Apple’s relentless pace of innovation has already disrupted the music and mobile phone industries. Given the scope of Apple’s technology development, are universities next in line to be disrupted by Apple’s far-reaching digital platforms?
A speculative disruption scenario
In this post I’ll sketch a purely speculative disruption scenario suggested by Apple’s current and projected technology innovations. It appears that Apple may soon have a seamless system of hardware, software, services and online infrastructure to become a pivotal player in higher education. As such, Apple itself may become a brand of education.
That said, I have no evidence that Apple might even desire such a role. My hypothesis is simply that such a role might be available to it.
Apple’s potentially disruptive resources
In the field of higher education, Apple’s potentially disruptive resources would include the following:
- A method of organizing and managing huge amounts of online content and curricula
- A convenient means of delivering educational content and curricula to students
- Portable digital devices that students can use for digital textbooks, lectures and course materials (if some speculations are true)
- A transaction system for collecting tuition and fees
- An administrative system for maintaining student records.
Specific Apple resources would include Apple’s online iTunes University, Apple’s (rumored) forthcoming “iTablet” (for multimedia lectures and textbooks), its online iTunes store for transactions, and its platform of digital services for record keeping.
Apple as disruptor in music, mobile and perhaps publishing
We all know how Apple’s platform innovations disrupted the music industry with iTunes, the iTunes Store and the iPod. Apple subsequently changed the game in mobile communications with the disruptive platform of iPhone and App Store. Publishing may be next on the list if Apple’s rumored “iTablet” turns out to be a superlative e-reader, perhaps optimized for textbooks, and structured within a disruptive platform. Imagine Apple as the world’s default digital publisher, connecting readers with content producers. You may be buying your books, magazines, newspapers, music, movies and videos through iTunes, all downloaded in a few seconds to a spiffy Apple portable device with Apple’s famed ease of use.
Universities: tradition bound
Let’s now consider universities, those valued institutions whose basic structure and functions have been relatively unchanged for centuries. Are there equal or better ways of imparting high-level learning that don’t require the traditional four-year, classroom-based system of lecture-driven instruction? Is there an alternate means where instruction can be raised to the highest levels of interactive, multimedia learning, perhaps customized to student learning styles, and where costs can be contained, instead of spiraling upwards? And might there be a common digital platform where a university’s teaching and knowledge could be scaled worldwide, opening up massive new markets?
Apple’s foot in the collegiate door
Apple already has a foot in the collegiate door with its iTunes U on the iTunes Store. (Yes, they’ve put a university in their store.) The iTunes U features steadily growing numbers of (free) podcasts of complete courses from leading universities, plus many specialty lectures . Currently these are targeted to the iPod and the iPhone.
I’m a real fan of iTunes U. It has gems like this. In its present form, though, iTunes U wouldn’t seem to have much disruptive potential. It’s mostly audio podcasts, and a lesser number of video podcasts. It’s wonderful that Apple makes it available. It’s a credit to participating universities as a means of expanding their educational outreach, as CNN notes.
Looking downstream, however, the emergence of new (and integrated) Apple technologies might position iTunes U as a potential disruptive force in higher learning.
A disruptive iTunes U scenario
Could Apple transform iTunes U into a global digital university, setting the world’s highest standards for interactive digital learning? Given Apple’s current and forthcoming technologies it may be possible to reposition higher learning from institutions of place (ye olde universities) to an integrated system (and network) of instruction. This could be a system of online education orchestrated and operated by a central source, so that the learning modules could be of consistently high quality and be available anywhere, anytime, on convenient portable devices.
Apple’s potential partners in a distributed model of learning
How would this new digital model of learning be organized? It would need a core technology partner, and the closest company to fits that bill is probably Apple. It would need university partners, perhaps a gold list of the top 25 universities from around the world. Together they would offer premium (paid) curricula and courses downloadable via iTunes U.
Course materials (lectures, textbooks, exams, study guides, reference materials, etc.) would be optimized for the (rumored) Apple iTablet/e-reader. Assuming that the Apple e-reader is an interactive device capable of web graphics, text, animations, movies, links, etc., these new courses would stand to be far more compelling than their classroom ancestors. They would also be much more engaging than the current podcast model.
An iTunes U disruption package
Here, then, is a hypothetical iTunes U disruption package, conceivably purchased from the iTunes U store for use on Apple’s “iTablet” (as speculated).
- Digital textbooks (designed as multimedia/interactive books)
- Digital lectures(designed as multimedia/interactive presentations)
- Digital course materials (movies, music, art, etc.) outboard of online textbooks or lectures
- Online student discussions, group exercises, team collaboration and uploads
- Sign-ups, downloaded materials, fees and tuition paid via the iTunes U store.
As a student, you’d visit iTunes U, chose your course or courses, pay the fees, and download everything to your portable device. No lines. No waiting. No “semesters.” Order a logo sweatshirt, and you’re good to go. This may cost less, deliver more learning, and be far more convenient than attending a traditional university.