Are universities reluctant to use iTunes U?

Are universities reluctant to use iTunes U?

Summary: Is iTunes U a viable platform for school systems to implement?

TOPICS: Apple, Hardware, Mobility

Many of us remember Steve Jobs and his wish to 'revolutionize education', but how many universities and colleges are taking advantage of the learning-based tools Apple has provided?

Created in 2007, iTunes U is advertised by Apple as a service that can be used to design and distribute courses that go beyond traditional print media. Designed to appeal to educators, the platform can be used to create interactive learning material for students at university, college or K-12 level.

According to Apple, there have been over 700 million downloads to date of iTunes U. However, are there many colleges and universities who have made the transition from their own platforms to the modern service on offer?

How many universities, colleges and schools use iTunes U?

Stanford, Yale, Oxford, Duke, Harvard and UC Berkeley are the most well-known academic institutions that utilize the platform. There are over 100 courses currently available on iTunes U provided by these schools, and thousands are available from course providers.

It is unclear how quickly other schools are moving to take advantage of the application, which still has to gain wider acceptance by the academic community. It may be a 'revolutionary' platform, however it faces opposition from a number of sources; including traditional lesson advocists, in-use management systems and educational establishments already under pressure through financial constraints and increasing class sizes.

"It's competing with some of the traditional learning management systems that have been around a number of years," said John Flores, executive director of the Boston-based U.S. Distance Learning Association.

"It's almost like changing bags or changing doctors or changing barbers. You get comfortable. You want to go to the same resource. The same happens with using a technology."

The use of new technology in class can either reinvigorate tired lesson material and promote more modern learning methods, or it can simply become a fad that does little to inspire teachers, and become phased out quickly.

Some educational establishments use iTunes U purely for promotional video and public content, whereas others avoid it all together; citing the needs of training and a lengthy process of transitional which is not viable.

Why is the iTunes U service used?

Modernizing material

iTunes U is one of the most widely-accessible platforms available that can be used to supplement traditional learning material with more modern alternatives. iTunes U can make the learning experience from K-12 to university more relevant, modern and engaging -- and appeal to a wider range of learning styles, encompassing visual, audio and kinetic aspects.

Students can annotate and contribute on digital content together to improve the overall quality of material available for future studies, and teachers can make the transition from recycling PowerPoint projections and paper quizzes to interactive coursebooks.

Easy access and organisation

The iTunes U platform can be quickly accessed from a number of mobile devices -- including the iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone. As long as the user possesses an Apple device, then the limits of being connected to a school's intranet or the need to rely on campus-based machines to access material is removed.

The platform's interface is also clean and easy for both students and educators to use; simplifying the organisation of course material.

Free courses and positive marketing

Course providers who are using iTunes U tend to focus on promoting their material, and therefore extend their following to a wider audience and are able to gain additional subscribers. These types of organisations currently appear to be more active in utilizing the service than schools, colleges or universities.

The Open University, a global course and learning material provider, has reached over one million active subscribers after its launch earlier this year through the iTunes U app. It currently offers a number of free courses on the platform, and its inclusion has resulted in over 50 million downloads around the world, reaching approximately 40,000 downloads per day.

In contrast, few universities and schools have implemented similar systems -- albeit on smaller scales. For the sake of long-term profitability, an additional revenue stream and as a nod to younger generations often preferring distance-based learning, declining to use these types of platforms may be a missed opportunity for schools on a global scale.

Why is the iTunes U service avoided?


Although the application is free, the courses can only be accessed on an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch, and these Apple products may not be unaffordable for college students with limited financial resources, or parents of children in average high schools.

It is also the case that if a school decides to opt for iTunes U, it becomes their responsibility to make up any shortage of devices -- if they choose to include a BYOD scheme -- or to cover the cost all together, which may not be viable.


Once an academic institution has spent the time and money required to train its staff in using a platform, the switch to another not only means changing learning methods, material and infrastructure, but retraining staff. This takes both time and money to achieve; something that can be difficult in the current economic climate.

Losing control, reliance on other providers

It may be the case that universities, colleges and schools choose not to transfer to an external provider in order to retain control over the content available to their students; including what material is available to paying students and what is available publicly.

Some schools are concerned that by making material available on Apple's platform, copyright and student privacy issues may blossom -- an element of online learning not generally applicable to others on offer including Blackboard and Moodle.

Time, investment, and resources

The crux of the matter is time, investment and whether or not to open up educational resources. By opting to create a presence within iTunes U, it can generate long-term income for a school, but often making the decision to begin the move costs time and money in training staff.

Many schools find transitioning to new platforms a challenge, due to a lack of technical knowledge, training and budgetary constraints. Although Apple's mobile devices maintain a large share of the consumer market, once an academic institution makes the decision to move to a platform that requires such a device, there are repercussions for both students and the organisation itself.

Perhaps if Apple introduces more extensive large-scale academic pricing agreements with schools for this hardware, then it will increase the rate of institutions adopting the practice, shifting platforms and taking advantage of services such as iTunes U.

However, it is likely to take time for academic institutions to want to invest time and effort making the transition to more modern learning platforms -- if they are willing to abandon other providers.

Course providers can use iTunes U in order to secure an additional, paying subscriber base by offering free courses. Once an individual begins using the service, it is more likely that they would consider going further and paying for their next course if they are pleased with the free options. However, there are few universities who have created free learning material in order to promote their courses -- with the exception of new platforms like MITx, university courses are often campus-based.

If universities are feeling the sting of rising tuition fees and governmental cuts, an avenue they could pursue in order to establish a long-term gain is investing the time and training required to use these platforms -- for both financial gain and for the benefit of students.

Image credit: Apple/iTunes U


Topics: Apple, Hardware, Mobility

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  • To be correct, Jobs never announced "iTunes U" as "revolutionary", even ...

    ... though he dreamt of revolution in education [i]in general, as system[/i]. In his last twenty years, he came to conclusion that revolution in this area is not within technology, but with how education institutions are managed and financed. He went into great details about this couple of times.

    In relation to purely [i]technologic[/i] aspects of education, Jobs specifically wanted to revolutionise textbooks, and he succeeded at least in the part of solution itself. However, it will take years for new textbooks concept to fully unfold and come to widest masses of children around the world -- what would be revolution by Jobs' standard, rather than just appearance of technology itself.

    iTunes U system, if developed seriously, could be another part of technology that would change education process. But, as it is now, it is not yet that fully-powered as it can be.
    • Why is iTunes U not fully-empowered yet in your opinion, DeRSSS?

      Is it because Apple itself does not fully advertise this resource? Is it because, with the exception of Charlie on ZDNet, most blog sites and bloggers will not trumpet this educational resource as the important educational tool that it is?

      Charlie enumerates the financial arguments preventing it's widespread adoption so far. (Mainly from vested interest groups whose business plans would be severely and negatively impacted from the adoption of iTunes U into the mainstream educational market environment.)

      And she also mentions the cost factors (both in hardware and software) but quite frankly, cost is NOT a consideration for a University student in this regard. REMEMBER, the "U" in iTunes U is for "University". (If University students can find the resources to operate a smartphone and pay for it's data plan plus find the way to purchase traditional paper bound text books, than they can afford the cost of an iPad.)

      This resource could be adopted for elementary and secondary school system environments but as envisioned, this resource is intended for University and post-University students and individuals rather than the aformentioned primary school systems.

      Personally, I am almost resigned to a most undemocratic notion regarding social betterment programs or institutions. That is, those individuals who do not embrace significant improvement resources presented to them will fail. And those that do will succeed. It is pure Darwinism - survival of the fitness and natural selection.

      This educational resource, iTunes U, is available for those that wish to embrace it. Those that do will better themselves. Those that don't (and could have utilized this resource) will fail to improve themselves. It's as simple as that.
      • I meant that iTunes U could be still even much more fully-powered

        Not that it is a bad product currently.
      • Limitations

        As long as it is limited to specific idevices only, it will remain limited in scale and scope. Instead of utilizing and expanding, it is boxed. It could be good. It could be great. I doubt we will ever see it be either.
      • Please see Mewdeeman's comment, Rhonin.

        You should check out some of the course material on your PC. Just install iTunes and download some material that interests you. Not all course materials offered are related to the "hard sciences" or engineering disciplines. This educational resource benefits all online connected users.
  • Non-IOS devices

    "...though the application is free, the courses can only be accessed on an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch"

    Correction, iTunes U courses and their material can be followed fine on any system and operating system that can run iTunes, so that includes windows computers. It's just that the IOS app offers a beautifully integrated experience bundling the course material with note taking and checklists, which you don't get on a desktop machine. But the iTunes U IOS app is in no way required to take any iTune U course.
    • I downloaded the HACC Introduction to Statistics course

      And accessed it thru the iOS app on my iPad. I was incredibly impressed with the visual layout offered by this union of course material and iOS app.

      BTW, I wish I had this resource available to me when I took university level statistics so long ago.
  • Errr......

    Do you really want to install iTunes on hundreds or maybe thousands of computers and then have to update them probably every month or so? [Can iTunes be even deployed properly in a windows environment? No Linux edition.] Let alone iTunes repeatgedly is in the top 10 buggiest software. Sure not as buggy as Flash but it's up there.
  • Can free software access iTunes U?

    Is it possible to access iTunes U using free/libre software? Correct
    me if I'm wrong, but I think iTunes in general requires users to run
    secret proprietary software that is under Apple's control. Unless
    iTunes U is an exception, that too requires this proprietary software.

    If you trust big corporations to do what is good for the public, maybe
    you will think that's ok. Otherwise I hope you'll be suspicious.
    Many widely used proprietary programs are known to have malicious
    features; the inly defense against them is to insist that the users
    must control the program. Which means, insist on free software.