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There was a time when the only way to learn from the best in business education was to pass through the doors of a top business school. Now, with the internet and an iPod, it is possible to follow a course from some of the greatest teachers in business for free.

Elite institutions are sharing lectures online, not only with students but with everyone. While some are investing in their own infrastructure, hundreds are using the Apple venture, iTunes University, to host their lectures.

Apple does not charge universities for distributing their content; neither does it charge browsers for viewing it. Apple hosts the videos for free and, in return, it receives lectures from the world’s leading thinkers, which draws a guaranteed stream of students and educated browsers to the iTunes platform.

The Yale School of Management, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, are among those offering programmes via iTunes for free.

Tony O’Driscoll, professor of the practice of business administration at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, North Carolina, says: “Our content holds great appeal for people looking for insights about business and economics who wouldn’t normally have access to the thoughts an opinions of [our] faculty.”

However, other business schools are bypassing iTunes and running the show themselves.

The London School of Economics distributes podcasts of all its public lectures from the LSE website while MIT’s Sloan School of Management has been releasing its lectures via its MIT World service since 2001.

The UK-based Open University released more than 300 lectures as iTunes University courses in June 2008 and plans to add more. Denise Kirkpatrick, the Open University’s pro vice-chancellor for learning and teaching, said at the launch: “We can open up free access to educational resources as well as a window for our potential students.”

The OU does not see the iTunes venture as a threat. Lectures are only a small part of any degree and iTunes University does not offer tutorials, course work or the all-important credential at the end of the programme.

Business schools recognise that it is the ability to reach potential students that makes investment worthwhile. Many are putting funds into video podcasting with the explicit aim of using their online presence to turn browsers into fee-paying students who want the full MBA experience.

London Business School has recently created an MBA TV channel on iTunes. Graeme Harper, marketing manager for LBS’s MBA programme says: “With MBA TV, we can transmit the vibrancy and atmosphere of being on campus . . . Potential students and recruiters will get fly-on-the-wall coverage of news, events and activities in the MBA programme.”

Fuqua is also using iTunes University as a shop window for its MBA programmes. Prof O’Driscoll says iTunes University “provides the means to enhance our global presence”, adding: “Members of the public who download Fuqua material from iTunes University are getting a sense of the Fuqua experience, seeing Fuqua as a gathering place for innovation, research and sharing of diverse ideas.”

These business schools are investing heavily in their podcast delivery. According to Prof O’Driscoll, Fuqua sees the venture as one part of a larger programme to use new technology to disseminate its lectures.

LBS’s Mr Harper agrees. “This fits in with our longstanding use of technology to open up our content to a wider audience that began with our MBA video diaries.”

Apple describes iTunes University as “the campus that never sleeps”. Browsing the course list is like reading a prospectus for the world’s most exciting university. Business aside, it is possible to view lectures in medieval English from Oxford University, science and technology from MIT and neuroscience from University College London. Thousands of hours of lectures are available to anyone who has the iTunes software on their computer.

To date, the content on iTunes University is overwhelmingly from US universities, with the UK, Australia and Ireland now starting to catch up. But, with geography no object and new universities joining every week, iTunes University could have campuses worldwide. When that happens, you will be able to cherrypick the best in MBA courses from France to Shanghai in Apple’s global lecture theatre.

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