Over the last year or so I have been doing a few keynotes and presentations entitled the future of learning. I do start with a caveat that I don’t know the future for sure and that no one can really predict the future…
I then reflected on the past before looking forward.
Well for me the “next big thing” is e-Books and e-Book Readers. These will hit the consumer market big time over the next three years. We will see many more people reading books, magazines and newspapers via devices such as the Apple iPad, Microsoft Courier and other devices not yet on the market.
Well in May 2010, we saw the release of the iPad in the UK and with that came the iBooks application.
Though the Kindle was originally released in 2007, the third generation of Kindles released in 2010 were competitively priced and we saw more people buying these devices and reading ebooks.
By 2012 we saw a huge increase in the sales of ebooks, some of that was due to the success of “50 Shades of Grey”, but in 2013 and 2014 we saw a decline in the rate of growth of ebook sales, so still growing, but more slowly than in 2011 and 2012.
Thursday in New York, Apple gave a presentation which announced three new products and services for education, iBooks 2, iBooks Author and an iTunes U app. I’ve already written about iBooks 2 and iBooks Author, so what about iTunes U.
Before today, iTunes U was in the main a marketing tool for universities and colleges. It was a way of showing prospective students great content and give them an idea of what they may expect to experience if they went to that institution. There were some institutions which used iTunes U as a delivery mechanism for their learners, it was even possible to “close” or “lock” down iTunes U so that only authorised users could access the content.
The key though was that iTunes U was a content delivery system and was not about interactive content, communication or collaboration. It also wasn’t a total content delivery system, as iTunes U was in the main focused on delivering audio and video content (and in some cases PDFs).
Most of the main UK Universities and Colleges were not using iTunes U to deliver all their content to their learners and certainly though there was some excellent content, it was just one delivery mechanism for learners. I would hazard a guess that in most institutions, once the learners are there, most of the content would be provided through the institutional virtual learning environment, a tool such as Blackboard or Moodle. These tools do allow for communication and collaboration and interaction. What was always lacking, until very recently, were usable and decent mobile access to the institutional virtual learning environment. Both Blackboard and Moodle now have either a mobile app, or a mobile optimised stylesheet, however these really don’t “work” as well as they could, as both products were designed to work in a standard web browser on a computer.
Apple have “upgraded” iTunes U to allow much more diverse content to be delivered to learners through iTunes and a new iTunes U app for the iPad. With iBooks 2, interactive textbooks can be “purchased” alongside the planned delivery of video and audio. iBooks Author allows teachers and lecturers to create their own “books” that either can be given or sold to learners (through the iBookstore). This means that much more varied content can be delivered through iTunes U.
What Apple have done with iTunes U for the iPad is design an app for the delivery of curriculum from a mobile perspective. The learner will be “given” a complete course that they can then use on their iPad complete with textbooks, video, audio and other content.
What iTunes U lacks is the social interaction, communication and collaboration tools that an institutional virtual learning environment can provide. Learners would probably say, “so what” as we interact and communicate using Facebook and Twitter. So though iTunes U fails from a two way student engagement perspective, there are other ways in which learners will talk, discuss and communicate, whether that includes the practitioner, that remains to be seen.
Will iTunes U replace Blackboard or Moodle? A lot depends on what we as consumers do. It’s true that iTunes has had a huge effect on the music industry and digital downloads. So there is a precedent for Apple changing an industry, the same can be said about the iPod or the iPhone. However we also need to consider Ping and iWeb, not everything Apple does has that golden touch.
Of course you can’t just use iTunes U, firstly your institution needs to apply to be on iTunes U and that isn’t a simple process, and it isn’t something an individual does, you will need to get management in your organisation on board. However I suspect this will be easier once more institutions get enrolled and you could argue about it from a competitive perspective.
Though a lot of stuff on iTunes U can be viewed on a computer, to take advantage of the real potential of the new iTunes U, the learner is going to need an iPad. You can’t read the new textbooks or books created with iBooks Author on a Mac or a PC, only on an iPad. So if you do put content on iTunes U for use with the iTunes U app then you will need to be sure that either a) all your learners have an iPad, or b) you provide the content in a different format. The latter will be challenging as the export functionality in iBooks Author leaves a lot be desired, the alternatives to the iBook format are PDF and text which don’t utilise the use of media or interactivity.
If every learner in your institution has an iPad, then iTunes U is a great way of delivering content to your learners, if every learner doesn’t… well I wouldn’t bother with iTunes U.
Tomorrow there is going to be an announcement from Apple in New York.
As you can see from the invite the event is about education. The word on the street (well on the rumour sites) is that this is something to do with electronic textbooks, as major publishers have been invited to the event. This wouldn’t be too much of a surprise as it was hinted at in the Steve Jobs biography.
In terms of academic e-books I think we may see either a new way of looking at e-books with much more media within them, or possibly a new way of selling them, by chapter for example as demonstrated by Inkling.
We use to buy music either as albums or singles, now with the iTunes Store or Amazon we can buy individual tracks from albums. I am sure similar changes will happen with books, with e-books just been the start of this process.
One thing I have said is that publishers need to move away from the traditional approach of selling the whole text book as an e-book and start thinking about selling individual chapters to users, in the same way that we can buy individual episodes of a TV series.
I have said we should move away from digitised versions of print books and take advantage of the digital medium with interactive content and media.
We may also see an iBooks for the Mac too; at the moment you can only read iBooks on an iOS device. So if you have an iPad or an iPhone, great you can read e-books from Apple, however if you have a Mac then you can’t. It would make sense that if there are going to be lots of academic e-books for iBooks, and many students will only have a MacBook then there will be a need for iBooks for the Mac.
So what about the creation of content for iBooks? There has also been a lot of discussion and rumours about a possible Apple e-Book publishing tool announcement. At the moment it is quite difficult to create nice looking e-books, yes you can do it in Pages, but it’s not easy or perfect. So the rumour is Apple may announce something like Garageband or iWeb, but for creating e-books. If they announce support within iBooks for the EPUB 3 standard then within iBooks it will be much easier to view and engage with interactive e-books; then we will need a new tool that allows us to easily create EPUB 3 e-books.
This new app, which I guess could be called iPublisher, would allow people to easily create and edit e-books that can then be read in the iBooks app or any e-book reader that supports EPUB 3. There might even be an iPublisher Pro that enables Publishers to create more sophisticated e-books.
Part of me hopes that we will see an “iPublisher” app, but part of me thinks if that was going to happen then why would Publishers (who would be threatened by such a tool) are invited to the event. So as a result I am slightly sceptical that we won’t see an iPublisher tool, but hoping that we will.
Something else we might see tomorrow is iBooks U in the same way the record companies have iTunes and Universities can have their own iTunes U, I wonder if as well as an iBooks academic store, we also have an iBooks U where Universities and Colleges can publish their own iBooks to the EPUB 3 standard, complete with multi-media and interactive content, something that in the past we may have called a learning object.
iBooks U wouldn’t exclude an iPublisher app, if we look at music or audio, we have iTunes Store for commercial content, iTunes U for academic content and within iTunes we have podcasts for other audio content, to which people like me can publish using a tool such as Garageband.
So if we have an iBooks academic store, iBooks U for content from Universities and Colleges, we could also have a “place” for content created by people like me, using a tool that may be called iPublisher…
Well that’s what I am thinking, what do you think?
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