Like most people I tend to think that had I not been born into a poor but honest (slaps knee) family, I too could have got an MIT or Stanford (or I suppose in my case Oxford) education.

Although one quick look at Stanford's 'Modern Physics: The Theoretical Minimum (PHY 25) - Classical Mechanics' course on iTunes U was enough to suggest otherwise. I now concede that it was more a lack of gray cell matter between my ears than wedge in my parent's pockets that stopped me from being a physicist.

Modern Physics at Stanford, not for the faint of heart

Still, I can't help but applaud both Stanford and MIT, plus of course Yale and the thirty or so other American universities that have put up video and audio recordings of their lectures for free download via iTunes. Click on the iTunes store and iTunes U and a world of first-class education is yours for free.

Some universities (including MIT with its OpenCourseWare) are going one step further by including course notes and materials on the web. And iTunes U has recently expanded to museums, art galleries and other institutions with its Beyond Campus section.

The World is Flat, according to Thomas L. Friedman

This absolute gem of a feature in iTunes is criminally overlooked. And owners of video-enabled iPods or iPhones can take courses at home (or on the bus) that would otherwise be far beyond their reach. Yesterday I spent the commute home watching Thomas L. Friedman's 'The World Is Flat' lecture, where the New York Times' Pulitzer Prize winning journalist explained how both 911 and the Iraq war diverted attention from the technological revolution taking place throughout the world at the same time.

iTunes U costs nothing and is worth an awful lot.