What is iTunes U? Free College Courses From Top Universities


itunes uI don’t know about you, but I’m a big time trivia nerd. I suppose that comes from my dad, who has been playing trivia with his buddies for as long as I can remember.

Because of my quest for knowledge, I am always looking for ways to educate myself, whether it’s through traditional methods like going to college and reading books or more random ways like perusing the back of a cereal box at breakfast. Formal schooling is great for conventional learning, especially if you’re looking to find a job in one of the best career fields for the future, but education programs and books (even used college text books) can get very pricey.

So you can imagine my excitement when I discovered iTunes U a few years back. Finally, a new way to learn for free!

What is iTunes U?

iTunes U is a completely free medium through the Apple iTunes application where colleges and universities can offer courses at no charge, to anyone who wants to take them. There is also a new section of iTunes U that focuses on K-12 education, where state or county education departments provide content for both students and educators. Currently, over 800 colleges and universities from across the globe provide content to iTunes U for post-secondary learning, and 15 states in the US offer K-12 learning tools.

How Does it Work?

iTunes U really could not be much easier to navigate. First off, all you need to do is download the free Apple iTunes program on your computer (for either PC or Mac). Select iTunes U on the toolbar across the top of the main page, and you’re in. On the main page, you have the option of browsing selections by school, subject, most downloaded, or noteworthy courses. The content is then delivered directly to you, whether the course is a series of lectures, videos, PDFs, or an entire book. After downloading course content, you have complete control to process it however you wish. You can choose to learn at your own pace, and decide whether to use your computer, iPad, or iPod touch to take it all in.

Here is a screen shot of a few of the most downloaded courses at iTunes U:

itunes u top downloads

Advantages of iTunes U

1. No New Computer Program to Learn
If you have ever used iTunes to download music, TV shows, movies, podcasts, application, audio books, or anything else, you will have no learning curve. iTunes U works much the same as the other sections within iTunes and is just as easy to navigate. You will not have to learn your way around a new program or application that could encompass a new course of its own.

2. Free Knowledge
Who can argue with the plethora of offerings from hundreds of trusted sources that are currently available at iTunes U? No matter what subject you are looking for, iTunes U likely offers it, or at least something comparable. Not only that, but many of the courses are extremely advanced and difficult so there should be something for everyone. Most of us do not have the clout to get into big time universities like Harvard, Yale, or MIT. But with iTunes U, we can easily get access to a good bit of what these students are learning in the classrooms.

College tuition is unfortunately one of the things that are always increasing in price. While you should look to save up by using something like the 529 college savings plan and make yourself more marketable in the job market, actual knowledge and good job skills are what will make the most difference. Using something like iTunes U is a great way to get started, especially if you can’t afford to attend a prestigious university. Remember, an education is more valuable than a degree.

3. Supplement Other Courses
I can’t tell you how many times I was taking a college course in which I just did not connect with the professor. In cases like this, iTunes U may have courses similar to those you may be taking at a traditional college or university. By receiving content through a different medium, you may be able to understand the material much better and thus get better grades on exams. Last year, I was taking a math course which I struggled with. I then found a similar course offered by Khan University on iTunesU that helped me understand the concepts necessary to excel in the course.

Disadvantages of iTunes U

1. No Degree or Credits
The biggest downside to iTunes U is that no matter how many courses you choose to sample from, participating schools do not offer any credit toward a degree. You can directly access the information within the courses, but colleges and universities are not likely to offer up their degrees and credit hours at no charge any time soon. After all, it is what keeps them in business.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see iTunes U someday offer degrees or credits on behalf of participating schools, but there are a lot of ifs and buts to be answered before some like that can realistically happen.

2. No Collaboration Opportunities
Unlike conventional schools and accredited online degree programs, iTunes U does not offer discussion forums or other ways for students to communicate with one another. Granted, there are no projects or assignments for which collaboration is necessary, but there are still plenty of courses where this feature would be useful. For example, students would benefit greatly if there was a simple discussion board available for history or communications courses. After all, a big part of learning comes from actually doing and working with others.

3. Content is Not Easily Sharable
If you operate your own website, or would like to share educational content on your blog or social sites like Facebook and Twitter, you’re out of luck. All of the URLs that iTunes U use are difficult to embed on other websites.

Final Word

I am a huge proponent of iTunes U and everything it offers. I feel that the pros easily outweigh the cons for what most people would use it for, myself included. While it is not perfect, Apple has designed an easy to use, groundbreaking interface for people all over the world to experience higher learning at no charge. If you have yet to give it a trial run, definitely give it a shot. It is 100% free, so you have nothing to lose but a few minutes of your time. Who knows, maybe you will find a new passion in the process.

What are your thoughts on iTunes U? Have you gone through any of the included courses?

Comments Disclosure: The below responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

  • http://www.uhnw.com.au JIm Smith

    I love iTunesU, its simply the best way to get high quality lectures for free. Even though you can’t get a degree – simply being able to get a series of physics lectures from MIT or Philosophy from Oxford is great. If you want the degree at the end, sign up for the course and you can probably finish it in half the time!

  • http://www.moneycrashers.com mattbreed

    Glad you like it Peter. Give it a shot and let us know what you think.

  • http://www.thedebtfreebaby.com Ryan DeLeon

    I was just about to search for free classes online, this sounds great. I am going to check this out when I get home tonight.

  • Mary Perry

    Happy to hear of this opportunity!

    • Matt Breed

      Are you going to give it a go, Mary?

      • Mary Perry


  • Jay

    I ‘ve found the information about iTunesU interesting and would like to sign up, however i am unable to locate its logo in the top bar as indicated in your message. Any help in finding it would be appreciated.

    • Matt Breed

      You got it Jay.

      First, you must install Itunes, which can be found here: http://www.apple.com/itunes/

      Once you have downloaded and installed the program, click the “iTunes store” link on the left, and then the “Itunes U” link across the top. From there, you will be able to browse from everything available.

      Good luck! Hope this helps.

  • Tish

    This is great. I taught for 37 years and had a Master”s in English and a Ph.d in Math.
    Now retired I find I need an educational input but did not want to spend more money since
    the new knowledge will be self fullfilling only. Thank you.

    • Matt Breed

      It is comments like this that make this all worth it…Tish, you’re welcome. Glad I could help.

  • Richard A.

    This sounds great! The internet offers a lot and it will only get better. OTOH, yesterday I was looking for a book ‘How to do Aircraft Sheetmetal Work by Norcross and Quinn” and when I searched for it in google, right at the top was a place called ‘World of Books’ (or so I thought). So I went there and clicked on a pdf and it downloads and I get an EXECUTABLE file. I didn’t know why it was an executable, it should have been (it was labeled ‘How_to_do_aircraft_welding.pdf.exe) I was worried that I had downloaded a virus (which it turned out to be, obviously) I did a search for ‘world of books virus’ and there are a bunch of pages about how somebody is getting people (like me) to click on a link that appears to be from a LEGITIMATE world of books but the link goes to a place named worild of books. Unless you are looking carefully, the ‘i’ looks like a lower case ‘l’. Really sneaky. There are a couple of places you can get rid of the virus (I actually didn’t click on the downloaded executable, but I was about to) and there is a firefox add on ‘DitDefender Quick Scan’, but Clam AV (which is good because if you hover your mouse over a link it will automatically search and see how many people are using the program, it turned out that it was suspicious and that got me going to do a search) but I specifically right clicked and started Norton on it, and it said it was OK.
    So keep your eyes open, the thieves are getting better and sneakier. That ‘worid of books’ site looks great, professionally done and very close to the real world of books, except its a nest of vipers waiting for you to click on something. I guess the fact I was looking for something ‘free’ made me more vulnerable, lots of things appear to be free but in reality are anything but.

  • Matt Breed

    Recently, I have been having trouble in one of my classes, and decided to supplement the material with two different course selections from ITunes U. At first, I had not even considered it for this, but it has immensely helped me to grasp the material. So for those of you currently taking any classes, if you are not “getting it”, see if there is a similar course on ITunes U that may help you out!

  • http://papersource.webs.com/ Maureen

    I love iTune U. It’s perfect for the chronic students like myself who love to learn. I wish there was a specific learning path for particular subjects areas and tests once completed.

    There are alwas CLEP tests which provide college credit by exam. Not all colleges and Universities accept them though.

  • http://papersource.webs.com/ Maureen

    I love iTune U. It’s perfect for the chronic students like myself who love to learn. I wish there was a specific learning path for particular subjects areas and tests once completed.

    There are alwas CLEP tests which provide college credit by exam. Not all colleges and Universities accept them though.

  • Abuenzow

    tjis site is extremely uncooperative. I am a senior citizen and this place gives me nothing. Please help. I would love to get an increase in my knowledge

    • JDLASK

      What kind of help do you need? I myself am a new iMac/ iTunes user. I have however found Apple/ Mac ALWAYS HAS A VERY DETAILED USER GUIDE WITH EVERY PRODUCT RELEASED. Most of the time a VIDEO TUTORIAL! If you can get iTunes downloaded to your device just click on Help and then on video tutorial.

  • Gabbilake

    Have looks at iTunes U a few times and looked fantastic!! Only I have just come to use it, i am looking for masters level materials in Public Health, and don’t know how to judge the standard/quality of the university. Great if your subject has materials offered by Harvard/Yale/UCL/Cambridge etc but if its a uni I have never heard of, especially from US where standards are different, how can you judge quality? Most of the PH materials/courses that i can find are from Liberty University, which I understand is a highly religious school -and i heard taught Creationism! I believe these things should be kept out of Healthcare and have heard the materials from this Uni, and their professors, are often biased in this way. So how can I trust materials and what to do if there are no full courses from reputable unis?

    • Pamela

      Seems like you say Creationism as if it were a disease.

  • Sadiq

    I belive learning and studying has big value. It is not just the Degree that makes reputation and value for our knowledge . iTunes U , is just a good start to bring our vales to higher level. We are measuring the real value for our knowledge by practicing these new and easy methods. Finally it is what we gain from our experience that Is important.

    iTunes U, should have a new way of measuring these values. It should have away to practice tests, certifications, etc. independently. We don’t have to call it a Degree, but it should be as good as Degree.

  • Techsavvymum Bettina

    I have and love apple products. I myself was attending local community college when crazy thing happened with an instructor that totally ruin my college career. I was pursuing a degree in Information Systems. I was accused of plagiarism four times. She was dead set on getting me out of her class. She got her wish. I had great GPA, GREAT grades. I have to try to get back in to school somehow even if I have to enroll somewhere else.