Can Higher Ed Leapfrog Apple & Amazon in the Mobile Content Experience?

We constantly worry about the widening experience gap between consumer and education enterprise technologies.

August 14, 2012

We constantly worry about the widening experience gap between consumer and education enterprise technologies.

On the consumer side we have come to expect ease of use, rapidly evolving design, and cross-screen compatibility. On the education enterprise side, the LMS's and SIS's and library catalog platorms, - well, not so much.

Amongst my favorite examples of great consumer tech content and platform include the Amazon ecosystem, including Kindle apps / readers and books, and the NYTimes iOS app.

Wouldn't it be great if our students could find our institution's academic and curricular materials as easily they locate books and other content on Amazon?   When will our learners be able to instantly download curricular content as an e-book or audiobook to multiple mobile devices as is possible with Kindle books and the Audible platform?  (Or for that matter provide a sample electronic chapter for every book in the catalog, as Amazon done with Kindle Samples?)

How far are we away from creating learning management systems (LMS) that constantly sync all course content, including multimedia, and allow for beautifully formatted offline viewing as the NYTimes iOS app does?

For the most part, the consumer experience for finding and consuming content on mobile devices is getting easier - while the ability to access all academic curricular and library content still requires multiple steps, inconsistent experiences, and an absence of consistent offline and multi-screen capabilities.

Despite all positives in the consumer tech mobile content experiences, we still see some important gaps.  The consumer experience may indeed be more robust and polished than the academic enterprise platform experience, but I've come to see some problems on the consumer side that may allow us to do some catching up (and perhaps even leapfrogging) in higher ed.

Sticking to my Amazon and NYTimes iOS app example, some problems include:

A Lack of NYTimes / Amazon (or any online content provider) Deals: Each week I read the NYTimes Book Review on my iPhone. I'll find a book that sounds promising, and I will want to download the first chapter as a Kindle Sample to my iPhone. The problem is that the NYTimes has not done any deal with Amazon to make this possible.  If the NYTimes did this deal with B&N I'd probably switch to a Nook. Why is it that media outlets like the NYTimes have not made deals that allow for in-app digital file downloads?  

No Kindle or Audible App iPhone Purchases: Due to Apple's licensing terms, specifically the requirement that it gets a cut of any in-app purchases, it is impossible to download Kindle Samples or whole books from my iPhone's Kindle or Amazon app. This means that if I am reading about content on my iPhone that I want to purchase in a digital format (e-text or audiobook) I cannot go ahead make a direct purchase from my phone. Rather, I need to sample or purchase from a browser.  How many content purchases does this limitation negate?

A Disconnect Between Platform/Hardware and Content Providers: I've always wondered why the big hardware/software players like Apple, Amazon, and Google don't simply hire as many content creators and critics as possible. Amazon has great reader reviews, but why not hire professional content reviewers?   As long as the reviewers are trusted, and the reviews are fair and balanced, I'm happy to read professional reviews from the providers of the platforms and the software that I use to locate and purchase my content.

Where does this leave us in higher ed who perceive a need to provide our students (and faculty) better technology content experiences?

Perhaps we can find ways to own the whole educational widget. To license our curricular and library content in a way that allows seamless interaction with our mobile e-learning, campus and library apps.  

Maybe we could get our content buyers and content creators in the same room with the people who are purchasing or developing our education, campus and learning apps - with the goal of having all these people create one seamless (content and platform) mobile educational experience.

We probably have a small window in higher ed in which we can surpass the consumer mobile content experience.

Does higher ed have the ability to beat the consumer players in the mobile content experience world, or will be hamstrung by publisher restrictions and a lack of viable for-profit / non-profit partnership models to push this along?  

Can you point to any EDU examples where a campus is ahead of the Amazon and the Apple when it comes to the mobile content experience?


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