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Distance Learning University, The Open University, Repackages Course Materials For The App Generation

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U.K.-based distance learning university, the Open University, is developing a series of apps to deliver undergraduate course materials to students’ smartphones and tablet devices, starting next year. The OUAnywhere app will allow undergraduates to access their main course materials through their handheld devices, along with the audio and visual content the OU produces to support studies.

The team developing the apps say they are being designed from the ground-up for touch interfaces, and will offer “high quality visual images rather than lists”.

The apps are being made available across “a plethora of platforms”, with native iOS and Android apps in the pipeline, plus HTML5 apps for other platforms. Supported devices will include

  • Android devices
  • iPads (iPad 1 and above)
  • iPhones (iPhone 3GS and above)
  • Kindle Fire
  • Microsoft Surface

OUAnywhere is being created in response to increasing use of mobile devices by students — the OU notes that mobile usage of its virtual learning environment in one month is now comparable to usage for an entire quarter of the previous year. It’s also noticed students are spending much more time online via mobile and tablet devices, and clocking up more repeated visits. (Students using gadgets? It’s not exactly rocket science… )

Ultimately the university wants to be able to provide all course learning materials on one device to make it easier for students to squeeze study sessions into their day — an important factor for its many part-time students who combine studying for a degree with full- or part-time work.

Currently it delivers some course materials online, but also sends out materials via post — such as print textbooks, audio CDs and DVDs.  The apps will be able to streamline all these different course resources into a single interface.

The OU notes that its scalable XML workflow can automatically render a single input file to multiple formats (print, web and ebook) — giving it the ability to repurpose existing study materials for new delivery mechanisms such as mobile. However in future iterations of OUAnywhere it says it will look to create “new learning products” specifically designed for mobile and tablet devices — rather than converting legacy learning materials.

The university also plans to develop interactive e-books with embedded audio, video and HTML5 learning activities (using the EPUB 3 specification) for future iterations of the apps.

The first wave of OUAnywhere apps are due for release in Q1 2013.