More educational resources are being offered free online

If you’ve taken beginning French, there’s a good chance you downloaded lessons from Open University via iTunes U, a section of iTunes dedicated to free educational tracks. Beginner’s French was the most popular downloaded track of the Open University’s 20 million downloads last year (a world record).


Runners up include science, technology, engineering and maths. You might wonder who would choose to listen to calculus lessons over their favorite tunes, but with the costs of education high and the returns from education even higher, the opportunity to learn for free is becoming ever more attractive.


Recently, UK universities have started offering podcasts of lectures from university courses through the iTunes U service in an attempt to provide flexible and personalised education to “reach new audiences around the world.” And it’s not just iTunes.  Teachers can now download curriculum or watch lesson plans from teacher-dedicated resource websites such as TeachersTV or Scholastic’s TeacherShare.


But will the availability of free education create disincentives for those who produce the education? While some might view educational resources as a valuable public good, others might view it as an infringement of intellectual property. Who would want to pay $40k for an MIT education when you can watch most of the lectures for free? The OECD’s Open Education Resources project explores the purpose, content, and funding of open educational resources. It addresses important questions related to incentives and barriers for universities and faculty staff to provide their material over the internet for free.


Will podcasts replace brick and mortar education? Probably not. It is clear, however, that more and more people are accessing and using open educational resources than ever before, which might eventually have implications on how policymakers evaluate and fund education. Free education resources are especially attractive in a time when national budgets are tight (and getting tighter).


And as always, you can’t evaluate something you don’t know. The OECD’s recent work on assessing international indicators on technology use in education provides a basis for designing frameworks and identifying indicators of how students use technology. This will further aid policymakers assess and better utilize education technology.


So put in your ear buds, and get ready to learn.


Tell us what you think, what type of education should be available free online?


Read more on the OECD’s Open Educational Resources project.
Read more on the OECD’s “Assessing the Effects of ICT in Education”.