Life by Design

The Impact of Open Source Learning

Posted on: October 9, 2010


I chose to take a look at and specifically their selection of Italian courses.  At first glance, for an adult learner wanting to learn some interesting new things, the site in general offers a great deal of resources from a recommended book list to ‘smart’ YouTube sites.  As an adult who enjoys learning and keeping up with things, I found plenty to explore and in my free time, which I anticipate having when, I am about 85 I plan to pursue more of it!

Looking into the Italian course selection however, it was disappointing when we look at it through the lens of our distance learning guidelines as offered in our course resource  (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright,  & Zcavek, 2009).

When you click on the site, there’s simply a list of websites to different Italian courses with little explanation of how they differentiate.  There is no instruction about how to navigate the sites or to orient and instruct the new user on what exactly a ‘podcast’ is or how to download from iTunes.    I didn’t see much evidence of the developer asking the question, “What does the learner need?” in order to be successful on the site.  There was no survey offered to assess prior learning of foreign languages or working with technology.   The only option is receiving a ‘podcast’, so for the learners with other learning style and preferences, I think this site will be disappointing and non-engaging. I find myself becoming more and more a strong advocate for the learner as I consider distance education design.

When I went to the site, www., (Radio Lingua Network) I found a blog format that was intermingled with 20 weeks of daily lessons.  With a lack of menus for navigation, I had to wade through over a dozen webpages to get to the beginning of the course.   Once there, it wasn’t entirely clear whether I needed to download the podcast directly from iTunes or the site.  I clicked on a hot download link on the site and found I could get to a ‘preview’ iTunes site where all the lessons were posted.  I listened to the first lesson delivered by an Irishman with a reasonable Italian accent.  The lesson was quick, less than 5 minutes and taught exactly three phrases.  This is fine for the adult learner, who is busy and has the specific aim of learning just enough Italian perhaps to visit Italy one day.  Adult learning theory is utilized in that the course could be customized just to give the learner exactly what they need to satisfy their learning needs.

The site is not intended to be a true distance learning course and therefore, it does not offer a syllabus, collaborative learning opportunities, threaded discussions or learning activities.  If you want to pay about $45 dollars for a premium membership, you can get download a PDF to augment the lessons.   This brings up the debate about Open Source being a non-commercial enterprise. (Fitzgerald, Hissam, & Lakani, 2005, p.332).

There is a new posting on the blog for a Twitter application that can be sent to you to test your daily recall.  This is an interesting idea. There is no rubric, grading standards or expectations for the course.  It’s all up to you.  And that’s what an Open Source education site is for…it is up to you to explore and create your learning on your terms, on your time.


Fitzgerald, B, Hissam, S., Lakhani, K. (2005) Perspectives on free and open source software. MIT Press. (P.332) Extracted from:

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson. (Ch. 5 & 9)


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