When in 2006 I transferred one of the video clips I was developing for a Spanish course at the Open University to my iPod, I immediately noticed that the video had become much more appealing than when I watched it on my TV screen. The reduction in size didn’t seem to matter, what struck me was that the learning materials fit on the device I carried in my pocket all the time. I could watch however many times I liked, wherever, whenever.
The next step was to figure out how to deliver the resources from my course to my students and–why not?–to anyone else who may want to learn from them. The answer was iTunes U. Apple launched iTunes U in 2007 to disseminate educational content provided by universities, initially only from the USA and Canada. Since then, it has opened up to other educational institutions and countries. The vast majority of the content is freely available to the general public. In many instances, providers retain copyright of the materials they offer. In that sense those materials only fit partially with the definition of Open Educational Resources: the content is provided for free for learners and teachers, who may choose to use them as learning or teaching tools, but there are restrictions on modifications and re-purposing. There is a growing trend towards change in this respect, however; some institutions, including Oxford University in the UK and Stanford and MIT in the US, now offer some of their materials under a variety of Creative Commons (CC) licences, some allowing sharing and remixing for derivative works.
The Open University joined iTunes U in June 2008 and since then has become a key player, providing more downloads than any other provider (over 52 million as of June 2012 – over a quarter of these originating from the USA). With over 40 years’ experience in producing resources for distance learning, the Open University offers materials that have been designed specifically for the independent learner. It offers thousands of free audio and video tracks as well as eBooks, including language learning resources for Spanish, French, German, Italian, Chinese, English, and Welsh. Despite the fact that language materials only represent about 10% of the content that the Open University provides on iTunes U, they account for almost a third of all downloads, making languages the most successful among its resources. Open University language resources often take up the entire Top 10 downloads chart for languages on iTunes U.
In a recent 21-month large-scale survey I conducted, the results showed over 80% of respondents rated Open University language materials on iTunes U positively, and 97.2% stated they believe the materials they download are helping them learn the language they are studying. iTunes U can help deliver free language learning resources to a worldwide audience, and the Open University experience is a prime example of success in delivering open language content that is both popular and high quality.