If you're in school or have a child in school, you know that educational costs are going through the roof. In this economic environment, you want to reduce those costs and get the most out of your educational experience. And even though we may not be in a formal educational program, man y of us are still interested in learning more about a variety of subjects. In either case, a little-known section of iTunes can help—iTunes U.
Start iTunes on your computer and click on the tab labeled "iTunes U," or open iTunes on your iPhone, tap on the "More" button at the bottom, and select the "iTunes U" option. You'll be taken to iTunes U—a section of iTunes that contains a wide variety of informative and interesting content. You'll find audio and video lectures, audiobooks, language lessons, and more. All of it can be downloaded and played on your computer, iPhone, or iPod touch. Best of all, it's free.
iTunes U contains over 200,000 educational audio and video files from top universities, museums, and public media organizations from around the world. The content is not only educational, but also interesting and sometimes downright fun!
What's available at iTunes U
Whatever you're interested in, there's probably something for you at iTunes U. Programs range from under two minutes to over an hour. Content is divided into 13 main categories (Business, Engineering, Fine Arts, History, Humanities, Math, Science, etc.) and a variety of sub-categories. You'll even find lessons from many colleges, universities, K-12 schools, and other educational organizations. You'll find audio and video content that is short, long, serious, funny, but always interesting and educational.
I found the following courses by just casually browsing iTunes U:
- A series called "Money 101" with courses covering credit, savings, retirement and investing, and homeowership.
- Math courses from MIT, including an "Introduction to Algorithms" and "Linear Algebra."
- A number of music courses, including "A History of Jazz" from Georgia State University, a course called "Sounds Harmonious" that discusses how music works and its relationship to math. There is also a series called "Little Kids Rock" that includes drum and guitar lessons, and kids' music videos.
- Audio and video discussions about business plans, marketing, and management, and what appears to be the entire audiobook version of Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. Again, everything's free.
- A series of videos from the Open University about the geography of Iceland.
- "The Art of Stop Motion Cinema" from the University of Minnesota; a series of short student films from Brooklyn College; and a set of lectures about movie Westerns from Wesleyan University.
- A complete survey of U.S. history, in 60 classes, from Northeast Mississippi Community College.
- Language classes in French, Spanish, German, Japanese Kana, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese Kanji, Russian, Hebrew, Greek, Persian, Urdu, and a lot of others.
- "How to Build an iPhone App that Doesn't Suck" and 5 other iPhone programming classes from Stanford, plus a collection of audios from the iPhone Programming Association at the University of Utah.
- A series of "60 second lectures" by faculty members at the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences. They're interesting and entertaining. Titles include "Death and Body Fluids (or why Religion is Important)," "The Difference Between Blues and Jazz," and "Why Supreme Court Decisions Are Hard to Read, and Why We Should Read Them Anyway."
- Information on health-related topics such as diabetes care, relaxation and meditation, cooking and nutritional information, disabilities, physical therapy, fitness, aging, and of course, the H1N1 flu.
- Classes from Yale University on law, religion, science, the humanities, business and management, art and architecture, and more.
- A collection of videos from the American Theater Wing, including interviews, panel discussions, and enough clips to make even the most dedicated fans of musical theater really happy.
How to use iTunes U
- Whether on your desktop, your iPhone, or iPod touch, downloading iTunes U content is easy.
- You can use the desktop version of iTunes to download and watch or listen to content.
- You can use the desktop version of iTunes to download content and then sync it to your device.
- You can use the iPhone/iPod touch version of iTunes to download it directly to your device.
The process works pretty much like it does when you're looking for music, videos, or apps. If you know what you're looking for (title or description), use the search function to find it. Note that you can use the Power Search function on the desktop version of iTunes to narrow your searches to only iTunes U content, and get more useful results.
You can also browse iTunes U to find what you want. Go to the iTunes U section and select the category that interests you. The desktop version of iTunes presents you with sub-categories, as well as "New and Notables," "Featured," and a list of the top downloads. The iPhone/iPod touch version of iTunes presents you "What's Hot," "Top Tens" (with a "Ten more…" link at the bottom), and "Categories." Whether you're browsing or looking for specific content, it's usually easier to find using the desktop version of iTunes.
Once you've found interesting content, you can get more information about it by double tapping on the title (on the iPhone) or clicking on it (on the desktop version of iTunes). The desktop version of iTunes gives you a short description of the title; the iPhone version, unfortunately, does not.
The title's information page lists the chapters or sections contained in it, along with the playing times for each section (hours: minutes: seconds). Note that each section can be downloaded and viewed, or listened to, separately.
You can preview a sample portion of the section by double clicking on it on your Mac or PC or tapping on it once on your iPhone. A short portion of the selection will be streamed to your device. Unfortunately, there may be pauses in the playback if your connection speed is slow. Since everything is free, it might be better to just download the entire selection, and then listen to it. If you find that it doesn't interest you, it can easily be deleted. Important note: be sure to turn Auto-Lock to Never in the General section of Settings before you start downloading to make sure your device doesn't time-out in the middle of the download. Don't forget to turn Auto-Lock back on when it's done.
If you download the selection directly to your iPhone, or download it to your computer and sync it to your device, it should be automatically stored in the appropriate list (music, videos, audiobooks, podcasts, etc.) Sometimes it gets stored in the wrong place, so if you don't find it in the right list, check the others.
iTunes U: Something for everyone
Whether you're in school, have children in school, or just want to expand your mind, iTunes U and the iTunes App Store can be a big help. From algorithms to zoology, Urdu to economics, laser surgery to show tunes, iTunes U has something for everyone. Take advantage of it, and let your iPhone help you learn—anything, any time, and anywhere.
In addition to the content available from iTunes U, educational programs are available in the App Store. These aren't always free, but they may provide a more interactive learning experience. Go to the App Store and select the Education category. You'll find a variety of apps, including…
- Graphing and scientific calculators. There are several available in the App Store, most priced at under $10.
- Learning tools for people of all ages. You'll find vocabulary and math flash cards, college-level algebra lessons, GRE and SAT preparation courses, and more.
- Dictionaries, thesauri, technical pocket guides and manuals, and other reference tools.
- Language learning apps and translators for almost any language.
- Class schedulers as well as assignment trackers and managers.