By: Laura Orozco Castrillon

Lübeck, Germany.

Since their first appearance, Massive Online Open Courses have helped to make education available to everyone; nevertheless, these are still the early days for MOOCs, in terms of developing their maximum potential. Andreas Wittke, an expert on this subject and Chief Digital Officer at oncampus, a 100% Fachhochschule Lübeck University of Applied Science subsidiary institution, shared his knowledge of e-learning strategies and MOOCs with us.

oncampus has functioned as an e-learning institution since 2001 and develops online courses for 12 different universities throughout Germany, including its parent university, Fachhochschule Lübeck. It focuses on lifelong learners and non-traditional students who want to benefit from these innovative and accessible forms of teaching.

Why are MOOCs so important?

Germany takes education very seriously. To begin with, it is completely free and secondly, politics require that educational establishments reach beyond traditional college students. According to Wittke, MOOCs are the perfect tool for this purpose. “There are so many different kinds of MOOCs. Some are more like study programs, they give you credits and if you complete them you can shorten your major. But this is only a part of them. There are also MOOCs for continuing education; for example, video making, cooking, Outlook, painting, handicrafts, sports, etc.”

What about their disadvantages?

When asked about their disadvantages, Wittke admits MOOCs are still “babies”, which means they are barely understood by society and they are still being developed by experts, who are trying to figure out the opportunities they represent.

The typical completion rate in a MOOC is only 5-10%, making people think it implies a low level of commitment. Additionally, massive open online courses are completely different from the traditional teaching system, and the mass nature of this inhibits personalized education. Although, for Wittke, these are not necessarily weaknesses. “In a normal teaching system, you go to a classroom and you are there for six months, one semester. But, why does every period have to last six months? I don’t know. MOOCs show us we can learn the same amount of content in four weeks. The learner can go at his own pace and can set his learning goals. MOOCs are open for everybody, it doesn’t matter if you are poor, rich, an immigrant or a refugee.”

The future of MOOCs

Artificial Intelligence is one of the key concepts for understanding the future, not only of MOOCs but of every technological development. This means using bots to make e-learning checking processes more efficient. “For example, a bot can automatically check a student’s motivation. It can realize that ‘this guy has not logged in during the last 10 days. It will personally ask him what is happening’. Nowadays this is possible, but you can’t just install it in your system, you have to put it in the cloud using systems like Alexa or Siri,” says Wittke.

The cloud is one of the mandatory developments for future MOOCs. While this is a normal application in countries like the United States and regions such as Latin America, Germany has a different perspective; its history has led to more concerns about personal data and online privacy. In the words of Andreas Wittke, “Germans hate the cloud,” and for that reason every institution has its own, private learning system. However, this will need to change to improve MOOCs’ potential. “If we develop a course for refugees, it will really need Google Translator if it is to reach people who speak Arabic, and Google Translator is in the cloud.”

oncampus and Moodle

Moodle, as an open source e-learning system, allowed oncampus to construct a platform for MOOCs that is accessible and helps students keep track of their accomplishments. Using core Moodle, the system is known as mooin and contains courses about mathematics, wind energy technology, marketing, network security, and many other subjects of public interest.

We are very proud of mooin. We don’t want to call it Moodle because we changed the design a. Normally, here in Germany, Moodle is used only as a container for PDFs, but we have a new navigation system and we integrate the quizzes into the videos,” says Wittke.

*Andreas Wittke, Chief Digital Officer at oncampus.

*Photos: AFP Carmen Jaspersen

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