iTunes U – Are Libraries Missing a Trick?

For those new to iTunes U here’s a brief overview:

iTunes U works in much the same way as music downloads on the iTunes store, but instead you can download bitesize educational content such as tutorials, guides, video clips, etc, straight to your computer, i-pod or i-phone thus enabling learners the flexibility to learn whenever and wherever they choose.

A demo of iTunes U is available on the Apple website here.

Apple can provide any college or university with a customized portion of the iTunes Store to distribute course content and other audio and video material. The files themselves are stored on servers run by Apple, but college administrators have control over whether they limit viewing access to certain people (i.e. their own learners) or make them publicly available to everyone.

The learning material, accessed using the free iTunes software, can even be customized with the institution’s colours, logos, and photographs.

So, who’s using it and, more importantly, why should libraries use it?

According to the Apple site, over 600 universities, many in the USA, now have iTunes U accounts and about half of these institutions make their content available via the iTunes Store. Granted, the vast majority of the content is HE focussed and produced by universities, but the FE sector are starting to get on board with the likes of Preston College, Adam Smith College and Aberdeen College leading the way in the UK.

(Image available under the Creative Commons licence on Flickr at

There are a number of reasons why we should explore the idea of creating content that learners can access flexibly via mobile devices. Let’s face it, most learners today own a mobile phone and current estimates of internet access via mobile devices range between 7.2 million and 17.4 million users in the UK alone. Not only do we tend to take such devices with us practically everywhere we go and always have them on (when they’re not charging), they’re also an incredibly personal, as well as social, tool that is likely to be around for some time.

There’s already alot of good work being developed across the region utilising mobile phones as tools to engage learners in the library with text services, video tutorials and QR Codes. If you’d like to find out more see Andrew Walsh’s article “They all have them – why not use them? Introducing mobile learning at the University of Huddersfield Library” in the SCONUL Newsletter 47 or catch up with his blog.

Another reason to get on board with iTunes U is to take advantage of the vast range of open educational resources produced by many of the users, that are classified by subject on the iTunes Store.

The OU in particular has produced a number of quality resources that are free to download from the iTunes Store (I was amazed to find some great video footage of the colosseum in Rome, but enough about my next holiday!). You can also follow the OU on Twitter and receive regular updates about new OU iTunes U content.

There are a few whispers of libraries in the USA that are starting to explore iTunes U as a platform for delivering library information already, but there’s a surprising dearth of take up here in the UK.

So, are libraries missing a trick? If you’d like to find out more about iTunes U and how it can be used for delivering educational content we’ll be providing a workshop on this at our forthcoming summer conference.

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