The word that appears to be on most education marketing professionals lips at the moment is iTunes U. Whether you're a lover of it or slightly cautious of it, it's hard to sit on the fence - everyone's got a view! Also it can hardly be ignored as iTunes U has now come of age generating global downloads 250 million this year.
Also there are some great success stories. For example; Open University's iTunes U channel is hugely popular. and it was the first institution to break the 20 million downloads threshold. They point their success to providing content linked to current and popular OU courses. The channel allows students to incorporate content into their studies and others around the world can also tap into shared resources for free.
In the UK the volume of universities involved in iTunes U is growing with the University of Oxford, Warwick, Cambridge Nottingham,Coventry, Hertfordshire, Birmingham City and Edinburgh all involved in large scale initiatives.To find out more about what UK universities are doing in the iTunes U space see Brian Kelly's excellent blog post on the subject.
In addition to facilitating the delivery of education, iTunes U has some obvious marketing benefits, for example providing a taster of the learning experience, helping position your institution as a leader in academic research etc.
However, before jumping into the bandwagon and rushing out to develop a iTunes U presence, there are a few points you should consider;
1. The level of ongoing content production required for iTunes U: You need to have a minimum of 150 pieces of academic content to launch the channel. You then need to guarantee a consistent flow of content to iTunesU. However, it was suggested at Apple's recent briefing to higher education institutions that anything under 250 - 300 would look a bit thin on the ground. Note: Though you can put both audio and video content on iTunesU audio dominates. For example; 80% of content accessed on for example Oxford University's channel is audio.
2. The level of resource required to produce content:
There is no escaping the fact that producing content for iTunes U is going to require additional staffing. Some universities have taken on this challenge and invested heavily in content production for example: MIT have an open courseware budget of $3.7 million dollars! It is important to note however, there are ways to cut corners with content production. Even Oxford has admitted to featuring "natural" content in addition to high end content, to facilitate the flow of information to their channel. You will need some level of dedicated staffing around content production, even if this is facilitated through the use of student interns etc, as is the case at Coventry University.
3. The level of internal buy-in and co-ordination required to make a channel happen:
John Hickey Senior Manager Higher Education EMEIA at Apple commented that successful use of iTunes U required some key components; institutional leadership behind the project - due to the level of buy-in required, technical leadership - to facilitate implementation, legal backing for the contractual relationship with Apple, underpinned by clear marketing and PR strategic vision. Dedicated project management was another key part of the mix
4. Justifiying return on investment: With such a high entry cost and on-going commitment investment in this channel needs to be justified in some way. To fully get value out of using iTunes U it would need to become a definitive part of your student communications strategy or investment on this scale would be hard to justify.
It is also my view that to get true value from the platform, utilisation would need to go beyond PR and institutional advertising. Open University used iTunesU as a key part of their course delivery as well as a promotion tool. If iTunesU is integrated into actual teaching delivery, it is easier to gain economies of scale in such a labour intensive channel.
In conclusion, iTunes U is a interesting platform to promote your university but it's not a cheap option by any means and should be considered as part of a broader strategy for facilitating access to educational resources generally.