FernUniversität in Hagen, Germany, Interdisciplinary Distance Learning Programme for Environmental Sciences (infernum)

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[For further information on the programmes offered by FernUniversität, see: www.fernuni-hagen.de/english/]

FernUniversität commits to the idea of Lifelong Learning, as laid out in its 2010 Structure and Development Plan and its Future Development Plan.

As the only distance university in the German-speaking learning community, the FernUniversität in Hagen is ideally suited to meet the demands of today's mobile society and the concomitant need for lifelong learning. With more than 60,000 students enrolled, it is currently the largest university in Germany.

Established against the backdrop of structural change in North Rhine-Westphalia, conceived as an equivalent education opportunity for prospective students in special circumstances, but also as a means of reducing the load placed on on-campus universities, used by many for basic and continuing education, FernUniversität has rapidly grown from its very beginning into a modern university of lifelong learning.

Through its flexible distance learning system, it has developed and is still developing other target groups than those of campus universities and new target groups. Education for the future is the concept of FernUniversität and this is seen in its response to the current structural change, which necessitates more and more flexibility. For a continuously growing number of students, it is indispensable to be able to combine their study courses with other obligations. Therefore a flexible educational system and supportive conditions for studying are essential quality attributes for FernUniversität.

Studying at FernUniversität enables lifelong learning and (further) qualification. Depending on their personal needs and circumstances, students can choose between full-time and part-time study to reach their educational goals. They follow the blended learning principle and are offered a choice of different types of programmes, ranging from studying a single course or module with certificate, or a target group-specific continuing education course up to completion of a degree. By offering the opportunity for extra-occupational study, FernUniversität plays an important role in educational policy in the context of fostering lifelong learning.

The Interdisciplinary Distance Learning Programme for Environmental Sciences (infernum) is an example of an innovative programme of environmentally related further education. It is offered as a distance teaching programme in combination with face-to- face seminars. Since infernum is a structured degree programme, it can be categorised as formal learning and is one of many continuing education programmes at FernUniversität.

The programme is an example of careful strategic planning in order to achieve a viable economic operation that, at the same time, meets an educational need. Furthermore the programme is an example of inter-institutional collaboration in a joint degree programme.

Modules from the programme can be counted towards a Master of Science degree, to University credentials, or to a Certificate.

The programme is targeted primarily at professionals from diverse educational backgrounds who would like to acquire environmental expertise. Admission to the programme requires either a three-year university degree (for the MSc-programme), or at least two years of professional experience in the field of sustainable development (for the University Credentials and the Certificate).

The programme comprises 26 distance teaching modules and delivery incorporates a mix of different teaching and learning forms (textbooks, multimedia CD-ROMs, virtual learning environments on the internet, residential seminars, excursions). Furthermore, the programme is jointly offered and supported by partner universities, and students are able to register for two selected modules from these.

In order to establish the programme, university administration required prior assessment of its financial viability. In contrast to the structured degree programmes at Bachelor and Master level (whose single modules are also available via Open Access studies) at FernUniversität, continuing education offers, such as infernum, have to be financially independent and self-supporting. FernUniversität has developed a process of strategic, long-term planning when considering the introduction of new programs or courses. The process involves faculties, available academic staff, and the university administration unit.

Financial and human resources, as well as competing similar programs have to be adequately assessed for securing the continuing success of a program or course. For continuing education courses and programmes [with certificate and/or Master programmes that require postgraduate work experience [weiterbildend]), financing has to be secured, otherwise the program will be closed with debts.

 

The Interdisciplinary Distance Learning Programme for Environmental Sciences (infernum) is a distance learning course with periods of face to face learning.

How the programme is delivered

The programme is delivered online as a cscl ( computer supported collaborative learning) course. There are additonally face-to-face seminars organised for students for 7 out of 26 of the teaching modules.

Reasons for success

Depending on their personal needs and circumstances, students at FernUniversität can choose between full-time and part-time study programmes to reach their educational goals. Blended learning is offered for many programmes. This principle also applies to the Distance Learning Programme for Environmental Sciences.

By offering students blended learning options, the university is able to provide students with a wide choice of different types of programmes, ranging from studying a single course or module with certificate, or a target group-specific continuing education course up to completion of a degree. By offering the opportunity for extra-occupational study, the weekly workload is about 15 to 20 hours for a four-semester course but students may study for more or fewer than four semesters. If necessary, students may also put their studies on hold by enrolling in a semester without registering for any modules.

The virtual learning environment offers the course materials as PDF files, as well as additional information for individual modules. A forum allows students to discuss issues related to their studies or to current events. The server allows documents to be edited collaboratively over the Internet. Seven of the modules include an on-campus seminar (two- to three-day). Residential seminars usually take place once a year.

    This program meets the following needs:

    • a need for a distance learning option for students requiring updates in environmental expertise

    • a need for offering individually adapted study programmes

    • a need for time/space convenience

    • a need for synchronous interaction with peers in both a face-to-face and an online learning environment

    • a need for retrieving learning materials asynchronously

 

What makes the Infernum Programme different and worthy of interest:

Market Relations

The value proposition attached to the blended learning approach is one that is geared towards providing educational solutions which can be pursued alongside work or training. In fact this approach is successful in attracting and including a large demographic segment composed of employed persons and people with vocational qualifications in higher education.

It also falls in line with initiatives from the German government which plan to promote
the use of new media in higher education, part-time study programmes and the admission of highly qualified professionals with a background in vocational training to higher education.

As the only distance university in the German-speaking learning community, FernUniversität is uniquely positioned to build on its strength as a provider of flexible, extra-occupational and occupation-related programmes into continuing education for its target customer segments.

Productions and Delivery

Key partnerships that have formed the fundament of this programme: The programme is jointly offered and supported by the FernUniversität in Hagen and the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology (UMSICHT) in Oberhausen (Germany). In 2005 a further partnership began with the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy in the fields of systems analysis, mobility and sustainability policy and the programme is also pioneering a virtual mobility project with the Open Universiteit Nederland in fall 2009.

Financing

Students are only required to pay the fees for the modules and examinations they take in each semester and the semester tuition fee. The fees are € 390.00 per module, € 390.00 for the supervised term paper, € 1,050.00 for the supervised master's thesis and oral exam, € 100.00 for repeating an assignment that was not completed successfully, and € 100.00 tuition fees per semester.

 

This Example of Implementation is referred to through relevant business model keywords in other parts of this site:

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