Open University claims record iTunes downloads

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education correspondent

Image caption,
Universities are putting their lectures on iTunes

The Open University is claiming a world record for the number of iTunes downloads - as the first to reach 20 million.

Universities around the world are now distributing material through the iTunes U educational area of the online service.

The global figure for downloads from iTunes U has reached 250 million.

"The way people want to learn is changing," says Open University vice-chancellor, Martin Bean.

The Open University, once parodied for its late-night television shows, is now pioneering the use of the internet to reach its students.

Chart toppers

It began putting material on Apple's iTunes U service in June 2008 - and in two years has had 20 million items downloaded.

Image caption,
The Open University developed the use of television for higher education

These free downloads are a range of items to support courses and deliver learning materials, including video and audio clips and tutorials.

They are available to the general public as well as students.

The biggest single hit download from the Open University is Beginner's French.

More than a quarter of downloads are for the so-called "STEM" subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths.

The university says that mobile phones are increasingly being used to download its tracks.

Mr Bean says that the growth of the iTunes U concept reflects the changing ways that people are learning.

"Many now actively seek out content they are interested in and which they can watch, read or listen to when it suits them," he says.

"New channels are helping people to fit learning in with their lifestyles, and the OU has always kept pace with the changing world of technology."

The university now has 525 courses available on the internet, with 162,000 students for online courses.

In any 24-hour period, there will be 45,000 Open University students working online.

This trend is going to increase further, says Peter Scott, director of the OU's Knowledge Media Institute.

"There is a real worldwide hunger for learning," he says.

Such iTunes downloads are now available from many leading universities - putting lectures and materials in reach of an online audience.

Oxford University last month announced that there had been more than three million downloads of its tracks on iTunes U.

The current top 10 includes Cambridge University's "The art of asking the right question" and Warwick University's "Sex in the Ancient World".

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