Data Indicates Rapid Growth in Mobile Learning

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Based on two interesting data sets shared by Apple and Cisco, it’s clear that learning on mobile devices, meaning smartphones and tablets, is gaining traction at a rapid pace.

While the data shared by Apple is pretty straightforward and does not leave much room for interpretation, the data from Cisco is more general yet pretty astonishing. So, let’s start with Apple’s data on iPads in education and iTunes U.

8 million iPads sold in the education space, 1 billion iTunes U downloads

Yesterday, Apple announced via press release that iTunes U has surpassed 1 billion downloads, which is a significant milestone for Apple’s flagship education product. And similar to the (ed)tech press darlings Coursera and Udacity, some iTunes U courses have pretty high subscription numbers, up to 250,000 according to Eddy Cue, SVP Internet Software and Services at Apple.

The number of course providers is also pretty significant. Over 1,200 universities and colleges, as well as the same number of K-12 schools and districts, host more than 2,500 courses combined. Stanford University and The Open University both have seen over 60 million downloads of their courses.

It is important to note that most of the growth happened in the past three years, after the launch of the iTunes U app for the iPad. Between 2007 — when iTunes U was launched for the desktop — and 2010 — when Apple last shared the download numbers — we “only” saw 300 million downloads. So in the past three years, the number has tripled.

TechCrunch reports that Apple also sold more than 8 million iPads to educational institutions worldwide, of which 4.5 million were sold in the U.S. I think those are pretty impressive numbers as well, and they show a general interest of adding newer devices to the classroom. Besides, we have to keep in mind that Apple is not the only player in the tablet space, and there are probably Android-based tablets in many classrooms already.

Mobile devices about to outnumber humans; over 50% of mobile traffic is video streaming

Earlier in February, Cisco shared some telling numbers in a report called The Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2012–2017. As I said, these numbers might not be directly related to the education space, but they illustrate a very interesting trend regarding how people use their mobile devices. One word: extensively.

The two main factors here are smart devices — phones and tablets that run applications — and fast mobile Internet connections. According to Cisco, 4G networks, which only make up 0.9% of all mobile connections worldwide, already drive 19% of the total mobile data traffic. The overall data traffic rose by 81%, from monthly 189MB in 2011 to 342MB per month in 2012.

Over 50% off the worldwide mobile traffic comes from streaming videos, and Cisco estimates that this number will go up to about 60% by 2017.

Now, while we cannot tell which kind of video content people are actually consuming on their mobile devices, most educational content on the web is in video format today, including iTunes U and many of the MOOC lectures. Mobile devices are perfect for consumption, and why not watch part of a lecture on your smartphone or tablet?

YouTube: a paid education platform in the making?

Last but not least, rumors around paid channel subscriptions on YouTube are getting more realistic, with code found in the latest YouTube application on Android indicating that you will soon have the option of paid channel subscriptions.

YouTube is investing heavily into original content, and a fair amount of the channels supported by YouTube are around educational topics like history, science and lifelong learning. I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least one education-centered channel among the first paid subscription partners.

Again, it is pretty telling that the code indicating the groundwork of paid channel subscriptions has been found in the mobile application.

What do you think of this trend? Will mobile devices overtake computers in the consumption of educational content? Leave a comment below.

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