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May 12

iTunes takes you to school

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Girl on iPad in library on iPod touch screen

More information on the tablet than on the shelves behind her. That's iTunes U

Most of us have already gotten to know our iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch as everything from personal trainers to your kids (okay, and your) favorite game system to the best place to watch basketball. Oh, and that whole phone, music, e-reader stuff your top rated tablet or smart phone can do.

Of course, if you think that’s all they’re good for get ready to be taken to school.


Back in January, Apple had announced their education apps and initiatives, partnering with schools and textbook manufacturers to create a platform for virtual classes. Their biggest announcement, iTunes U, acts as a gateway for lectures (both video and audio), e-textbooks, and syllabus. Teachers can even include other documents, such as homework assignments, letting students access course materials at their own pace.

And, since it’s all on the iPad, iPhone, and iPad it can be accessed from anywhere at any time. It’s easy to see the possibilities: accessing a lecture again and again to go over difficult points; being able to take notes and bookmark important concepts inside your textbook; allowing teachers more time to go over materials and questions rather than presenting it fresh.

iTunes U event

Showing off some of the coursework

By allowing students new way to interact with their material, and giving teachers a new way to present it, it’s an exciting time to be in a classroom. Early studies have even shown that this sort of learning is better for students.

It’s an exciting time even if you haven’t stepped foot in one for quite awhile, too.

iTunes U also features free materials and classes from top universities and secondary schools. Interested in brushing up on the basics of game theory with a course from MIT? No problem. Want to introduce your 4th grader with some interesting math problems to help give them a leg up over the summer? It’s there.

By having these resources freely available (including for download), it’s an incredible way to turn spare time into a learning opportunity. Most are even cut into smaller clips of specific concepts, letting you absorb at your own pace and making sure you don’t have to clear an hour out of your day to listen to a lecture.

Of course, even with such an amazing resource at our fingertips, there are a few downsides.

iTunes U on iTunes

iTunes U portal on iTunes for Windows or Mac

iTunes U, the portal to access and organize textbooks and other materials, is currently only accessible to those with an iOS 5 device, like an iPad, iPhone, or 3rd generation or better iPod touch. For students and non-students alike, that can make it tough to follow along.

It remains to be seen if iTunes U goes beyond mobile devices for anything but audio and video (a Mac or PC version that acts as a hub for everything else, as an example), but for now, the availability of just the lecture side of things will have to do.

So the next time you’ve got a few minutes to kill, consider passing on the Angry Birds, and instead take some time to learn something new on your top rated tablet or smart phone.

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