Apple's new vision of education

Can it do for learning what it did for music and mobile devices?

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While Apple played up the one-click publishing option to the iBookstore, the process does require some legwork before you can get to that single click. As with selling anything in the iTunes Store, the process requires applying for and creating an account to sell through and appears to require that any books be submitted with an ISBN number. It also requires creating a sample version of your book.

If you're considering iBooks Author as a way of self-publishing, you should be aware that Apple's end user license agreement is particularly restrictive. It stipulates that although users can distribute ebooks created with iBooks Author outside of Apple's iBookstore, they can't do so for a fee or as part of subscription service. It also states that Apple will take its standard 30% cut of sales through the iBookstore and reserves the right to deny distribution of ebooks for any reason it sees fit. How Apple will enforce this isn't clear.

It also isn't clear how this will impact sales of the same content packaged outside of iBooks Author. What happens if you use a Word document as the source for both iBooks Author and other tools for distribution to Amazon's Kindle or Barnes & Noble's Nook stores, or create a limited print run sold on consignment to independent bookstores?

iTunes U

I've always been a fan of iTunes U. It's a great service for adults looking to informally continue their education and pursue interests and passions. It's also an amazing professional development tool for virtually any career. My biggest complaints have always been that isn't particularly easy to locate specific courses and that the sheer volume of downloaded audio and/or video is massive.

The new iTunes U app addresses those to complaints by offering an iBook-like storefront where you can search, browse, and rate courses and by offering the option of streaming or downloading lectures and related material. In fact, the entire app is very much like iBooks.

The brilliant part of iTunes U's relaunch is that it isn't limited to just lecture recordings. The entire syllabus of a course including assignments, reading material, references, and other easily available resources. That helps put the lecture portions in context and it takes iTunes U from hobbyist tool to being a complete learning and professional development solution. About the only thing this new format doesn't offer is credit for courses that you take (or, more accurately, audit) - though I wouldn't put it past Apple to work with at least one or two universities to offer credit through iTunes U.

So far, only a limited number of courses use all of the potential new features of iTunes U. That said, they are well worth checking out, both to get acquainted with the app and to learn about the topics that interest you. Personally, I can't wait to get started with the Open Yale Astronomy: Frontiers and Controversies course.

All previous iTunes U lectures are also available in the new app. You can easily differentiate lecture-only courses that take full advantage of new iTunes U features by the spiral-bound notebook icon in the iTunes U Catalog, as well as from their descriptions.

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