Love To Learn
Apple just made some quite major announcements regarding education in the U.S., which I’m certain will have effects in the U.K. down the line. They basically are taking on textbooks, which are a bit more of a major thing over the pond than here, I think; tying them in to the iPad/iBooks ecosystem (making them a lot cheaper in the process) and making them awesome-looking digital rich-media wonders compared to the dead tree editions. Also, they are making these new textbooks easy to make (which beforehand they were not). Actually it’s not just textbooks that can be made to look awesome, the authoring software can create any rich-media book: cookbook, travel book, story book, etc. The authoring software is free (if you have a Mac) and quite exciting, and makes it easy to submit your work to the iBooks store, whether you want to give it away or charge a fee.
I have a strange relationship with books. I love reading and I have voraciously collected books in the past, and I believe that as a sociological phenomenon books are amazing and we will always have them. But I have a tendency to not look back and as soon as eBooks were mature enough to lean on I ditched all of my print editions and now I live completely in a digital world, and that is just for stories that I actively want to read, which don’t need to engage me in a multimedia fashion and don’t need to be kept constantly updated. Moving textbooks to multimedia editions I wish fiercely that I had ha access to them when I was a schoolboy. It’s just high time.
Now, the textbook thing is very impressive and laudable and I’m sure will get teachers (and who knows? Possibly even students) excited over there in them United States, but the thing I’m most interested in is an update to iTunes U. iTines what? You may well be asking, and you wouldn’t be alone, because almost no-one knows about it. Basically, iTunes U is a way for higher learning institutions around the world to provide their course material (usually lectures as up until know the material had to be audio or video) to the outside world, completely free of charge. Like, gratis. Some massive colleges here and elsewhere have provided a ton of their teaching to anyone who wants it absolutely for nothing. This is amazeballs in and of itself, but today iTunes U has been expanded to allow institutions to provide entire courses, including notes and documentation, audio and video lectures, links to outside material on the web and links to items inside the iTunes store. The lecturer can provide updates to the course as time goes on and you can track exactly where you are on the list of materials to absorb. And still, this facility is absolutely free. Always wanted to be introduced to quantum physics? Go for it. Ever wondered what China is like? Dig around. Theres a vast amount of stuff already there, chances are what you want to learn is already available. For free. The posh new course stuff has only been introduced today so not much of that exists, but the Open University in the U.K. already has two courses available. UPDATE: even as I was writing this post, the O.U. alone has uploaded a ton more new courses (51 more as I write this update) with everything from religion to sexuality to cities to waste management to writing fiction to rights and vulnerable people. The amount of knowledge being poured on here is vast.
There are some downsides, of course. Firstly, the new and improved iTunes U Courses are only really available on iPhone and iPad as they are now accessed within an app rather than just a subscription in iTunes. Also, and I hope this was obvious but you never know, you don’t get a qualification at the end of it. But if you believe in the power of humans to improve themselves and if you have ever wanted to learn something for the sake of learning it, then there is a wealth of stuff in there for the taking and all you need to spend is time. And if you have drank deep of the Apple Kool-Aid then the new Courses look even more impressive. So what are you waiting for? Go learn something!