March 24, 2011
social learning

iTunesU Could Be So Much More (Part 1 of 2)

Truth be told, I never was a big fan of Apple products.

Oh sure, through courtship and then marriage I inherited a Mac Classic II as well as a Power PC, but for whatever reason, I never found myself 100% enthralled with its UI, feel, etc.

Maybe it was Clarisworks.

Most likely it was the Microsoft machine.

But, over the past several years, my personal opinion of Apple has changed with the introduction of iPods, iPhones and iPads into our household. (we’re not quite there yet with a MacBook, but it looks to be inevitable)

Through this evolution, I’ve begun to acquire an appreciation for the psyche of Apple users. Plenty has been written about the cult following of their brand and products, but I’m not interested in the brand per se. I’m interested in the adaptation of various Apple devices as social learning tools. More succinctly, I believe Apple has a chance to create one of the most definitive social learning platforms on the planet.

iTunesU suggests that we can “Learn Anything, Anytime, Anywhere”. It describes itself as:

a powerful distribution system for everything from lectures to language lessons, films to labs, audiobooks to tours — is an innovative way to get educational content into the hands of students.

Did you notice the term ‘distribution system’?

iTunesU, therefore, is no different than the classic university model itself. There is a ‘sage on the stage’ serving up content, and there are ‘students’ absorbing as much as they can in a one-way distribution system.

I see iTunesU becoming much more than a ‘distribution system’. I see it as becoming a true social learning portal, capable of tearing down the walls and silos of traditional education models and serving students from Kindergarten to Doctoral candidates in ways that cannot currently be fathomed.

iTunesU isn’t solely about content. It shouldn’t only be utilized as a distribution system. It should be redesigned to incorporate ‘collective intelligence learning paths’. That is, the ability for the ‘crowd’ to help steer people in the right direction in their quest for learning … be it formal, informal or social learning. iTunesU can become not only a repository for content, it can become a place whereby discussions are had, comments are placed, rankings are issued, social collaboration is prevalent … all the while happening from any Apple “i” device as well as non-Apple devices through the iTunesU portal itself. (the latter point demonstrates leadership and a commitment to enhancing the education in society, regardless of platform)

In a perfect world iTunesU could:

  • help align students from different geographies to learn with one another through formal, informal and social means.
  • help improve the learning experience of children and young adults by instituting a systemic change to the learning process simply be enhancing the UI to be two-way in delivery versus one-way
  • mitigate all forms of siloed content delivery, regardless of discipline and regardless of level of schooling.
  • break down current barriers of multiple learning systems throughout the world.
  • become a more credible alternative to the “Facebook as a Learning Portal” push if devised wisely.
  • actually confer degrees (if University of Phoenix and Ashwood can do it, why can’t iTunesU?)
  • deprecate the LMS for many organizations, if it were to also be thought of as a new form of Learning 2.0 portal

I’ll mock up what I think the new iTunesU could look like shortly, and in another post.

Thanks to Christian Thomas (and hopefully others) at Apple for reading. Happy to chat live to discuss more thoroughly.

PS. I’m a fan now.

2 Replies to “iTunesU Could Be So Much More (Part 1 of 2)”

  1. Your first post has been sticking with me for days. You really are onto something here. I’ve loved the concept of iTunesU since it came out but it’s really never felt “Apple” enough [full-disclosure time: my company is 100% Mac, I buy Apple products before I know exactly how I plan to use them and then convince myself that they have changed my life, it’s March 24th, 10:10pm, and I plan to stay-up until 1am, March 25th, to order an iPad 2 online because I’m out of town right now and not near an Apple Retail Store and can’t function with the iPad 1 any longer for emotional reasons now that there’s a new one].

    My wish (Dear Apple…): a blend of the work that TED and wikipedia are doing with iTunesU, creating a global learning platform that is device independent (well as long as it has that cute little fruit symbol on it), which allows me to learn as I go – this would be the ultimate learning platform. The next logical step would be a type interface (with a better UI) that will let me create my own corporate, social, learning channel, hosted by Apple (hey, there’s a way to finally turn the tables on the “glass-paned, wood-framed” crowd – hit it where it really hurts – developing learning leaders tied to an iTunesU platform).

    Looking fwd to your thoughts on the platform Dan.

  2. As a user of iTunesU from fairly early on, I always got the feeling it was less of a directed effort and more of a “hey, we got some open university courses… let’s add more” until we got to where we were today. It certainly feels like more of a repository than anything with direction or learning guidance. That being said, the potential is staggering… as you’ve clearly shown.

    To be honest, I always envisioned Google taking this on given their credo of organizing the world’s info and making it accessible and usable (I’ve paraphrased more than a little bit there). It seemed more a “fit” for them combined with their efforts on Google Books, Apps, Reader, YouTube, etc.

    At any rate, I love the idea of crowdsourcing learning in terms of paths (dare I utter the words curriculum paths?!) and mixing the formal, informal and social. I suppose the basics of it are in place now with recommendation services like Ping (which admittedly I’ve not used much and may be off the mark but seems to fit the bill in at least a basic sense).

    However, if they truly want to be what you suggest, then they need to move beyond Apple devices only and recognize the marketing value of goodwill and stewardship over the spread of knowledge and learning. Pie in the sky, I suspect, but what a great possibility.

    Great idea and great article! Looking forward to the next post!

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