An Autodidact’s Review of The Great Courses Plus (2021)

Will the online learning platform live up to your expectations? Find out in this in-depth review.

If you’re reading this review of The Great Courses Plus, you’re either one of two people.

You’re either interested in signing up for The Great Courses Plus, or you’re looking to gift The Great Courses Plus to someone else.

In either case, this in-depth review will break down the features and benefits of The Great Courses Plus to help you decide if it’s right for you.

If you don’t have time to go through the entire review and are looking for a quick answer, as a decade-long learner of the platform, I recommend you get The Great Courses Plus one-year membership to save the most money while doing the most learning.

For a full break down of why I recommend The Great Courses, continue reading.

What is The Great Courses Plus?

the great courses plus logo

The Great Courses Plus (formerly The Teaching Company) has produced over 800 in-depth online courses that cover a wide range of topics that fall within 13 categories:

  • economics and finance
  • health, fitness, and nutrition
  • hobby and leisure
  • mathematics
  • philosophy and religion
  • programs for young learners
  • travel
  • food and wine
  • history
  • literature and language (my favorite)
  • music and fine arts
  • professional and personal growth
  • science

In fact, they’ve been producing courses since 1990—that’s three decades. And The Great Courses only produces courses that have been thoroughly researched and scrutinized.

The Great Courses has also partnered with the following companies to create compelling courses:

This means you not only learn from the best subject-matter experts in the world, but from some of the leading institutions too.

The Pros

You get a lot of benefits when joining The Great Courses, but here are four of my favorites.

Lifetime Access

If you pay per course, you get lifetime access to those courses.

In fact, I’ve been taking courses from The Great Courses since 2010, and the very first classes I signed up for are still on my dashboard.

Unlimited Access

If you opt for The Great Courses Plus membership, you get unlimited access to their library of over 800 courses. That’s thousands of hours worth of learning at your fingertips.

Access to Guidebooks

If you course comes with a PDF guidebook, you get access to that. This way you can follow along or do the assignments at the end of each lecture.

Learn on the Go

The Great Courses has a bunch of apps that you can use from your TV, phone, or computer. You can even download the courses and learn wherever you are—even if you don’t have access to the internet.

The Cons

Every online learning platform has room to improve, and The Great Courses is no different. Here are some of the cons that come with using the platform.

Decision Fatigue

There are so many courses that you may find yourself spending more time browsing than actually learning.

Pay Per Courses Prices

Prices for individual courses can get expensive. Just browse through some of their title and you’ll notice that some of them cost over $300.

With that said, that is why it makes sense to get The Great Courses Plus, because then you’ll get access to all the courses for between $12.50 and $20 a month, depending on your membership plan.

Lots of learning, but more importantly—lots of saving.

Course Settings

This may be a minor flaw in their production and no reflection on the quality of the subject matter, but they tend to film their courses in a television studio, which makes the course feel a bit formal.

Compare this to Masterclass, for example, who films its courses where their subjects live, work, or play.

For example, Malcolm Gladwell’s writing Masterclass looks like it was filmed in his New York City apartment or perhaps his favorite eatery.

David Mamet’s Dramatic Writing Masterclass looks like it was filmed in the playwright’s writing cabin.

Who it’s For

There’s no point in writing a review of The Great Courses Plus without first stating who this review is for.

The Great Courses is for anyone who considers himself or herself a lifelong learner or for anyone who enjoys learning through video.

It’s also great for professionals who want to build their skills in their chosen field.

I’m a writer, for instance, so I’ve taken almost all the writing classes that The Great Courses has produced (I’ll get more into this later) and have been able to make myself more valuable as a writer because of that.

When I’m not writing, though, I’m helping raise two lovely little girls, so I’ve also taken one of the parenting courses.

Lastly, The Great Courses is also an excellent resource for anyone who wants to add further knowledge to the subjects they’re studying in school.

As you can see, The Great Courses is for almost anyone. But I say _almost_—because as you’ll discover in the next section, it’s not for everyone.

Who it’s Not For

It wouldn’t be fair to say that The Great Courses is for everyone. In fact, the list of people who this might not be for is infinite.

So, as a tribute to one of my favorite (and silliest) children’s book writers, Dr. Stanley F. Schmidt, here are five people who The Great Courses isn’t for:

  1. Professional alligator wrestlers
  2. Director of sandbags
  3. Extreme unicyclists
  4. Penguinologists
  5. Wizard impersonators

It’s safe to say that if you don’t fit into one of the five categories above, you’re going to love The Great Courses.

Speaking of which…

Why I Love The Great Courses

I may have come close to being #1 above, especially after that one trip to the Everglades in Florida when I was 18, but needless to say, I’ve managed to steer clear of the list.

With that said, I love The Great Courses because I love learning.

Not only that, but I love learning on platforms that deliver exceptional value for the price I’m paying. For $0.41 per day, having access to hundreds of courses is incredible value. (The Great Courses, if you’re reading, don’t raise your prices.)

Price point aside, I also love the feeling I get when diving into a new course.

As soon as I hit play on the first video and the music begins, I know for the next 30 minutes that I’m going to learn, I’m going to be challenged, I’m going to be entertained—but more importantly, I’m going to escape whatever troubles I’ve been facing that day.

I’ve tried the same with YouTube and Netflix, and sure they have their place in the world, but I always walk away from binge-watching feeling guilty that I’ve just squandered my time and got absolutely nothing in return.

When I watch The Great Courses, on the other hand, I finish every (roughly) 30-minute video feeling mentally refreshed. I just learned something that I can apply to my personal and professional life immediately.

I’ve done my best throughout this review of The Great Courses Plus to be as objective as possible, but I couldn’t help but to add a little subjectivity above.

Now, back to the facts.

Give the Gift of The Great Courses Plus

You may be looking to gift someone a membership to The Great Courses Plus, so before I jump into the traditional plans and prices in the rest of this review of The Great Courses Plus, let me quickly talk about gifting costs.

the great courses plus gift

You have three choices for gifting The Great Courses.

  • Three-month Gift Plan ($45)
  • Six-month Gift Plan ($80)
  • Twelve-month Gift Plan ($150)

No matter which plan you chose, the receiver of the gift will get the same level of access as someone who signs up for a membership.

But make sure you read the fine print on the gift plans. You can’t redeem Gift Plans in certain regions outside of the USA or if you are an existing member on some apps.

The Great Courses Plans and Prices

The Great Courses offers a few different plans and prices, which I cover in the sections that follow.

Pay Per Course

Your first option is to pay by the course.

You simply browse the list of courses in the area that interests you, and if you want to buy the course, you can do it as a one-off payment.

The course is yours to stream from the platform or download onto your computer, and it’s yours for life.

I’ve seen some courses for as low as $17.95 and others as high as $334.95 for some of the language courses. Most courses, though, fall in the $60 to $100 range.

Get The Great Courses Plus

If you want to save some serious cash, sign up for The Great Courses Plus.

the great courses plus plans and prices

You have three different plans to chose from:

  • Monthly plan ($20/month)
  • Quarterly plan ($15/month)
  • Annual plan ($12.50/month)

If you chose the monthly plan, you’ll be billed $20 every month, which means you’ll wind up paying $240 a year for your membership.

If you chose the quarterly plan, you’ll pay $15 a month, which comes out to $180 a year.

However, if you pay for a year up front, you only pay $12.50 per month, which comes out to $150 a year, or $90 in savings when compared to the monthly option.

All plans get you access to The Great Courses’ library of over 800 courses.

If you’re not ready to dive into some deep learning, there’s still one way for you to get your feet wet.

The Great Courses Plus 14-Day Free Trial

If you’re not sure you want to commit to a membership, you can try The Great Courses Plus free trial for fourteen days.

You do have to add your credit card info to get the free trial, but if you cancel before your trial is up, you won’t be billed and you’re trial will end on the fourteenth day.

Now that you’ve picked the membership option that’s best for you, let’s look a what you get once you join The Great Courses.

A Closer Review Of The Great Courses Plus

Because The Great Courses has a tremendous amount of content, it would be impossible for me to review every single course.

With that said, I’ll provide you with an overview of what to expect when you pay for a course or sign up for The Great Courses Plus.

What You Get

Once you enroll in any of The Great Courses or become a member of The Great Courses Plus, you’ll be taken to your Digital Library.

This is where you’ll find all your audio and video courses, guidebooks, or any free courses you enrolled in.

the great courses course list

I’ll be using my current list of courses to cover this section of the review. As you can tell by the image above, I love writing courses.

Here are some of the course I’ve taken so far:

  • Writing Creative Nonfiction
  • Analysis and Critique: How to Engage and Write about Anything
  • Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft
  • Art of Reading
  • Scientific Secrets for Raising Kids Who Thrive

When you click on one of your courses, you’ll be taken to the course overview, where you’ll find a course summary and list of “lectures.”

I use the word “lectures” lightly because these courses aren’t taught by boring orators who could lull you to sleep.

Course Structure

The structure of most of The Great Courses I’ve taken all follow a similar format.

the great courses video list

That is, they begin with an introductory lecture about the course, the instructor, and what you could expect to learn by the end.

From there, the lessons build one on top of the next, like scaffolding, where you’re able to apply what you’ve previously learned to what you’re learning next.

There are no tests at the end (which you may or may not enjoy), but you do get guidebooks to follow along if you’re inclined to do so.

Some courses come with PDF activities that you have to do at the end of each module.

Course Style

The Great Courses has a formal style when compared to other online learning platforms.

This means the instructors wear suits or dresses, present the material in an academic—but entertaining—way, and teach from the podium.

Compare that to, say, Masterclass, where instructors teach in non-academic settings while in everyday clothes.

Again, it’s all window dressing and shouldn’t be used to measure the value of The Great Courses.

Instructors

I’ve found, in most cases, that the instructors for each course are thoroughly entertaining in addition to being experts in what they teach.

All of the instructors have been vetted and hand-selected and come from the top institutions and universities in the world.

This is another bonus if you ask me, and here’s why.

When you take a Masterclass, for instance, you’re learning from someone who is a creative master. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they can extract the practicalities of what they do to create beautiful art, fine prose, or well-composed pictures.

It takes someone with a background in teaching to be able to relay that information to you—in most cases.

Not to go to far off track here, but that’s also why I think it’s great to learn from multiple sources. You get to see how the creative has done it; and you get to learn how it’s done from the teacher.

Learning Experience

As with all online learning, you get out of The Great Courses what you put into it.

If you buy a course or sign up for a membership but then never log onto the site, obviously you’re not going to get the most for your money.

On the other end, binge watching just for sake of completing a course isn’t helpful either.

What I’ve found works best is to watch one-to-two lectures per day, let the material sink in, and then continue the next day.

You don’t want to take too long of a break in between lectures either, because then you’ll have to go back and refresh before moving forward.

However, if you set aside an hour a day to actively learn while watching the course, you’ll retain the information.

The Great Courses Plus Apps

Aside from their online platform, The Great Courses also has plenty of apps to choose from.

So no matter how, when, or where you want to do your learning, they’ll be a way for you to enjoy your courses.

Here is where The Great Courses is available:

  • Apple TV
  • App Store
  • Google Play
  • Roku
  • Kindle Fire
  • Chromecast
  • Amazon Fire TV

The Great Courses Alternatives

When it comes to online learning platforms, The Great Courses is one of the better choices, but it’s not your only option.

I’ll briefly cover some of the other major players below.

Masterclass

masterclass logo

Masterclass is right up there as far as quality. They don’t have as many courses as The Great Courses, but the production is top-notch.

As for pricing, Masterclass comes in at $180 for its one-year All-Access Pass.

Read my in-depth review of Masterclass to see if it’s right for you.

Skillshare

Skillshare is another online learning platform, but many people teach on Skillshare not for the sole purpose of helping others learn, but to position themselves as experts in their field.

With that said, although you may learn a thing or two from a Skillshare course, you can’t compare it to a full-blown feature you’d get on The Great Courses.

Udemy

Udemy offers a lot of free and paid courses, but anyone can teach on the platform, which means instructors aren’t vetted.

Although Udemy might be a good platform to learn how to edit video or use social media, I’d stay away from it for more in-depth subjects.

Lastly, make sure you do background research on your instructor before paying for any course on Udemy.

The Bottom Line

the great courses plus logo

I hope this review of The Great Courses Plus helped you decide if it’s right for you.

If you or someone you love is a lifelong learner and wants to continue to learn new things in an entertaining and engaging way, the The Great Courses is where it’s at.

To save the most money, I recommend getting a one-year membership to The Great Courses Plus.

Just a head’s up. I’ve added a few affiliate links to this post. If you use any of the services or buy any of the products I recommend, I may get a small commission. This helps me cover the cost of running the website and comes at no extra charge to you.