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What is iTunes U? Free College Courses From Top Universities

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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.

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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?

Matt Breed
You are looking at Matthew Breed. He is a 30 year old sports nerd who lives in North Florida with his fiancee, Sarah. Originally in school for a Business degree that did not work out due to capricious youth and irresponsibility, he is currently "getting past" his Peter Pan syndrome and attends classes for a degree in Information Technology while working full time. His care for personal finance stems from a modest upbringing with fiscally responsible parents who highly value education and frown upon frivolity.

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