Having turned the worlds of communication, software and entertainment upside down, Apple has set its sights squarely on the world of education. The company has a bevy of budding education tools that attempt to democratize education materials and undo the monopoly of traditional learning institutions as purveyors of human knowledge. Here’s how they’re doing it.
iBooks as the New Textbooks
Apple wants to take the weight off of your shoulders (and out of your backpack) by offering an interactive e-book alternative to traditional textbooks, which are quickly out-of-date and lack the search-ability of digital books and Web resources. So they’re opening up their iBooks service with the aim of allowing authors to publish low-cost textbooks for the iPad with ease.
The new iBooks textbooks will initially cost $15 or less. That’s pretty awesome if authors (and school authorities who approve course materials) decide to get on board, though it may not be immediately practical for elementary and high schools to give every student an iPad; perhaps as they become cheaper devices. In addition to online course offerings through iTunes U, this could have a serious impact on the way teachers and students access learning materials. Many schools are already using similar online content systems.
The new iBooks take advantage of all the interactive possibilities you’d expect from the iPad; videos, timelines, animations and even built-in quizzes can be embedded into the books. I’m particularly excited about the searchable glossary, which you can access at any time from the top of the screen without leaving your page. These features are available for regular iBooks, too. Plain text and images just won’t cut it anymore, I guess.
The hidden genius of the move Apple is making here is the application they’re offering to let authors publish on the iBooks platform: iBook Author. The application is available for Mac OS X, and it’s incredibly drag-and-drop easy to create an interactive textbook with the software. You can manipulate text, graphics, video and even animated keynote presentations for use in any kind of book. And it’s free to download.
On top of all that, iBook Author is Microsoft Word compatible and free to download. This may not seem like a big deal, but it’s a game-changer in my view. Just like they exploded the traditional software-development model with downloadable apps for iPhone and iPad, Apple is going to undermine the traditional model for book publishing as well. iBooks are worlds better than traditional books, and this free software that allows any expert to publish their own text has the potential to break the lucrative monopoly of textbook publishers on creating learning content.
To be sure, it’s too soon to say how much impact, if much at all, Apple’s education tools will have. There’s certainly a lot of money to be lost by some very powerful people in the education business if cheap digital textbooks catch on. But I don’t think it’s a matter of if, but when, that will happen.
Some initial criticism of Apple’s education revolution is that the gear to support it is too expensive for most. An iPad is far from a stand-alone device, and wireless keyboards, protective cases and laptops can start to eat up the savings from cheap textbooks. But that argument only holds up so far. The expense might be relatively high at the elementary and high school level, but it’s a bargain for college students used to paying $250 for a single text.
The collective marketability of iTunes U, iBooks and iBook Author is the bare-bones version of what it could be, and the free iBook Author software is key to getting this off the ground. Subject matter experts won’t need to use the publishing houses as middle-men anymore, which will cut out a lot of the extra cost. Content (textbooks, novels, music, TV) is going grassroots.
The current players in education need to adjust or die off. All it will take is sufficient pressure from students and support from forward-thinking faculty to get the ball rolling. And I think the usability and benefits are clear enough to spark adoption in the next few years, especially if Apple continues to evolve and support it.
What do you think? Could iBooks start to work as a replacement for traditional textbooks?
image by MacRumors