This past Friday I spent some time publishing a course on my iPod. (Find out how you can, too).
It’s fairly simple to create a course to run on an iPod, but there’s one problem: installing.
Installing the course takes too many steps for the average person … dragging the audio content into iTunes, syncing, then putting the iPod into disk mode, and dragging the course’s text files into the Notes section of their iPod. (More info on installing.)
There has to be a better way – and there’s a couple of forms it could take. One is very simple and immediate. The other is long-term and strategic … and that’s the one that I think Apple will do.
One: iPod Markup Language, zipped course packages
Option A would be for Apple to extend the markup language that iPods already speak, making it just a little more sophisticated. In this scenario, Apple would invent some kind of configuration format that would tell iTunes just what to do with all the course components.
A course might consist of audio content, text content, some pictures, and perhaps a few videos. The configuration file would simply be used during installation – telling iTunes what’s included, where to put it, and how it’s all linked together.
Then content providers could zip up course packages and distribute them online. People who want to install the courses would just download the file and import it into iTunes. During the next sync with their iPod, iTunes would put the components in the right places on the iPod, and users would find the courses either in the Notes section of their iPod as they currently do, or, preferably, in a dedicated courses/learning section.
Two: iTunes Education Store (and library)
That’d be a great easy solution, but here’s what I think Apple will actually do.
Apple will do for iPod-based e-learning exactly what they did for podcasts: build in the ability for content providers (both professional and amateur) to register their content at the iTunes music store.
They’ve already done this for major universities, in a sense. Currently, it’s only for audio and maybe video content. But eventually, it will be for complex content that is a mix of text, audio, video, images, and even assessment.
Once that’s been done, then Apple will make it discoverable for people browsing the iTunes Music, err everything store. You’ll be able to can “subscribe” to it just like a podcast, and bango-wango, it’ll auto-magically appear on your iPods.
There’ll be a free option for free content (that’s the library part) and, you guessed it, a commercial model for courses people and companies want to sell.
(As an aside, this is why Microsoft is so worried about Apple’s iTunes/iPod empire. It’s not the music, it’s the ecosystem. What Apple has built is a media-delivery monster, and the only limit to what this pipe can carry is the rate at which people can absorb new uses for it without getting information overload and reacting against it.)
This will be completely revolutionary, because now you will not only have an easy way to create and publish courses, you’ve got a popular, common platform on which to do it. Who needs e-books? iPod is already here!
The content is easy to create – it took me about an hour to get from having no clue how to do it to successfully publishing my course on my iPod. And the reach of the platform is unparalleled, with probably 45 million iPods in the wild today.
It’s a content provider’s dream: fairly cheap, extremely portable, good battery life, flexible, easy to publish to, a built-in distribution model, and an ecosystem full of people used to paying for content.
Is this what Duke University had in mind when they did their iPod Duke Digital Initiative? Perhaps. I’m convinced it’s going to happen.
The only question is when.