Open Lectures, Course Materials, MOOCs, iTunes U: The Internet is for Learning

By   November 16, 2012

MOOC (massive open online course) providers such as Coursera, Udacity and edX have been in the news and featured on blogs recently. The free exchange of knowledge and ideas is an exciting concept for those of us who love learning for the sake of learning. However, Udacity and edX don’t seem to have very many courses yet, and even though Coursera has quite a bit more content, none of these MOOC providers offer language courses. The focus always seems to be on technology, math and science – which is great because let’s face it, everybody need more science – but I’m a little sad that no one seems to think language courses are just as vital.

Even other open source educational sites such as Khan Academy or The Saylor Foundation, which  let you go through the material at your own pace rather than enrolling in a course that has a specific start and end date, currently offer no resources for learning languages. MIT OpenCourseWare does provide materials used in their language courses (some of which might be available on edX in the future), though some languages only have PDF files rather than multimedia content. Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative is another great open-source site, except there are only 15 courses available for free. French is the only language offered, but Arabic is in the works.

iTunes U still seems to be the best place to find free linguistics lectures and language learning materials. Hundreds of universities, colleges, and even some secondary schools offer resources. The Open University [iTunes link] is one of my favorites. Another great aspect of iTunes U is that resources from non-Anglophone universities are also available so you can listen to lectures in Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Swedish, etc. (Some universities offer podcasts of their courses through their own websites rather than through iTunes, such as UC San Diego.)

If you’re interested in language learning/teaching research, two talks I recommend are:

UCLA, Wisconsin-Madison, Arizona and La Trobe seem to have the most linguistics lectures on a wide range of topics. Besides The Open University, these universities offer language learning materials:

  • Yale (French, German, Mandarin, Brazilian Portuguese) [iTunes link]
  • Glamorgan (French, Spanish, Italian, German, Welsh) [iTunes link]
  • Emory University (lots of lesser taught languages) [iTunes link]

Although it is not available via iTunes U, the Center for Open Education Resources and Language Learning at the University of Texas-Austin has several amazing resources for learning languages, most of which can be downloaded as podcasts via RSS or iTunes. I’m sure I’ve mentioned these before, but they are really well-done and COERLL is adding more languages and resources all the time. Most of these materials are meant to accompany the actual course rather than act as an online course, but independent learners can use them as well. Some of the resources include:

  • Gwan

    I just came across via a Guardian article. It’s basically a memorisation tool that encourages you to use mnemonic techniques and spaced repetition to learn stuff – not just languages, but anything. It doesn’t seem terribly useful to learn things like grammar or speaking etc. – although I suppose it could be adapted to learn conjugations etc. – but it’s pretty useful, and fun, as a vocabulary builder. I’ve started on Romanian, so it’s not just restricted to the most common languages, and you can create your own (I haven’t tried this, but presumably you just plug in a set of vocab and it does the rest).

  • Canedolia

    I ‘ve been looking for online courses recently, and like you I was disappointed not to find more on coursera for languages. Thanks for the links – I definitely need to investigate these.

    • Jennie Wagner

      I know, Coursera has tons of courses now but still no languages! It’s quite depressing.

  • Andrew

    Coincidentally I just looked over Khan Academy’s website yesterday trying to find some courses in Spanish and was shocked to see that, with everything else they have and how huge and well-known they’ve become, they have precisely nothing to offer in any foreign languages. Shame on them for that, that’s just disgraceful, same to anyone else who purports to be offering a decent selection of free online courses but who doesn’t have a solid selection of language courses.

    Spanish, specifically, is really easy to find tons of free quality courses and lessons for, but that’s Spanish, one of the most popular second languages in the world, I seriously doubt there are too many other languages you could say that for (maybe half a dozen, if that: English, French, Japanese, Mandarin, possibly German, and that’s probably about it).

    There’s a great deal more work to be done, Jennie, I definitely agree, a great deal more…


    • Jennie Wagner

      I even went back to Khan Academy three different times to search for languages. It really surprised me that there was absolutely nothing. Perhaps it shows the monolingual mindset of these organizations (and/or America). Luckily there are other places to find materials for Spanish, French and especially Mandarin, but I feel like even more commonly spoken languages like Portuguese are under-represented online. Lately I’ve been searching for Afrikaans materials – but I’m finding almost nothing. :(

      • Andrew

        Yup, I agree. Stuff like Duolingo seems to be trying to take up the slack but I’m still not sure how well that’s going to work, I need to go back and check it out (I tried it about a year ago before it launched and wasn’t impressed).

  • Jennie Wagner

    Ah yeah, that’s similar to Anki and other flashcard sites. They’re definitely good for reviewing vocabulary but like you said, you can’t really improve conversational or comprehension skills with it. Plus since everything is user submitted, there are probably errors. I’ve come across some horribly wrong flashcards and videos lately…

  • FrancoamericanGRavy

    thanks for the work you did compiling and commenting on this topic!