Apple's new vision of education

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

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Private schools also have more operational freedom than public schools. While they still must adhere to government-mandated syllabi, they have a good deal of freedom when it comes to texts, materials and teaching methods to meet those requirements and are free to include their own additional curricula.

This means there will be far fewer barriers to entry when it comes to Apple's vision of digital learning. It also means that teachers have more flexibility in structuring lessons and more opportunities for professional development. And that should help ease a transition to the iPad and digital textbooks, as well as encourage creation of class and school-specific resources like textbooks and iTunes U programs.

Higher Education

Although Apple included the new iTunes U app in this week's announcement, there was little focus on higher education. This may be in part because technology use in higher education is a different ballgame than in K-12 schools. Students are expected to provide their own devices and manage them and their course work themselves.

While there is certainly a place in colleges and universities for digital textbooks, a much broader selection of texts and reference sources is available to faculty members, who often devise their own syllabus, lectures, assignments and materials. The iBookstore isn't likely to deliver the same cost advantage at colleges as it might for high school students. Even with partnerships with the major textbook vendors, Apple may not be able to keep costs down to acceptable levels. Indeed, a recent study in The Chronicle of Higher Education indicates that electronic texts don't generate significant cost savings to students.

That said, both iBooks Author and the ability to create and manage an iTunes U course have a lot of potential for higher education. In particular, the ability to distribute ebooks that are class-specific and private to a department or school may be particularly attractive.

It's also worth noting that Apple faces different competition in the higher education textbook arena, including college bookstores.

Continuing ed and professional development

As noted earlier, iTunes U is an amazing resource for adult learners and people looking to update or advance existing professional skills. For them, the revamped iTunes U is a potential goldmine. The combination of lectures, texts and related resources will give anyone access to a classroom experience. The new face of iTunes U also benefits Apple in that supporting material like books, apps and audiovisual content will be available though its various storefronts.

Lifelong learning may be one of the most incredible and yet easily overlooked achievements in Apple's vision of 21st century education. The company is making all of this learning content and tools available to virtually anyone, anywhere and at impressively low costs.

While Apple's education efforts will directly or indirectly affect how future generations learn as they grow up, perhaps the biggest feat is removing barriers to knowledge and supporting multiple learning styles from childhood through adulthood.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. He has been a Computerworld columnist since 2003 and is a frequent contributor to Peachpit.com. Faas is also the author of iPhone for Work (Apress, 2009). You can find out more about him at RyanFaas.com and follow him on Twitter (@ryanfaas).

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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