While when most people think of downloads with Apple, their first thoughts likely turn to iTunes, Apple's education-based service, iTunes U, is no slouch itself. A recent statement from Apple pegs iTunes U as having recently crossed the one billion downloads mark, marking not only a major milestone event, but a significant possibility that online education as we know it may be undergoing a bit of a sea change.
Apple's iTunes U service offers a growing roster of free lectures, and offers them to an equally growing roster of students. Available on a series of devices, from the standard iOS array to desktop and laptop devices, iTunes U is not just popular – some of the highest-enrolled courses boast enrollment counts of up to 250,000 students – but known around the world, with over 60 percent of students hailing from locations outside the U.S.
Available in 30 countries, and boasting lectures from 1,200 universities and colleges – not to mention a matching number of K-12 schools – iTunes U is riding a pair of trends together to achieve impressive numbers. Not only is Apple selling more iPads to schools for use as a supplement to traditional materials, but online education in general is also becoming more accepted.
That means that Apple is not only selling the means to access it, but the organizational structure to put online education all in one place.
While it's not necessarily going to replace brick-and-mortar schools – at least, not in the short term – it's got to be the kind of thing that's tempting for educators everywhere. Being able to save the kind of money that can be realized from not having to pay bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers and the like, by switching from a physical plant to an online-only institution, has to be an incredible draw for educators and administrators.
That's not to say it can be done yet, of course; online university degrees, for example, carry something of a lesser reputation, and there are issues of the infrastructure simply being unable to keep up with the flow of operations.
If students don't have reliable Internet access to sufficient speeds and bandwidth to handle a day's worth of streaming video, many online operations simply fall apart.
Still, some universities and other schools have realized the value inherent in putting at least some courses online. Offering enrichment programs for advanced students is a laudable goal that gives those hard-to-teach gifted and talented types a little extra room to succeed – and at minimal cost to these school districts.
Those not in school, meanwhile, get access to a whole new style of learning that better allows people to become life-long learners, gathering information at their own pace.
The farther a society goes with online education, the more likely it is to discover its fullest value and impact. Even in China, iTunes U is reportedly allowing students to explore the impact of information overload.
With Apple clearly leading the way on this front, others interested in getting a foot in the door will have to work quickly, lest they find the apple on the teacher's desk is now an iPad.
Contributing TechZone360 Writer
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