The Hottest Course on iTunes (and the Future of Digital Education)

What’s the most pop­u­lar pod­cast in the High­er Edu­ca­tion sec­tion of iTunes? Ahead of all the pod­casts from Prince­ton, and all of those from Yale, and ahead of the Under­stand­ing Com­put­ers course from Har­vard, and even the psy­chol­o­gy course from UC Berke­ley, is an unex­pect­ed pod­cast called Twelve Byzan­tine Rulers: The His­to­ry of the Byzan­tine Empire. The course, which focus­es on the Greek-speak­ing Roman Empire of the Mid­dle Ages, is taught by Lars Brown­worth, who teach­es high school at The Stony Brook School on Long Island, New York. And it gets rave reviews. “I’m dis­ap­point­ed because I don’t think I’ll ever find a pod­cast that I enjoy as much as this one.” “This pod­cast has quick­ly become a hit with me and all of my friends, even those who don’t like his­to­ry so much.” You get the gist.

The suc­cess of this course makes us think that com­pa­nies that sell dig­i­tal lec­tures for a fee might not be long for this world. Take The Teach­ing Com­pa­ny for exam­ple. They’re in the busi­ness of sell­ing pol­ished, lec­ture-based cours­es, which can often be very well done. And, yes, they offer too a course on the Byzan­tine Empire that retails in audio down­load form for $129. So what will the savvy con­sumer do? Down­load Brown­worth’s course for free? Or pay $129? This is not a knock on what The Teach­ing Com­pa­ny is doing. I like their prod­uct and can appre­ci­ate their need to sell prod­ucts to recoup their costs. But you can’t com­pete with free. With so many uni­ver­si­ty cours­es now tap­ing their cours­es and allow­ing peo­ple to down­load them to the ubiq­ui­tous iPod (see our full list of uni­ver­si­ty pod­casts), you have to won­der whether The Teach­ing Com­pa­ny is just anoth­er once viable busi­ness mod­el that is being steadi­ly com­mod­itzed by the Inter­net.

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Comments (14)
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  • Luis says:

    This is prob­a­bly due to the pub­lic­i­ty this course got in Wired Mag­a­zine; this past issue was my first and I got it for free two. It’s an awe­some mag­a­zine.

  • Atfor Nohcud says:

    Final­ly some­one has come up with this good idea.
    Why not use tech­nol­o­gy.
    It all depends not if it is live or “taped” but the lev­el of sup­port.
    Pod­cast­ing with mp3s is the cas­sette tape for­mat of our time.

  • Joe Tojek says:

    Can we final­ly come up with an eco­nom­ic mod­el for edu­ca­tion that is free for par­tic­i­pants?

    All of this foot drag­ging is counter pro­duc­tive. We owe it to our­selves and to future gen­er­a­tions to fig­ure this out.

    Edu­ca­tion is the pre­miere project of our time. We can­not fail.

    Any­one work­ing on this? Or too busy try­ing to fig­ure out how to lock or un-lock pro­pri­etary con­tent?

  • Carol A says:

    Per­haps the uni­ver­si­ties need to think of pod­cast­ing dif­fer­ent­ly: giv­ing away lec­tures for free isn’t down­grad­ing a uni­ver­si­ty course, it is rather like a movie pre­view. A taste of what the full course offers gen­er­ates real inter­est, but get­ting exams marked and the actu­al degree cer­tifi­cate means stu­dents would have to sign up and pay fees.
    I am sur­prised that some of the big cor­po­ra­tions haven’t “spon­sored” some lec­tures? A won­der­ful way of hit­ting a tar­get audi­ence for books, com­put­ers or spe­cialised job recruit­ment.
    I have been lis­ten­ing to the 12 Byzan­tine Rulers series for the past few weeks, no won­der it is pop­u­lar! Has Mr Brown­worth thought of pro­duc­ing a book? I’d cer­tain­ly buy it.

  • Ollie Jones says:

    Many US pub­lic libraries have a good stock of Teach­ing Com­pa­ny cours­es on CD. You can cer­tain­ly learn a lot with­out pay­ing by bor­row­ing them.

  • Will says:

    I’ve been lis­ten­ing to Mr. Brown­worth’s excel­lent series, and length of lec­tures (and the long waits between lec­tures) are a draw­back. But, the qual­i­ty of the lec­tures them­selves is excel­lent, eas­i­ly com­pa­ra­ble to TTC.

    I would also be will­ing to hear an ad or two thrown in if it will help Mr. Brown­worth pro­duce these lec­tures.

  • Anders says:

    The ques­tion of how to get a rev­enue stream from a pod­cast has not yet been clear­ly answered. The Inter­net gen­er­a­tion is used to high­ly tar­get­ed Google ads, so in my opin­ion, the ran­dom 30 sec­ond “spot” ad before a pod­cast is not a long-term work­able for­mat. One of the ways to think about it is to con­sid­er the pod­cast the ad itself. You get peo­ple inter­est­ed in your con­tent and then you sell a more sub­stan­tial prod­uct to those you attract. In terms of this pod­cast, a book is a good exam­ple.

    In my opin­ion, I think the legit­i­mate edu-pod­cast cours­es need to be uni­fied under an umbrel­la. Once they do that, they will pose a sig­nif­i­cant threat to busi­ness mod­els like that of The Teach­ing Com­pa­ny. Before that hap­pens though, you pay the Teach­ing Com­pa­ny $129 because you know you are going to get a qual­i­ty prod­uct. There is no clear­ly labeled free option yet.

  • Nico says:


    we have just launched (today) a digg like site for academic/ edu­ca­tion­al resources.

    I hope that you will post some of your aca­d­e­m­ic or edu­ca­tion­al news there!

    Nico Baird

  • Adri says:

    I found it a bit dis­s­a­point­ing that Lars Brown­worth fails to men­tion he pulls a sig­nif­i­cant amount of mate­r­i­al word by word from John Julius Nor­wich’s three vol­ume Byzan­tium work.

    Despite this bib­li­o­graph­i­cal omis­sion, how­ev­er, it is very well read and includes a lot of addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion and pro­vides a splen­did intro­duc­tion to the Mid­dle Ages’ most cru­cial civil­i­sa­tion.

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  • ivanovich Katrina says:

    Hel­lo there. I just want­ed to men­tion that i LOVE that name, what was it again? ..ON-DOORS

  • desnudas says:

    any changes com­ing ?

  • Kirsten says:

    Com­mode salle de ciné­ma à deux pas du cen­tre pro­posant des films à gros bud­get

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