31 March 2012

Towards a model for sustainable language learning resources

The volume of language learning materials released over the years is unimaginable.  And yet, the resources available to the individual learner or teacher are incredibly limited.  Too much of the material that is available is bound to a particular course or learning task.

Nowadays people are making available for free, via the internet, material that is of use to the language learner, but unfortunately a lot of it is still bound to a particular task.

What we need is to see a critical mass of materials that can be used together by the creative teacher or learner.  There are a few current projects working towards this.  For example, there's the Leonardo Pools project, and notably among the Leonardo members, the Scottish Gaelic and English Guthan nan Eilean/Scottish Island Voices project.

What we've got here is videos that are available under an open license for teachers to use any way they chose.  (Sadly they've not given legally useful terms for the license, but it's a start...)  There's also a linked project around building online tools to use these resources, but to me that's a secondary issue.

What I said was that we need a "critical mass" of material, and what we're seeing from even the most prolific of the Pools teams isn't enough on its own to reach that level.  That's why we should all be thinking about what we could be doing to work towards that goal.  I'm not a fan of Benny Lewis's blog or his advice, but he's fairly prolific in making videos.  Now most of those videos aren't a great deal of use to the learner because they feature his own learner speech, but recently he posted a video of a presentation given in Quechua about traditional crafts, which is exactly the sort of thing that I would love to see more of.

So we could all go out and video natives speaking their own language.  Problem solved, right?

Not quite.  Who's going to use those materials?  How do we make sure people have the right to use them?  And what rights do we give them?

Should a commercial operation such as Lingq.com be allowed to use the material for free, in order to make a profit?

It's a tough one.  The limiting factor in most language courses is the volume of material, and the limiting factor with regards volume of material is the cost of production and licensing.  But still, should the public and publicly funded projects be paying for the production of the material and someone else be making the money?

Is language learning enough of a "social good" that the ability of others to profit without giving back is a necessary evil?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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