Distance learning – via post, email or mobile telephone
Whether a single-mum in a village in Bavaria, a football star or a farmer in Uganda – a distance learning programme often offers the best way to learn alongside work commitments.
Avid football fans may well remember Oliver Bierhoff as an active footballer in the German national team. Yet only a few know that during his active playing career, the professional footballer also completed a distance learning programme. Oliver Bierhoff studied economics at the distance learning university of Hagen (Fernuniversität Hagen) for 14 years, and graduated in 2002 with a diploma in business management. A normal course of studies at a university with compulsory lectures was never an option for him during his active playing years. A distance learning course was the only way Bierhoff could study alongside his busy job as a professional player, even though it took him an extremely long time. Just like the famous sportsman, over 100,000 people a year decide to pursue an academic distance learning programme in Germany. Many of the students have already completed an initial course of studies and are working. These students use distance learning programmes to gain further professional qualifications alongside work and family commitments.
With 80,000 students, the Fernuniversität Hagen is the largest university in Germany. Six thousand students live abroad. Students of the Fernuniversität Hagen can live anywhere. This contrasts with the classical universities where students are obliged to attend lectures in person. Learning material takes the form of study packages and books which are sent to the students via post or email. Moreoever, students can access all the study material online and can interact with their professors and other students through a "virtual work space". Students regularly send completed tasks to their professors, to check and see if the study material has been absorbed. All students of any one particular course take their exams at the same time, wherever they are in the world. Students living in German-speaking countries take their exams at one of the university’s regional centres in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. In other countries, the exams are held at a Goethe-Institut, at a German embassy or a comparable institution deemed 'legally-appropriate'. For instance, Oliver Bierhoff often took exams between two football games in Rome and Trieste at the Goethe-Institut, sweating over the questions.
Boom sector distance learning
Between 2003 and 2010 the number of distance learning students in Germany doubled and demand for distance learning programmes continues to rise. For some time now, comparable courses have been offered at classical German universities, for example the University of Applied Sciences in Kaiserlautern (Technische Universität Kaiserslautern) features 18 distance learning courses. Most of the courses at the university in Kaiserslautern are in German, but nanotechnology and nanobiotechnology can be studied in English.
North Rhine-Westphalia Integrated Studies (NRW Verbundstudium) also offers an English language –'Masters in Webscience', alongside its many courses in German. Students from abroad can apply for this course via the uni-assist service centre (University Application Service for International Students). In contrast to the Fernuniversität Hagen, the so-called NRW Verbundsstudium is not a pure distance learning course but combines self-study at home with group learning at the university of applied sciences. The sessions in the lecture hall are always held at weekends for the benefit of those working.
Distance learning – an opportunity for those in employment worldwide
Distance learning courses are an attractive form of knowledge transfer and are experiencing a boom, not only in Germany. DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Alumnus, Robert Kaliisa, also works on new forms of knowledge transfer in his position as lecturer at the Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyoro, Makerere University in Kampala/Uganda. He believes that distance learning has great potential, especially during times of falling education budgets and population growth: '… The existing infrastructure cannot cope with the increasing numbers of learners. Given the declining budgetary funding of governments coupled with the faulty teaching and learning models that cannot effectively support learners beyond the classroom work, there is need to promote distance learning as an option.'
Currently, Robert Kaliisa and his colleagues are testing a particularly innovative form of distance learning in the framework of a pilot project involving 1,047 farmers. The farmers are contacted about the distance learning programme via mobile telephone. The Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute has developed a special communication programme, tailored to the needs of the farmers who can choose for themselves what they want to learn. They communicate with a voice-activated computer via the mobile phone. This computer allows them to select the topics they want to learn using the numeric display. 'This learning management system has utilised the potential of M-learning tools as well as open distance learning in linking farmers to markets, credit, and knowledge sharing through a self-directed learning process. Distance learning materials are developed and broken right down from a module to a lesson, to a chunk and finally to the smallest unit which is a granule usually (160 characters). These are sent via text message to the farmers' phones till they finish a whole module,' explains Robert Kaliisa.
Whether a classical course of studies, such as offered by Fernuniversität Hagen, or innovative solutions for the distance learning programme of farmers in Uganda – the distance learning course offers further education for every age group and in almost every location.
Have you already experienced a distance learning programme or have you ever applied to a German university? Share your experiences with other alumni in the study and research group. We have put together a list of links with attractive distance learning programmes at German universities and are happy to answer your queries.