According to the BBC (and they can’t be wrong, can they?) it’s the U.K. Open University, with 40 million downloads so far:

Coughlan, S. (2012) Open University’s record iTunes U downloads, BBC News, October 3

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that. The BBC thinks Stanford University and the OU must be running pretty close in terms of total downloads, but the OU is the clear winner in terms of the number of ‘hits’ it has running at one time. Here are the figures for today from the top 100 iTunesU individual downloads:

49 OU
12 Stanford
8 Commonsense media
5 Harrisburg Area CC
4 Yale

The remaining places were shared between 12 institutions (including Harvard and Duke) at one place each. The top two downloads today are both TED presentations (‘Understanding Happiness’ and ‘Creative Problem Solving’). The OU has eight in the top 20, with Stanford next with 4. The ranking is based on total downloads over time. And good for Harrisburg Area CC, a community college in central Pennsylvania, for breaking into an elite list with five offerings.

Incidentally, if (like me) you were wondering about Commonsense Media, it is a ‘non-partisan, not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology‘ based in San Francisco.

Altogether Apple estimates that there are 300 million downloads a year from iTunes U, with 350,000 lectures offered by more than 1,000 universities around the world. However, and I believe this to be significant, the OU material is deliberately designed for online learning, and rarely consists of a video recording of a lecture. This might explain why there are only 4 MIT downloads in the top 100.

I wish though that Apple would provide more statistics, such as how many downloads are videos, how many are podcasts and how many are in some kind of text format. They could also make it much clearer what the formats are and what the symbols mean beside each item.

There is in fact huge scope for Apple to make iTunesU a much more user friendly and a richer system for higher education – but then, it is a ‘free’ service after all, so one shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. But what about a partnership say, where the ‘big’ educational institutions set up a foundation to build on what Apple has done?

Now the $64,000 question: how many of you have actually used a download from iTunesU in an online course (either as student or instructor) – and how did it go? And if no-one replies, how do I interpret that?!



  1. […] Seit über vier Jahren gibt es iTunes U mit seinem offenen Angebot an Vorlesungen, und die Zahlen sind schon beeindruckend: Es umfasst heute ein Angebot von über 350.000 Modulen als Videos oder Podcasts von weltweit über 1.000 Hochschulen. Über 300 Millionen Downloads im Jahr (siehe BBC News). Und es gibt Rankings, nach denen die britische Open University mit weitem Abstand führt, gefolgt von der Stanford University. Abgeschlagen ist das MIT. Tony Bates ahnt warum: “…  and I believe this to be significant, the OU material is deliberately designed for online learning, and rarely consists of a video recording of a lecture.” Tony Bates, online learning and distance education resources, 19. Februar 2012 […]

  2. Actually, it goes a bit beyond that – every country region on iTunes has it’s own top 100 chart. So the podcasts that make it into the top 100 in the UK, America, France etc are all going to be different to some extent, depending on local interests.

  3. As a university lecturer, I’ve used downloads from iTunes U in both my online teaching and to supplement course materials in more traditional face-to-face teaching. Sometimes it’s great to expose students to ideas or course materials beyond the walls of my own university; other times, I can’t see the point in reinventing a wheel if someone has made available materials which are better than I could have produced myself. As someone who used to teach at the Open University, I agree that much of the OU material is deliberately designed for online learning and I am sure this is one factor in its success. However, I believe it goes beyond this: one of the things the OU excels at is mediating knowledge from one genre to another, and engaging students by making complex ideas accessible in a distance learning format.

    • Thanks, Jim.

      I think you raise a very interesting point. The OU’s long experience in developing materials in different media (print, radio, TV, audio-cassettes, video-cassettes, audio-graphics, audio-conferencing, CDs and finally online) has enabled them to develop a sensitivity to the strengths and weaknesses of different media for teaching. I noticed that in iTunes U a lot of their material was either podcasts or text, but when they do use video it is often spectacular.

      As OERs become more and more used, the need to design and select media sensitively and with care for appropriate applications will become increasingly important. I really appreciate you sharing your experience


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