Theories of Human Development

Course No. 197
Professor Malcolm W. Watson, Ph.D.
Brandeis University
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Course No. 197
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Course Overview

Have you ever wondered where the terms "terrible twos'' and "identity crisis" come from? Did you know that the notion that children are different from adults, and require special care, is only about 200 years old?

Did you know we can trace most of our modern ideas about children to just two renowned thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries? These are just a few of the fascinating aspects of the field of "human development": the science that studies how we learn and develop psychologically, from birth to the end of life. To a large extent, the study of human development is the study of child development, because the most significant changes take place from infancy through adolescence. This very young science not only enables us to understand children and help them develop optimally, but also gives us profound insights into who we are as adults.

In Theories of Human Development, Professor Malcolm W. Watson introduces you to the six theories that have had perhaps the greatest influence on this field. You will meet the people who formulated each theory, become familiar with their philosophical backgrounds and the historical contexts in which they worked, and study the specific processes of human development that each theory describes.

Along the way, you will evaluate the strength and weaknesses of each theory. How do these six great theories complement or contradict one another? What do they tell us, as a whole, about human development?

Six Theories of How We Become Who We Are

The six major theories have had a pervasive impact on the way we, both scientists and the general public, see ourselves. They are:

Sigmund Freud's Psychodynamic Theory. The lectures discuss this theory, the earliest of the six, including such concepts as the Oedipus Complex and Freud's five stages of psycho-sexual development. Although now widely disputed, Freudian thinking is deeply imbedded in our culture and constantly influences our view of human nature.

Erik Erikson's Psycho-Social Theory. This is the theory that gave rise to the term "identity crisis." Erikson was the first to propose that the "stages" of human development spanned our entire lives, not just childhood. His ideas heavily influenced the study of personality development, especially in adolescence and adulthood.

John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth's Integrated Attachment Theory.This was the first theory to focus primarily on the formation of parent-child relationships. It explains the connection between relationships that occur early in our lives and those that happen later, including romantic ones. Attachment theory has generated thousands of scientific studies, and has led to changes in many childcare policies, such as those allowing parents to stay with their children in hospitals.

Albert Bandura's Social Learning Theory. This theory modified traditional learning theory developed by such behaviorists as B. F. Skinner, which was based on stimulus-response relationships. It considered learning to be no different among infants, children, adults, or even animals. Bandura's approach is influential in such areas as the effect of media violence on children, and the treatment of problem behaviors and disorders.

Jean Piaget's Cognitive-Developmental Theory. Piaget's influence created a revolution in human development theory. He proposed the existence of four major stages, or "periods," during which children and adolescents master the ability to use symbols and to reason in abstract ways. This has been the most influential of the six major theories. In the 1970s and 1980s, it completely dominated the study of child development.

Lev Vygotsky's Cognitive-Mediation Theory. Alone among the major theorists, Vygotsky believed that learning came first, and caused development. He theorized that learning is a social process in which teachers, adults, and other children form supportive "scaffolding" on which each child can gradually master new skills. Vygotsky's views have had a large impact on educators.

Early Theorists: Locke, Rousseau, and even Darwin

To give you the best understanding of these theories, this course also explores the general history of the study of child development. It touches on the work of other important researchers, such as John Watson of Johns Hopkins University, who developed behaviorism, and Arnold Gesell of Yale, from whose work sprang such well-worn phrases as "just going through a stage" and "the terrible twos."

Professor Watson also discusses the era of observational research on children, which marked the beginnings of child study as a true science. This period was pioneered by scientists who began publishing detailed accounts of the development of their own children. These early "baby biographers" included Alfred Binet, who first developed intelligence testing in France, and even Charles Darwin.

You may be struck not only by how much we have learned about child development, but also by how much our attitudes toward children have changed. Until the beginning of the 19th century, there was no interest in child study and, in fact, no concern for children. Such factors as poverty and high infant mortality created an atmosphere in which children were barely tolerated, or used for labor.

In Paris in 1750, 33 percent of all newborns were left in foundling homes or on doorsteps; most died. In England, boys and girls as young as four were often sent to work in mines.

You will see how attitudes toward children gradually improved, due mostly to the efforts of physicians and religious leaders. And you will appreciate the tremendous contribution that two renowned philosophers, John Locke (1632–1704) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), have made to the field of child development. Their ideas about children—whether they are inherently good or bad, or whether they actively shape their environments or passively react to stimuli—still form much of the basis of our modern theories.

The lessons of this course are not simply about learning, behavior, and relationships in youth, but at any age. Taken as a whole, they provide our best answers to the questions of human nature—how we learn, adapt, and become who we are at every stage in life.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Introduction—The Value of Theories
    This lecture introduces the major objectives of the course. It allows students to assess where they stand on major issues regarding human development. The lecture then discusses the value of scientific theories for understanding development, and the criteria for judging whether a theory is valuable. x
  • 2
    The Early History of Child Study
    Prior to and during the Industrial Revolution in Europe and America, people often showed a lack of humane concern for children. This translated into an absence of systematic study of child development. Concern for, and evaluation of, children resulted in part from the influence of a few physicians and religious leaders. x
  • 3
    Two Worldviews—Locke vs. Rousseau
    Two major philosophers, both concerned with humane child rearing and education, changed the prevailing perception of children. John Locke espoused the "mechanistic" worldview: children are neutral ("blank slates") and function like machines. Jean-Jacques Rousseau proposed the "organismic" worldview: children are good, and function like organisms. x
  • 4
    Later History—Becoming Scientific
    This lecture traces the application of scientific method and theory to the study of human development. The first scientists to study children functioned like naturalists, simply observing and describing children's development. x
  • 5
    Freud's Psychodynamic Theory
    Freud's psychodynamic theory caused a revolution in thinking about human development. We discuss his history, theory, and his reliance on such concepts as psychic energy. x
  • 6
    How We Gain Contact with Reality—The Ego
    Our discussion of Freud's theory continues by focusing on the nonadaptive nature of the unconscious id, the development of the ego and its accompanying secondary process thinking, and the subsequent development of the superego. x
  • 7
    Freud's Psycho-Sexual Stages
    This final lecture on Freud discusses his concept of erogenous zones, the five psychosexual stages—oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital—and the fixations that may occur during each, and the Oedipus complex and its resolution. x
  • 8
    Erikson's Psycho-Social Theory
    We first discuss neo-Freudian revisions in Freud's theory. We then discuss Erikson's history, including his experience with his own identity crisis, and describe how his stages of development are based on the need to develop mastery and personal identity through a series of crises in one's life cycle. x
  • 9
    Erikson's Early Stages
    The first four stages of Erikson's theory provide the foundation of development for the child: developing trust versus mistrust, autonomy versus shame and doubt, initiative versus guilt, and industry versus inferiority. x
  • 10
    Identity and Intimacy
    Erikson was the first to propose two pivotal stages of development after childhood. During adolescence, Stage 5 is a crisis of developing identity versus role confusion. Stage 6, in young adulthood, is a crisis of developing intimacy versus isolation. The lecture concludes with differences between women and men in developing identity and intimacy. x
  • 11
    Erikson's Later Stages—Adult Development
    Erikson's last two stages occur in adulthood and old age. Stage 7 is a crisis of developing generativity versus stagnation, and Stage 8 is a crisis of developing ego integrity versus despair. The last stage connects all the issues with which a person has already dealt. x
  • 12
    Bowlby and Ainsworth's Attachment Theory
    This lecture introduces attachment theory by describing the personal histories and research of its creators. We continue with a "secure base," for which the theory was famous, and an attachment system for the adaptation of the species. x
  • 13
    How Nature Ensures That Attachment Will Occur
    Bowlby rejected Freudian psychodynamic theory as inadequate to explain attachment. He turned instead to ethology theory, and its concept of innate releasing mechanisms. We discuss the allure of babyish features and their role in attachment, and attachment in the first year of life. x
  • 14
    Development of Secure and Insecure Attachments
    This lecture describes the normal development of a secure attachment, and Ainsworth's "strange situation" task—the most popular assessment for secure attachment. We examine insecure attachments: what they are, how they may predict several psychopathological problems in development, and causes. x
  • 15
    Early Attachments and Adult Relationships
    Our discussion concludes with relations between early attachment and later relationships. Bowlby developed the "internal working model" of a child's attachment, which provides constant security, and influences subsequent attachments. Early attachments influence adult romantic relationships. x
  • 16
    Bandura's Social Learning Theory
    A fourth major theory, Albert Bandura's social learning theory, added a cognitive focus to learning theory. It showed how the influence of what one expects to happen is more important than what does happen. This focus led to the concept of "vicarious reinforcement." x
  • 17
    Bandura's Self-Efficacy Theory
    Bandura extended the cognitive focus of his theory by arguing that a person's development of self-efficacy (or belief that one can have an effect on one's environment) determines the tasks one attempts and the skills one develops. x
  • 18
    Piaget's Cognitive-Developmental Theory
    This lecture introduces the most important theorist in the field of child development, Jean Piaget. It describes Piaget's history and his attempt to combine naturalist biology and philosophy to create a field called genetic epistemology (how we come to know what we know). x
  • 19
    Piaget's Early Stages
    Piaget's sequence of four major stages describes how we progress from infant to adult intelligence. Symbol use emerges by the end of infancy, the sensory-motor period. Preschoolers master symbolic skills in the pre-operational period. x
  • 20
    Concrete Operations
    The discussion of Piaget's theory continues by focusing on what preschoolers can and can't do, and how the five-to-seven year shift is a pivotal transition to Piaget's third stage, the concrete-operational period. x
  • 21
    Piaget's Last Stage
    This lecture begins with a description of Piaget's Stage 4, the formal-operational period. This is a time of "idealistic" thinking. We consider examples of formal-operational logic, abstraction, and hypothetical thinking. x
  • 22
    Vygotsky's Cognitive-Mediation Theory
    Lev Vygotsky was practically unknown to Western thinkers until recently, but his theoretical influence on development and education is constantly increasing. As a Russian theorist he believed that Marxism could provide a foundation for a better theory of psychological development. x
  • 23
    Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development
    Vygotsky argued that a person's level of development is not a specific point but a range or zone. This "zone of proximal development" shifts over time. We examine examples of "scaffolding," an important notion in education. x
  • 24
    Conclusions—Our Nature and Development
    This concluding lecture uses the allegory of blind men describing an elephant to illustrate how different theories might give a partial or even false understanding of human nature and development. We discuss ways to integrate the major theories, using the example of gender role development. We end with a reprise: Where does the student now stand regarding major issues of human development? x

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Your professor

Malcolm W. Watson

About Your Professor

Malcolm W. Watson, Ph.D.
Brandeis University
Dr. Malcolm W. Watson is George and Frances Levin Professor of Psychology at Brandeis University, where he has been teaching for over 25 years. He earned his B.A. in psychology from the University of Utah and pursued his graduate education in developmental psychology at the University of Denver, where he earned his Ph.D. Professor Watson was the recipient of the first Michael Laban Walzer Award for Excellence in Teaching at...
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Theories of Human Development is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 43.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from exellent simple and deep at the same time
Date published: 2013-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course on Human Development I purchased this course primarily because I was interested in learning about Attachment Theory, which is covered in several lectures here. That content is covered well and I also enjoyed all of the other innovators in human development that were surveyed. The speaker is likable and well-informed on the topic. As with any survey course, I ended up wanting more on certain topics and less on others. But that is mostly due to my own interests. One small critique of the presentation is that the lecturer is talking to an in-studio audience that is situated below him. So, his head is always turned down towards the audience rather than having him look directly in the camera. One thing that would be interesting to me as a Part II in this series would be a course on the understanding of personality change. Alot of the theories in this course are about normal development or what can cause abnormal development. I think it would also be interesting to cover the success of different strategies to address abnormal development in adults.
Date published: 2012-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from HIGHLY recommneded as a pediatrician, this course is what I "do" it is spot one! interesting! understandable! I only wish, this course was available when I was in medical school, 32 years ago when I thought that development was "non-medical". Ohhhh, was I wrong. If Professor Watson was teaching in 1980, I would have seen the fascination and captivating aspects of human development (that otherwise took about 22 years of practicing medicine to appreciate) what a wonderful introduction I HIGHLY recommend this course and personally and professional thoroughly enjoyed this overview. how much so - I provide this course to each medical student that rotates through with me. I want them to become captivated by human brain and development -- rather than wait the 22 years that I needed
Date published: 2012-09-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good overview of competing theories Human developmnt is a highly complex and controversial subject. There are frustratingly a number of competing theories that seek explain the factors that play the most formative role in the way human being develop. Professor Watson does an admirable job steering through six of these in some depth and in an engaing way. I knew something of the subject beforehand but my understanding has been much improved and the analysis of Bandura's thinking was new for me. Good job!
Date published: 2012-03-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good presentation of unscientific material I used the CD version of this course, which made for pleasant and informative commutes. Professor Watson does a good job of putting the six major theories of human development in perspective and comparing them with each other. In the end, however, I was disappointed in not learning as much about human development as I had expected. All six theories are based on unsystematic observation and speculation about the developmental stages a child goes through in the course of growing older. Professor Watson presents no studies that test the relative validity of one theory over another. Perhaps there are none, since the theories are so vaguely stated that they do not lend themselves to empirical validation. All six theories are concerned with universal stages that all children go through, and there is little discussion of individual differences among children, or of the relative importance of genetic and environmental influences. The theories provide little help in choosing beneficial educational or child-care practices. Piaget’s theory is mainly concerned with cognitive development, but Professor Watson makes no effort to relate it to the large body of research on individual differences in intelligence.
Date published: 2011-09-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Above My Pay Scale [Audio Version] DISCLOSURE: I do not have children, and have not taught children. Not being a parent or teacher may have affected my evaluation of the course. Professor Watson covers many complex topics in this course, and appears to be well-organized. However, perhaps due to the highly academic nature of the course, I found myself losing my concentration. At times, Dr. Watson seemed less than energetic, which worsened my ennui. At other times, because I did not find the material very stimulating, I began to focus on his extreme overuse of the word ‘interesting.’ When a professor uses this word repeatedly, I begin to wonder what he really means. Does ‘interesting’ mean ‘important’? Or is it just a lazy, watered-down ‘filler’ word? I was also put off my the professor’s overly-sensitive use of gender pronouns. It sounded like he used feminine pronouns ten to one over masculine pronouns. Were there only females in his audience? Sometimes, evidently to avoid using any gender-based pronoun, he resorted to saying ‘this person’ or ‘that person.’ This was another major distraction for me. I found Lecture 1 especially useful, when Dr. Watson discusses ‘criteria for judging whether a theory is valuable.’ His criteria have universal application. This lecture is a solid keeper. But I ran into a major problem in Lecture 16, in which we learn that a study (Bandura) showed that children who watch media violence will be more violent in real life. Dr. Watson did not mention any studies that would contradict this finding. Indeed, when I googled the topic, I found that the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declared: ‘The state has not produced substantial evidence that … violent video games cause psychological or neurological harm to minors.’ Folks may agree or not agree with violent media’s causative powers, but both sides need to be covered. Professor Watson does not hesitate elsewhere to criticize theories; in Lecture 21, he spends much time deconstructing and demolishing many of Piaget’s findings. Dr. Watson’s omission on Bandura caused me to question his general objectivity. Unless you are a parent, teacher or a graduate major in psychology, you may find this course too academic and tedious. And, if you’re looking for ‘fair and balanced,’ you may find some troubling omissions.
Date published: 2011-09-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great overview Part of a good course is selecting the right material to study. I think this course was laid out as well as could be expected and included all the right topics. The prof's voice is one you don't mind spending several hours with. Good one!
Date published: 2011-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! This course easily makes my 'tops' list. More than simply being a subject matter expert, the professor presents the general concepts and six specific theories in a way that highlights the connections between historical context, personal philosophies, and experimental results. I did not find myself having to rewind and review as in some other courses, and thoroughly enjoyed the listening experience. The professor also engages the listener through suggestions of personal relationships to each theory, helping to reinforce retention and understanding. His delivery is well-spoken in a pleasant voice, and includes many of his own personal experiences to support the academic content. The quantity and quality of research cited is perfect. Professor Watson clearly loves his area of study and instruction, and has a good sense of what each theory does and does not explain, as well as how human differences prevent any one theory from applying with certainty. I'd recommend this course as a nice refresher to people already educated in child development, or to parents wishing to enhance their own experience as they watch the development of their children.
Date published: 2011-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent professor and course! I loved the course. I needed some background for a paper I'm writing about breastfeeding and early child-mother bond and I ordered this course. I was not disappointed. I learned many things and I appreciated the professor's presentation. It's to be noticed that I heard the lectures on my phone, walking or doing exercise, or even driving. Prof. Watson was an excellent company. I'll miss his voice and good grounded knowledge, balanced, sensible, and insightful.
Date published: 2011-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A must for all teachers I first heard Dr. Watson's course three years ago, when I borrowed the audio version from a library, while studying in the US. I was so excited, I soon bought the course. Dr. Watson's tour of the greatest theories of human development, was simply liberating. He presents difficult material in an excellent way, using many everyday examples, word-pictures, quotes, and elaborations. Watson has a profound insight into the theories he presents, and he is also a very good teacher, being able to phrase and explain some of the most difficult concepts from his field, in delightful and engaging ways. I am a teacher and I have made a point of listening to this course once per year, while driving to and from work. Dr. Watson's course is a fantastic way of revisiting some of the most useful and fundamental of human theories for teaching, guiding, understanding and caring for children and youth. I contend that all teachers all over the world, should spend time on this course.
Date published: 2010-12-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Solid Course AUDIO DOWLOAD 24 Lectures 4 Stars Professor Watson delivers a fine, solid course surveying the major theories of human development. Every one of the major theorists provides interesting insights, and for those of you who do not have much developmental theory, this course is a good survey. I don't think this course is for anyone who has studied in this area, unless they have not heard of Vygotsky’s Cognitive-Mediation Theory, whose research did not fully become available until after the Soviet Union dissolved. Although Prof. Watson is a fine lecturer, the material and presentation overall did not move me to desire listening to this course a second time (required before I give 5 stars). But I have no problem at all recommending it to those who are interested in the topic.
Date published: 2010-10-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Limited - but helpful for educators and parents Prof. Watson gives a well balanced survey of the Western perspective of developmental psychology, presenting the evolution of the field through the two basic approaches - organismic and mechanistic, and the six major theories that have been offered in the past one hundred years. His lectures are very well organized and paced, and his style is pleasantly informal and balanced in presenting each of the theory's pros and cons, applications and limitations. He is a natural story teller, and I especially like his use of real life examples, many of which are cute and sometimes hilarious. One of the main limits I found was the Western-centric approach, which is part of modern psychology-in-general's problem. This was especially obvious in the presentation of the first stage of our culture's approach to children when they were seen as unimportant (widely neglected). This was during the early industrial era when families were being displaced and infant mortality high. I don't doubt this happened, just that it is of limited relavance in a "Human Development" class, as it is talking about a culture (European) that made up less than 20% of humanity at the time, while implying that that was a norm and may still be applicable in similar situations. What was the reality for the rest of humanity then? What is the wider reality today? As an educator I have taken several other developmental psychology courses over the past 3 decades (at the graduate and undergraduate levels), and have always been left with the sense that something is missing. This something is perhaps connected to the Western bias, and cultural relativity of the subject. In the beginning of this course Prof. Watson uses the example of a randomly firing string of Christmas lights appearing to synchronize with various musical soundtracks. I feel this is exactly what we humans do constantly in our desire for order and understanding. And this explains how various theories are presented, adopted and later surplanted. (We want and accept any explaination that seems to work, and usually settle for a projection of our preconceptions.) But, it all becomes too relative and vague in the bigger picture. (As far as I know)there is no unifying vision of human consciousness and development in modern psychology - although the theories here become steadily more complex and inclusive, they remain biased and limited. This is not a critique of the presentation of this subect, but of the field itself (one which Watson acknowledges and seeks to resolve by urging a synthetic understanding of its relativity). Overall, Prof. Watson does a very nice job of presenting the field as it currently stands.
Date published: 2010-02-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Well Structured Intro Course I found myself liking this course more and more as the course went on. In the end, I was very satisfied with Professor Watson and these lectures. Basically, the professor structures the course around six major theories of human development. He spends sufficient time in introducing the theories to offer helpful biographical insights into the lives of the proponents of the theories and then offers a sense of the strengths and weaknesses of the theories as he concludes discussion of each. This works nicely. I do believe the discussion of the first theory, Freud's, was tired and less varied than the others. Further, while the professor did cite some current research, the course would have benefitted from more time and attention to latest developments. Also, with regard to research, I wish the professor would have spent some time qualifying his assessment of the theories and related research with a clearer discussion of the standards of research that make certain work more reliably scientific than other work. Yet, even with these concerns, I heartily recommend this course to anyone looking for a carefully and well organized introduction to thought on human development.
Date published: 2009-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Time well spent I enjoyed listening to this lecture. I found the presentation well organized. I enjoyed it much more than any other lectures I have had on the subject.
Date published: 2009-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Helpful Course I am pursuing my Masters degree in education, and this course was extremely helpful in my Learning Theory class. I listened to the course three times, and was able to have a deeper understanding of the information than even my Masters course offered. Particularly helpful was the section on Piaget, on whom I did a presentation. The information presented by Watson was understandable, well organized, and extremely informative. I would highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2009-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course for parents! I loved this course. I completed an education degree in 2002 and sure wish I had had this course available then for psy classes as well. Parents can learn a lot about how humans learn. Dr. Watson keeps the lectures fresh and interesting by relating them to personal experiences and stories. His pace makes it easy for assimilation as well as the visual aspect of the graphics to reinforce names and theories. I recommend this for any education or psychology major or grad student, grandparents, parents, child care providers, etc. everyone!
Date published: 2009-07-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from What is it Like to be a Child again? Although the subject matter may not be limited to childhood, the focus is on the development of human personality in childhood. It is a fascinating subject and it is clearly presented. It is mainly a survey of the major theories.
Date published: 2009-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Presentation. Professor's use of examples helped clarify theories. DVD's were set up great and easy to watch. Will recommend.
Date published: 2009-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Recommended! Excellent presentation! The professor is easy to listen to, engaging, and the information is a well organized, simple overview without any tedious repetition. I listened to the CDs during my commute to work and went over the written outline for review later. The material is essential for anyone teaching grade school or seeking teaching certification in Texas. I hope that this professor will provide new material for us soon.
Date published: 2008-11-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from THese courses are a gift that (as a perpetual student for 76 years) am grateful for! Thanks.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from You offer intellectual subjects that are a welcome change from current television fare and rare in books & news-media today.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I appreciate the opportunity to broaden my knowledge at my own convenience & pace w/o tests, class time, etc
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from After eight years of college courses in my life it is wonderful to finally have excellent teachers.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from For me, this is the best way to learn. pure knowledge, no stress.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent choice of topics for studies and entertainment.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good use of examples to clarify & emphasize points; nicely tied all together in last lecture.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent experience in learning.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My lifelong learning goal is made so much easier by the adaptability of these courses to my available time.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from As a doctoral canidate in Leadership, all of the courses provide inspiration as well as applicable ideas.
Date published: 2008-10-17
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