The information age has not only changed the information we get, but how we get it. Content, media, knowledge & education are being delivered faster and easier than ever. iTunes U by Apple is only making it easier, and is a powerful tool for anyone wanting to expand their knowledge or brush up on an old course.
iTunes U started as a feature built into iTunes, which contained informative videos & lectures by professors the world over. It was mostly an overlooked feature that could have easily been swallowed up in a world of apps and digital downloads. But Apple knew it’s potential and took it to the next level by giving it its own standalone app in early 2012.
With iTunes U you can easily choose from thousands of FREE full courses from some of the leading institutions, professors and organizations from all over the globe. The set-up is incredibly easy and aimed at any education level from pre-school to those seeking a doctorate.
How it works is you choose a course you’re interested in and subscribe to it. The app will put a placeholder in a bookshelf-type layout similar to that found in iBooks & Newsstand on iOS devices. Browsing & searching for courses is almost identical to searching the iTunes store for Apps & Games. Depending what courses you take, the information can be extremely in-depth and contain a combination of lectures, interviews, articles, & more.
A tap on the course of your choice will take you to a menu with options featuring the Overview of the course, information on the Instructor, and an Outline of what the course will cover. This is the first of four tabs in the layout, this one being the ‘Info’ tab. The next option is ‘Posts’ which is the actual course itself, piece by piece in a syllabus style, as if you were taking it in a classroom. Some of the posts contain reading, video or audio material for the course study. These can be downloaded to the device and accessed right from the containing post or from the ‘Materials’ tab, which is the last of the 4 tabs. You can read, watch or listen to these as many times as you like. You can even mark a post as unviewed if you want to make sure you go back and look at it again.
The third tab, ‘Notes’, is used for taking notes at any point in the course. This can be useful but I personally prefer to use an actual notebook. But that’s personal preference only, the more convenient method would be to take notes on the device that way they’re always with you.
iTunes U offers not only full free courses, but also countless hours of seminars & talks, which you can subscribe to, sort of like a podcast. And while leading institutions and instructors from around the world create many of these courses & seminars, anyone is welcome to submit their own course that meets the criteria of the App.
The Open University is one the main contributors of content to iTunes U, the first line of their mission statement makes it clear as to why:
“We promote education opportunity and social justice by providing high-quality university education to all who wish to realize their ambitions and full potential.”
This model comes at a time of economic crisis and the continued skyrocketing price of college tuition. Many institutions that were once free to accepted students now cost upwards of $25,000 a year. Many among the general population can no longer afford higher education. The Internet has shifted the tides in the greatest possible way by putting every possible tool in the hands of the user for Free.
No longer do you have to spend $100k a year or more for education, you can use resources such as iTunes U and get the same education to land the same jobs. Companies that once only hired graduates with multiple degrees are now acknowledging the legitimacy of alternate education such as this. Although you receive certificates for completed courses, these are not accredited institutions so they don’t count towards college credits or earn you a degree.
The app’s full potential is realized only on the iPad and not on smaller devices. Some courses can only be taken on the iPad, which I hope they change in the future. Even for those with an iPad, it would be nice to look through the course on your phone at times when that’s the only device on you. And I tip I strongly recommend is to only download the course materials while on a wifi connection. Some of the files are quite large and can eat-up your monthly data usage. Those are the only downsides to this App that I’ve found.
We’re only a year into the true existence of what iTunes U has to offer so I’m sure in the near future many more full courses will be added. My only hope is that they keep the courses free and accessible to anyone who wants to use them. With over 1 billion content downloads within the App to date and growing, it’s obvious this is one powerful tool for free education that is helping to change the game and hopefully will continue to do so for a very long time.