Distance learning is the most sustainable form of education

In an extended debate, the German federal parliament addresses the theme of sustainability in all its forms.

The subject of education and training was also discussed in this context and motions from parliamentary groups were debated on the topics of innovation, education, and digitalisation. The Forum DistancE-Learning welcomed the current debate and once again made it very clear that distance learning is the most sustainable form of education and training. 

Distance learning is the ideal form of education at every stage in life! Qualifications in virtually all subject areas can be delivered via distance learning at any time and, in particular, in any location – and no other form of continuing education is so perfectly adapted to personal requirements and the circumstances. And, in the process, by opting for distance learning, participants are choosing the most sustainable form of education.

The issue of sustainable development has become increasingly important over recent years. In 2015 at the United Nations (UN) Conference on Sustainable Development, the UN General Assembly adopted the "2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development" with the goal of initiating a range of measures within 15 years to improve living conditions across the entire planet. This also aims to ensure the planet is protected for future generations. A total of 17 sustainable development goals were defined.

One of these is high-quality education. The aim behind this is to guarantee inclusive, fair and high-quality education and to promote opportunities for lifelong learning for all. Germany is also committed to the agenda. For example, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) department report states that only through education and research can we work together with people to develop innovative solutions for the future to support the people. Education therefore represents the key to a sustainable future.

The association's sustainability approach is therefore not just based on the point that CO² emissions can be avoided by distance learning due to not having to travel to learning locations (as is the case for face-to-face training), it now also takes the wider view that tailored training provision significantly increases participation in continuing education in Germany and therefore forms the basis for a positive future and a future worth living. Lifelong learning is the basic requirement for social political and cultural participation.

This means that education does not end with your school leaving certificate or with vocational education and training, but it accompanies you throughout your life. And training is followed by continuing vocational education and training. "We are experiencing advancing digitalisation at an extremely rapid pace and barely anybody remains in their original posts over several decades. For this reason, all-encompassing basic training no longer seems necessary today – what we need instead is a well-grounded basic qualification, with tailored qualifications and specialist consolidation at a later stage," explains Mirco Fretter, President of the Forum DistancE-Learning.

"Modern and high-quality continuing vocational education and training must be smart and focused on needs, and learning processes must be designed in an agile way. Provision needs to be specifically tailored to participants, and in so doing, turn open minded employees with a hunger for training into winners when it comes to digitalisation," explains Fretter. One thing is for certain, it has never been easier to access knowledge than it is today. Online tutorials provide help in virtually all situations in life, and search machines provide the answers to all of our questions in a matter of seconds.

Digitalisation is thus now more than a trend, it has long formed an established part of our everyday personal and professional lives. This of course poses huge challenges for both the education and the continuing vocational education and training sector. These challenges are not solely due to technical developments, but also require an ongoing adaptation of teaching and educational concepts.

The coronavirus pandemic and its impact on schooling throughout Germany has very clearly demonstrated that effective distance learning is much more than simply sending off work materials via digital channels to pupils sitting at home. This has resulted in a recent analysis in the OECD study "Education at a Glance" on the consequences of the coronavirus crisis awarding low grades for homeschooling in Germany.

Schools effectively remained closed for four weeks in 2020. According to the study, the shift towards digitally supported teaching proved to be "more difficult" in the Federal Republic of Germany than in other countries. School heads, teachers, pupils and parents were not satisfied with the situation. According to studies, only around 1 in every 10 pupils in Germany received adequate education during the lockdown.

Distance learning methods with their digital elements quite rightly received high praise during the lockdown period, however on paper they were the only option on offer – with virtually no other alternatives – for conveying new knowledge and for consolidating what had been learned. However deployment without preparation also showed that successful distance learning cannot be achieved simply through the use of technical resources, but that it is based on a particular form of teaching and education.

The theme of artificial intelligence will also continue to occupy us over the coming years and, at the very least, will also significantly influence continuing vocational education and training. AI is already being used in training and continuing education scenarios today. "Specialist AI controlled systems, for example, are able to determine the places in the learning material where the learner loses their concentration, and therefore provide the opportunity, precisely at these points, to create stimulus. In this way, continuing vocational education and training can be specifically tailored and offered to participants. The use of virtual or augmented reality as part of continuing vocational education and training will continue to increase," says Fetter with confidence.

The Forum DistancE-Learning, the Federal Association of Distance Learning Providers [Bundesverband der Fernstudienanbieter] and their members are happy to make themselves available as discussion partners on the topic of "Sustainability and Education". Since 1969, it has been bringing together the various activities of this forward-looking growth sector and has been strengthening their position with its involvement in public relations activities.

Since the association was established more than 50 years ago, it has provided ongoing support for its members in establishing a learning society. Public discussion is stimulated by means of academic activities and activities in the area of education policymaking, and this strengthens the acceptance of learning methods of the future. Together with its members, the federal association provides the impetus for innovative learning concepts for meeting the requirements of today’s society, of the labour market and of adults engaged in learning.

Source: checkpoint-elearning.de (news portal on e-learning), revised by iMOVE, June 2021