The Electric Educator: How to Build a Course for iTunesU

Monday, April 23, 2012

How to Build a Course for iTunesU

This post provides an overview of iTunesU Course creation process along with suggestions and tips for creating an outstanding course. To view a completed course, I would recommend looking at the "Google in the Classroom" course that I developed.

For several years academic institutions have posted content to iTunesU. The problem with this system is that there was no systematic way to organize this content into a coherent sequence. With the iTunesU App this is now possible. Instructors now have a method of organizing and introducing their content in a logical, sequential format that students can review on their iPad or iPhone. A course on iTunesU is different than a collection. A collection is a group of audio, video and PDF files about one topic and is accessible on all platforms that have iTunes. Files within a collection are typically listed in the order they are submitted, similar to a blog.

Unlike a collection, an iTunesU course has a sequential structure which helps provide context to the material that is being presented. Courses can contain an introduction, instructor biography, course outline, and assignments. Assignments can include a wide range of content including audio files, videos, PDFs, Apps, and iBooks. To download and access a course on iTunesU, users must download the free iTunesU App on their iOS device. Currently only devices running iOS 5.0 and greater can download the iTunesU App. 

The iTunesU course ecosystem is very sparse. The vast majority of the courses available are from collegiate institutions. My search for K12 courses yielded few results. 

With more and more K12 schools adopting iPads for student and teacher use there is a great need and opportunity for high quality content to be added to the iTunesU marketplace. For this reason I was asked to develop a course for inclusion into Michigan's iTunesU channel. I learned quite a bit through the process and am happy to share my thoughts and suggestions to help others create a high-quality course. 

Access to iTunesU Course Manager
Only educational institutions are able to build and post course. Many states have developed a state-wide iTunesU initiative. Individual districts and schools are also starting to create their own sites. To resister your school, district, or state for a free site, view these guidelines and contact Apple.

Using the iTunesU Course Manager
The iTunes U Course Manager is a web-based interface that you will use to design your course. Unfortunately, at this time Safari is the only browser that supports the course manager. PC users will need to download the latest version of Safari in order to build a course.

After receiving access from the institution managing the iTunesU site, you can begin building your course! It is recommended that you create your course in the following order: 

  1. Enter basic course information
    • Course Information: You will need to enter the title of your course, affiliated institutions, appropriate categories and an approximate length.
    • Overview: enter a short but comprehensive overview of what this course will cover including your goals and objectives.
    • Instructor: Enter a brief bio about yourself including methods for students to contact you should they have questions. It is strongly recommended that you include a recent photo of yourself.
    • Outline: begin building an outline for your course. It is likely that this will change and evolve over time; consider this a working draft. It is important to note that the outline section is not dynamic and will not update as you add/update content to the “Post” and “Material” section of your course. The outline is primarily needed to allow people to view an overview of the course before they download it.
    • Course Image: Each course needs a 600x600 image that provides a visual representation of the course. This image should also include the MI Learning logo available from the MI Learning course manager

  1. Organize and Post your media FIRST!
    • Anyone who has existing media that they have previously posted to the MI Learning channel of iTunesU will want to review, clean up, organize, and update content BEFORE you begin working on your course! 
    • If you do not have any existing media you will work with it is recommended that you post all of your media before you begin adding it to the course. 
    • If your links change, you will need to re-link each file that was changed. 
    • The iTunes system does NOT refresh in real-time. It sometimes takes 1-2 days for the newly uploaded files and links to propagate throughout iTunes. 

  1. Create your Topics and your Posts
    • Adding content to your course is easy. Create a series of “Posts” that match the outline you created in step one. Each post can include an introduction (recommended) and assignments. An assignment can be any of the following:
      • Anything from the iTunes store (a podcast, song, movie, etc)
      • An App from the App store
      • A weblink
      • A PDF file
      • An iBook (note that if you include an iTextbook they will only be viewable on the iPad)
    • Because these courses are currently accessible only on iOS 5 devices, keep in mind that you should only include web links that are capable of running on an iPad/iPhone. Certain subscription feeds, javascript, and flash multimedia may not work.

  1. Beta Test!
    • Make sure you download and install the iTunesU app on your iPad/iPhone/iTouch so that you can view your course as you create it. After logging into the course manager, you will see a “share” button underneath the course you are working on. Open that link on your iOS 5 device to view the course in its “final” format.
    • It is important that you test all of your web-links to make sure that they open and behave properly.

iTunes U Course Manager Tips

  1. Download and browse through courses that others have created to get a feel for how they have organized their information and what features are available through the  iTunes U Course Manager. 
  2. Save often! The iTunes U Course Manager may crash/freeze unexpectedly. 
  3. Test your links on an iOS device-- it may not work!
  4. Beware of the iTunes update lag-- it can take 24 hours for any changes you  make to files in the iTunes store to available for inclusion in your course.

Publishing your course
When you are ready to publish the course, send the course URL to the site manager who will publish it to the live site.


  1. Blogger Brad Larson posted a similar review of the iTunesU app that my readers might be interested in:

    Interestingly, his experience and comments match my own very closely!

  2. Hi John,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I'm in the process of creating my first course and find the documentation lacking. Have you found a way to embed an image directly into your post? I've tried it with some simple HTML but the HTML I've added shows up literally in the post, not properly interpreted.

    Thanks again,


Thanks for contributing to my blog. I enjoy being a part of the conversation and do my best to respond to comments and questions that are posted.