Apple, iTunes U and the Mobile LMS

Questions about mobile strategy.

September 2, 2013

I've been spending some time with Blackboard Mobile Learn 4.0, the latest update to its iOS and Android mobile LMS platform. (Apparently they also have Blackberry and WebOS...could this be right?)

So far I'm impressed.  

Mobile Learn 4.0 seems to do a much better job than previous versions of converting the web formatting to the mobile form factor. I've been experimenting on an iPhone, and I've been pleasantly surprised how functional the app seems to be for reading blog and discussion posts, watching class videos, and launching attached PDF articles.   

There seems to be some controversy about the design (some folks don't like the bright colors), but from I can see Mobile Learn 4.0 is an excellent update.

The question that I am struggling with is how to make sense of the dedicated LMS apps (from Blackboard or Canvas or other platforms) in the context of other mobile learning platforms.  

Should a school or a program go with only the LMS app for mobile learning, or is a better approach to offer multiple mobile learning platforms?

This question is not just an academic one for my day job, as my program has been pushing hard into our iPad mini program and the iTunes U app (with courses built on Course Manager).

For those of you that have not been able to try out the iTunes U app and Course Manager I highly recommend investing some time with the platform. The iTunes U app provides an elegant and streamlined student curricular content consumption experience.  

Readings and videos play beautifully on iOS devices. Course content can be downloaded, and accessed while offline. The iTunes U app makes it easy to leverage other apps, such as GoodReader, for annotation and note-taking on the iOS device. Course materials can be updated on the fly, seamlessly syncing as new materials are added.  

The iTunes U app is not perfect (there is no pre-enrollment, no web client, and assessment etc.), and it is only for curricular content consumption (not an LMS replacement).  What the iTunes U app is is is an elegant and powerful learning tool for curricular content consumption.

The problem is that the iTunes U app does not integrate at all with the learning management system. If you want to use iTunes U it will be necessary to build your courses in your LMS, and then re-build them in iTunes U Course Manager.

This double-building, non-integrated approach to mobile learning sounds absolutely crazy.  

Why would we want to do twice the work when we could simply use the mobile app that is built for the LMS that we already use?   

Why would we ask our students to go to two different apps to interact with our course content?   

The answer to both these questions is that Apple's iTunes U app and the LMS mobile apps do different things.   

The LMS app must compromise elegance and ease-of-use in order to be more feature rich. The LMS mobile app is not only about faculty uploaded content (readings, videos etc.), but about student generated interaction (blogs, discussion boards), and assessments (quizzes and tests). 

The Apple iTunes U app, not having to do anything beyond act as a content device, can focus on a great content experience. Spend some time with iTunes U on an iPhone or iPad and you will not want to read class materials or watch class videos on anything else.

So what is the way forward?  

Will the LMS mobile apps ever become elegant enough to challenge what Apple is doing?  

Will Apple ever integrate its iTunes U app into the major LMS platforms, providing more choice in the market?   

Maybe Apple will build out iTunes U so that it could be considered a replacement for the LMS. But wait, that won't work because iTunes U is iOS only.

When it comes to mobile learning platforms, I'm feeling sort of stuck about what to do next.



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