Mobile Language Learning with Learnosity (Online Educa 2009)

Asterisk Open Source Telephony

About one and a half years ago I listened to a Floss Weekly podcast about the open source telephony project Asterisk. Asterisk is an incredibly flexible and powerful piece of software. Many projects are using the software in very creative ways. E.g. an interactive telephone murder mystery, a plant care system, a slightly offensive booty call service, the ability to create your own conferencing rooms, interactive big screen cinema controlled by phone input, and so on.

Since then, I have always thought that an e-learning company at the leading edge of technology would be able to do great things with Asterisk as the motor. Enter Learnosity, an Irish company that is using Asterisk to enable their language teaching services.


Gavin Cooney, Learnosity’s CEO, gave a very smooth and entertaining presentation (on the edge of a sales pitch) at this year’s Online Educa. His company has been commissioned by the Irish government to help in the educational battle to save the Irish language. They have created a mobile learning solution that can work with any type of cell phone.

I have been a teacher in secondary education for many years and know that it is hard for language teachers to get their students to actually practice speaking the language. Computer based instruction has been very promising in this respect for many years. The logistical requirements (all students a computer, headphone and microphone) have so far limited its use.

Learnosity has taken a different approach. Doing language exercises is as simple as using your cellphone, dialling a number, typing a student number and pin and then responding to the questions that you are being asked. The system will record all the answers and make them available in a web interface for the teacher. The teacher can listen to the exercises and give feedback which the student can then view on the web or on their smartphone.

It is also possible to let the system set up conversational exercises for a group of people. This is quite impressive. Imagine a classroom with 26 students. The system makes pairs and calls each of the students. Partners get symmetrical instructions. E.g. one student is told the following: “You are in Paris and have to ask directions for the Eiffel tower”. The partnering student will then hear: “You will be asked for directions to the Eiffel tower, please give them”. The conversation is stored on the web and can easily be replayed and commented on by the teacher.

It is great to see such a young company with this amount of ambition and flair! They seem to innovate continuously and will benefit from real teachers with pedagogical insight helping them. If I were a language teacher I would not be able to wait to try things out…