Summer is winding down and a lot of students are headed back to school. Even if you’re not stuffing your life and laundry in the back of a Honda and rolling toward campus, you can keep learning on your own. Free classes from places like MIT OpenCourseWare and Coursera are among the options for higher learning online. If you have an iOS device, Apple’s Podcasts and iTunes U apps offer plenty of brain-burning educational material that make it easy to absorb it all at your own pace—even if that pace is a steady jog down a quiet road.
The standalone Podcasts app pulls all the episode management and playback controls out of the Music app on iOS devices and gives them their own place to play. The Podcasts app is not universally loved, but it does round up all your shows nicely. It could be the only place to get them if those rumors about Apple cutting the Podcasts section of the iTunes Store loose this fall are true. Recent user reviews of the app seemed to have improved with an update earlier this month, and Apple has a Podcasts support guide for those still wrestling with it.
Podcast content ranges all over the place, but if you’re looking for something specifically educational, the iTunes U app points you to what Apple calls “the world’s largest online catalog of free education content from leading institutions.” There are about 500,000 audio and video lectures in there, plus presentations, documents—and some classes even use interactive iBooks textbooks (which are a lot lighter than those heavy old tree-based tomes that pile up, hog shelf space and fall over all too easily).
The iTunes U course topics range all over the place from science and math to literature and cultural studies. Stanford’s got a 10-week course on iPad and iPhone App Development and Harvard has a 12-week Intro to Computer Science class. Oxford University has a series of short lectures on why great writers are inspirational. The University of Arkansas has 5-minute Spanish lessons. If you like a little sociology mixed in with your Hollywood blockbusters, check out the lecture series from Emory University for video lessons with titles like The Mathematics of Spider-Man and Planet of the Apes: Species Misunderstood.
Since it arrived last January, the iTunes U app itself has been downloaded 14 million times already. Yay, rah, Fightin’ Downloaders!