Getting started

Maybe you just heard the news: some of the world’s top universities are giving away thousands of hours of lectures in audio and video on the Internet. Anyone with a web connection can attend free virtual classes from the likes of Yale, Stanford, Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley.

So how do you navigate this world of academic podcasts, webcasts and streaming audio and video?

First, let’s look at some basic terms and equipment.

What is Mp3? Mp3 is a format for compressing a digital file of audio content.  Most of the songs exchanged on the Internet are in mp3.  Most of the academic courses on the web are in mp3. A similar compression format for video is called mp4.

What is a webcast? You know what a broadcast radio show is, right?  Well, a webcast is analogous. If it’s a radio program, or a lecture or a play, and you can play it or download it from the web, it’s a webcast.

What is a podcast? Suppose you want to have the mp3 audio file of a class automatically delivered to your computer after each lecture.  You can subscribe to a “podcast feed” in a podcatcher program (like iTunesJuice, and Winamp). Then every time you open your podcatcher, the program will grab the latest episode of your class.  Although the catchy name comes from Apple’s iPod, you don’t need an iPod to listen to a podcast.  You can listen on your computer or any device that plays mp3 files.  For a tutorial on how to subscribe to a podcast, check out this podcast listening primer from podcast reviewer Anne at Anne is a Man.

What is streaming audio / video? Lots of websites, like YouTube and blinkx turn your computer into an entertainment machine.  You click on a video and play it.  No downloading, no special software.  That’s streaming video.  Streaming audio is the same idea.  You click on the link, and you hear the audio.

What hardware do you need? At a minimum, you need a computer with a web connection.  A fast connection is even better.  If you want to listen to your lectures away from the computer, you need an mp3 player like an iPod.

What software do you need? You need a podcatcher program (see above.)  The best choice for online learning is Apple’s iTunes software, because it’s the only way to get to Apple’s online iTunes music store.  Apple’s store is the home of iTunes U, a vast collection of lectures and courses. Even if you use a non-Apple brand MP3 player, you can still use iTunesU to download your lectures and courses. You’ll just have to navigate to the right folders on your hard disk and manually transfer the files to your MP3 player. Ipod users can simply synch their iTunes libraries with their mobile devices.

Is there other helpful software? Yes.  Check out my tools section.

Now you’re ready for your own adventure in online learning.  Here are some resources to get you started.

Apple’s iTunes U

The easiest way to find and download academic lectures or full courses is at the Apple iTunes music store. (See What software do you need? above.) If you don’t already have it, download a copy of the iTunes software, and after you launch it, navigate your way to iTunes U. Then check out my Guide to iTunesU for an introduction to the best course and lecture collections.

Individual university websites

First, check out my annotated directory Best free courses & lectures. For further browsing, look at the great collections of courses at  UC Berkeley, Yale, MIT, UCLA, Harvard Extension and UCSD.  Also check out the new Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) at the edX consortium, Udacity and Coursera.  Want to know what a MOOC is?  Check out The MOOCs have landed!.

Streaming video

Here are some great sources of streaming video courses and lectures.


First, check out my annotated directories: Best free courses & lectures, and Guide to iTunesU.   In addition, try Open Culture’s list of Free Online Courses & Lectures from Great UniversitiesClass Central is a handy place to keep track of the fast changing world of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).


In addition to the posts on The Do It Yourself Scholar, these blogs also feature reviews of academic courses and lectures.

Happy learning!

3 Responses to Getting started

  1. Alejandro Jara says:

    great site !!

    Alejandro Jara

  2. Nari Annut says:

    Fantastic site! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you

  3. you might want to redo the link to my podcast listening for beginners. It is a search that these days won’t give meaningful results. Consider linking to
    or another link therein

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