It was only a question of when, not if. Harvard has finally carved out a space, albeit a rather small one,
Harvard’s iTunes strategy is rather unique. While most major universities are simply giving away podcasts/information, Harvard Extension is evidently using the Apple platform more for business purposes than for public service. In a vacuum, it’s not a bad idea. In fact, seen in a certain light, it’s pretty savvy. Why not offer teasers to generate more sales for sophisticated online courses? Why not give customers a real sense of what they’re getting into? If there’s a problem with these ideas, it’s simply that they risk clashing with existing expectations — expectations that universities offer podcasts for free and for the public good. And there’s the risk that iTunes users will fail to make a critical distinction between your average free podcast, and a podcast that’s really meant to be part of a complete, fee-based online course. One way or another, the business motive will likely raise some eyebrows. But, our guess is that Harvard will be able to clarify the reason for the new model, and they’ll find in iTunes, as others will too, a new and potentially powerful way of giving visibility to certain forms of online educational content. Certainly, ventures like the Teaching Company should be giving this model a serious look.