Two free ways to get a university education, virtually speaking

The Internet is a wonderful tool that doesn't just stop at communication, entertainment, productivity and commerce. You've got the world's biggest information resource at your fingertips, offering a ton of content that goes above and beyond Wikipedia.

In fact, you can get post-secondary education — for free — if you know where to look. I don't mean e-learning courses that give you degrees and diplomas, though that's an option, too. But you'd be surprised what's out there for those looking to learn more about a subject — any subject — from experts in their field, around the world.

So here's a few ways you can get a university education at your own pace:

iTunes U

You probably have iTunes software on your PC or Mac, but there's more to iTunes than Lady Gaga and Angry Birds. A section called iTunes U is a collection of more than 350,000 free lectures, videos, audiobooks and other resources, covering a wide range of topics — from Astronomy to Zoology.

You can subscribe to this content at no cost, watch or listen to it on your computer, or synchronize the lessons to a compatible mobile device — like an iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. You can take it all with you wherever you go. More than 800 universities are involved, including those in Canada and the U.S.

Actually, there's support for both the PDF and ePub file downloads, too, therefore iTunes U can offer study guides, syllabi, lecture outlines, notes, maps and entire textbooks. iTunes has hundreds of thousands of downloadable podcasts you can subscribe to, many of which are education-related.

YouTube EDU

Another free video-centric resource is YouTube EDU, an educational hub born out of a volunteer project by YouTube employees.

This area within YouTube is a collection of videos aggregated from dozens of colleges and universities, and organized by school, topic, most viewed and most subscribed. The videos consist of lectures, study sessions, university addresses by alumni and valedictorian speeches, student videos, and more.

You'll find something that suits your interests, be it "Understanding Shakespeare's Sonnets" from University of Warwick to something heavier like "Quantum Computing and the Limits of the Efficiently Computable" from Carnegie Mellon University. Don't have a lot of time on your hands? In 12 minutes you can watch the "Human Evolution Overview" that walks viewers from the age of dinosaurs to humanity.

YouTube EDU can be viewed on a computer or via an Internet-connected smartphone or tablet, wherever you might be on the planet.

On a related note, also be sure to bookmark the Khan Academy, another excellent resource for educational videos — now with more than 2,100 — covering a multitude of subjects. While not university-related, there's also How Stuff Works, eHow and LifeHacker.