iTunes U: Apple's Unsung Mobile Learning Platform

There's plenty of hyperbole when it comes to Apple's impact on education and specifically on mobile learning. Cue claims of "revolution." But most often when we do so, it's to talk about Apple hardware or the thriving app ecosystem that's grown up around it.

iTunes U never gets as much attention as the rest of the iTunes marketplace, even though the catalog of educational material there is pretty impressive. iTunes U boasts over 350,000 pieces of digital content from over 1000 institutions: lecture podcasts and videos, as well as course documents, slideshows, and movies. In addition to higher education materials, iTunes U offers some K-12 resources as well as what Apple calls "Beyond Campus" -- materials from museums, libraries, and public radio and television.

According to figures released by Apple to The Loop this week, it appears as though interest in iTunes U is skyrocketing.

Apple says that it has seen more than 600 million downloads from iTunes U since the education portal launched in 2007, and more than 300 million of those downloads occurred in the last year alone.

Now, I tend to be skeptical when I hear download figures and user sign-ups touted as a measure of a company's or a program's success. Just because you've downloaded iTunes U podcasts doesn't mean you've listened and just because you've listened doesn't mean you've learned. So says the writer with a significant number of un-played iTunes U episodes on her computer.

But perhaps the files being on my computer are part of my problem. According to the statistics from Apple, iTunes U is becoming an increasingly mobile experience, with more than 30% of traffic to iTunes U coming from iOS devices. 60% of the traffic comes from outside the U.S.

Despite mobile access to the content on iTunes U, there's no doubt that much of it looks like fairly traditional classroom fare, simply digitized and downloadable. There aren't the bells and whistles and push notifications and gaming levels you can find in a learning app. But that doesn't diminish the effort at all, I'd argue, particularly as unlike the vast majority of crap that falls under the education heading in the iTunes store (yes, I said "crap"), the materials in iTunes U are curated.

And while schools can opt to utilize iTunes U as a formal portal for their schools, restricting access to the content to only enrolled students, it seems as though the vast majority of what's available is just that: freely available. The next trick, however, is getting us to listen and learn from what we download.


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