Monthly Archives: March 2012

On iTunes U and Coursera

iTunes U and Coursera point the way, but language learners have unique needs.

We are big supporters of those who use technology to help improve learning for students. iTunes U was one of the original inspirations behind OpenLanguage, but we felt that improvements could be made to make this type of platform more useful for language students. Coursera has started to address some of the problems with the iTunesU model, summarized well by this Edcetera post “Why iTunes U Isn’t Seeing Massive Adoption by Universities”:

  • No Device Independence: students need to have an iOS device
  • Lack of Features: e.g. exams, grades, certification
  • No Social Component
  • Lack of Brand Control

These are all steps in the right direction, but language students need more since language acquisition is quite different from learning other subjects. At OpenLanguage we hope to ‘stand on the shoulders’ of these two innovators and provide additional value for students learning a new language, specifically:

  • Additional Lesson Review
    Lesson input for language learners requires significant effort to unpack and review. In addition to the core lesson input, a standard lesson on OpenLanguage should include detailed review activities which break down the core dialogue, review the key and supplementary vocabulary, extend with expansion sentences, highlight grammar points, point out cultural insights, test with interactive exercises and also provide lesson plans to help guide class sessions between a student and their teacher.
  • Detailed Analysis of Target-Language Terms
    When publishing lessons, OpenLanguage Publisher Partners spend a lot of time annotating each and every target-language term as well as recording native speaker audio for that term. This effort enables a number of advanced features for students including a detailed glossary, the ability to break every target-language sentence into component parts, and the ability to save terms to personalized vocabulary decks which power flash cards for vocabulary reinforcement.
  • Learning Management System (LMS) Features
    Language is social. To learn a language you need help from teachers or native speakers. LMS software has traditionally been used to manage these student-teacher engagements. Just as LMS software (e.g. Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas) plugs in content modules, platforms that stress content can also layer in LMS features to manage students, assign courses, etc. OpenLanguage’s ‘Open Academy‘ features provides these features for free to academic and corporate institutions to help them better integrate our Tablet Textbook into their language classrooms.
  • Progress Tracking Specific to Language Acquisition
    Similar to progress tracking of other subjects, language-learning platforms can provide basic quantitative measures (e.g. attendance, exercise scores) to track progress. Unlike other subjects, language-acquisition measures also need to gauge one’s ability to do tasks, general proficiency, etc. Language-proficiency exams (IELTS, TOEFL, PTE, etc.) have traditionally filled this role, but in the future big-data solutions (quantitative approach) or badge approaches (qualitative approach), such as Mozilla Open Badges, offer potential alternatives. In any case, the resultant solution for language learning will be different than for other subjects.

While #3 might be addressed by some Coursera-Canvas mashup in the future, the others need to provided by a platform specifically dedicated to language acquisition. OpenLanguage hopes to fill this gap.