Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists, 2nd Edition – I definitely liked this one very much due to the clarity of the information
Then, some of the best TTC video courses according to me:
- Understanding Linguistics: The Science of Language – this is a course by John McWorther and he also did the Story of Human language one. The good thing is that he keeps the lectures almost informal and throws a lot of random stuff in (like talking about his cat anytime he can) which makes it funny as well as fun.
- My Favorite Universe – a short one (just 12 lectures) with lots of explanations and interesting imagery about the universe… It is also done by Neil deGrasse Tyson who has become kinda famous.
- Understanding the Brain – teaches how the brain functions in 36 lectures. This goes over all the main major areas of the brain and I found it to be generally very comprehensive.
- Understanding the Human Body: An Introduction to Anatomy and Physiology – this one goes over the whole human body and tells you how it works. I think this is what med students do, except put in a way that’s fun, of course. I have read somewhere that this course inspired somebody to go the med school.
Video courses update after two years (2011):
I haven’t done as many video courses as I would have liked. Yet, some of my favorites:
- Physics in Your Life – explains how everyday objects work, very informative!
- Biology – the Science of Life – this one is huge and I have only gone through less than one fourth of it but is very good content-wise and it teaches you a lot… definitely worth doing
Of course, my selection in both of these is limited because I only talked about what I have seen and what I could remember. There is plenty of content I haven’t explored yet released by the company.
Yet, I recommend this for lifelong learners. And for everybody else, I recommend to become lifelong learners.
P.S. I have listed the ones I liked. I did others, for example, nutrition and healthy lifestyle courses too but I just ended up finishing them because I felt the information was good not because I thought the courses were good. I have done others will varying success. In any case, this list encapsulates the ones I like and remember.
- Good Teaching: Should You Try To Make The Word Patterns You Ask Make Sense?
- Ziad Fazah – Does He Speak 58 Languages Or Not?
- Teaching: How Should it Go About?
- How I Learned French
- Why You Can Learn Many Languages in Your Life