January 16, 2018

Apple's Move Into Higher-Ed: Google and Microsoft to Follow?

High-tech workers representing tech companies move into higher education

By: Damayanti C., Associate Web Content Editor

Apple, Google and Microsoft have been vying for market share in the K-12 sector for some time now. Over the years, the three companies have wooed teachers and school administrators by offering free devices and platforms such as Google/Microsoft Classroom, cloud storage solutions and inexpensive hardware. Google overtook rivals Microsoft and Apple in this market, with Chromebook accounting for more than half of all the devices in U.S. classrooms.  Apple iPads were no match for the inexpensive Chromebooks. Also, without keyboards, iPads can’t double as two-in-one devices (think tablet/notebook).  Microsoft Classroom on the other hand, is a straight Google Classroom knock-off,  and is a free service offered to schools that allows students and teachers to connect inside and outside the classroom. It helps instructors to stay organized by creating classes, assigning work and communicating with students.

Digital Flagship University Initiative

Apple’s focus has shifted to higher-Ed with the company recently announcing its collaboration with Ohio State University to provide  iPad Pros at a discounted rate to every freshman. Also included is the Apple pencil, Smart Keyboard and apps to help students navigate life and learning in Ohio State. The goal of the Digital Flagship University initiative is to create “the world’s largest and most effective integrated learning community.”

This partnership will also provide opportunities for software development and coding through the iOS Design Laboratory located on campus.  Faculty, staff and students can get certified in Swift coding (the programming language Apple uses for apps) and develop apps as part of this collaboration.  Another goal is to impart critical skills to students and thereby contribute to their career readiness.

Google’s Barriers to Higher-Ed

One would think that with Google being so well placed in the K-12 market, taking on higher-Ed would be fairly simple. But there are certain hurdles that prevent that from being a reality. Firstly, Google does not have an enterprise level Learning Management System (LMS). And an LMS is at the heart of every online course. Secondly, Google platforms cannot be integrated with Student Information Systems that manage student data. Lastly, the company’s higher-Ed strategy is not as clear as their K-12 strategy.

Microsoft’s Campus Presence

When Microsoft acquired LinkedIn in 2016, the company seemed poised to gain market share in higher-Ed through lynda.com which was already a part of LinkedIn. After the acquisition, LinkedIn Learning was born, which is an e-learning portal, serving individuals, businesses, and educational institutions. Although Microsoft products are ubiquitous on campuses, the company is yet to tap into that market. Clearly, they too lack a strategy when it comes to higher-Ed. Or perhaps their strategy is to integrate Office and LinkedIn Learning, enabling users to have a more seamless experience and access to on-demand courses. The focus is on personalized skill-based learning for professionals and companies that want to invest in their employees.

Amazon Wants a Piece of the Pie

In 2016, the company made a jump from e-commerce to education with Amazon Inspire, an open education resources platform. Geared towards K-12 education, with educators contributing content, Inspire goes hand in hand with other Amazon products such as Whispercast for managing e-books, textbooks, and educational apps, and Kindle direct  publishing for education. But unfortunately, Inspire never took off. It is still in beta, after some backlash from users about materials being published without their permission.

The Amazon Web Services Cloud (AWS) is a service that allows universities to join for free and pay for only how much they use. In early 2017, the AWS cloud outage for 5 hours made it to the news and had many schools wondering if they should invest in cloud services. Again, the company already has products that could be geared toward higher-Ed, but they don’t seem to have a solid strategy.

But with Apple’s latest initiative, it won’t be long before the other three tech giants hop on the higher-Ed bandwagon. This would lead to greater innovation and growth in the ed tech sector with universities collaborating with tech companies to curate products and services to meet their unique needs. The companies in turn will benefit from user-generated ideas and improvements, enabling them to build better products. Another fortunate outcome is that more money will be funnelled into edtech, which hit $887 million in investment in the first half of 2017.

It seems like Microsoft has the bandwidth to take on higher-Ed by simply tweaking a few of its services and offerings, given that they already have a strong presence on campus. Google will likely have to realign its platforms so they can be integrated with Student Information Systems and the company may need to create an enterprise level LMS. For Amazon, the first step would be to get Inspire up and running and think about extending it to higher-Ed. All eyes are however on Apple to see what lessons result from its Digital Flagship University Initiative with Ohio State.