iTunes U: Apple's 800-Pound Gorilla
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While everyone’s mother eagerly awaits Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) next earnings announcement, I’ve been looking for ways that Apple will sustain its growth over the long term. Apple has a trump card few are talking about, and I think it may be the way for things to get exciting again. Not that a $600+ share price is boring or anything. I’m trying to make sense of how Apple will take it to the next level, wowing us once again. It’s all about education this time with iTunes U at the center of the revolution.
Still relatively under the growth prospect radar, iTunes U is an education platform available through the iTunes store. Anyone with access to iTunes can access countless courses, video lectures, and notes offered by the world’s universities. It’s still very much in its infancy, but already there are offerings from universities like Harvard, Stanford, and MIT. Best of all, it’s free. This is what’s known as Open Source Education and the implications are tremendous for society. Provided a user has access to the internet and iTunes, they can effectively educate themselves until their heart is content. More global access to free education creates the basis for a more intelligent world. That’s great news for everyone.
iTunes U is not the only game in town, but it’s arguably the most diverse network of free education available. Coursera is another highly publicized example of an Open Source Education platform. It’s a partnership currently between Princeton, Stanford, University of Michigan, and The University of Pennsylvania. There are many other amazing start-ups focused on this movement and even Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) now has a section of YouTube dedicated to education. The problem with the Google version is that it’s a bit cumbersome to work with – it lacks serious organization. You end up spending too much time sifting through the mess to find courses of interest. iTunes U is what you would expect from Apple. It’s clean, fluid, and easy to use.
The innovation here is not from offering a great platform. Nearly any tech company with a little know-how can do this. It’s related to how Apple has interpreted the textbook by making learning fit for the 21st century – it’s now interactive. They’ve also set a cap on what publishers can charge for a textbook to a wallet friendly $14.99. Not only is it interactive and beautiful, it’s downright affordable. The medium is so new, the market is still finding best practices. But it’s safe to say the textbook has been reinvented.
The biggest problem I’ve found is file size. I downloaded a free biology textbook that was a couple of gigabytes in size and quickly realized the value of my iPad’s limited capacity. It’s a minor, yet annoying shortcoming to deal with in exchange for nearly free learning. I will say these textbooks were made to live on the iPad and the experience was really enjoyable. It almost seems like a match made in heaven and education is the iPad’s true calling.
Ivy League institutions have begun embracing a world where education is open and free – something very disruptive to their model. Although iTunes U does not offer credit for education, it does offer the best Open Education platform available today. Welcome to the 21st century, where a $499 iPad and a semester of textbooks costs substantially less than conventional standards. Not to mention the decline of backaches for not carrying around all those textbooks. What’s really exciting is that we may begin to witness a transformation of the accreditation system as we know it. And Apple sits quietly at the center of something this monumental.
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