Authors: Stefanie Ollenburg, Miriam Chrosch both at Institut Futur, Freie Universitaet Berlin, Germany

E-Learning has the potential to overcome boundaries in educational systems: Students who are at a socio-economic disadvantage may get access to learning opportunities they otherwise may not have. Even with prior certification they may not always be admitted. Therefore, online high-quality courses have the potential (if they are free of charge and open access) to reach people worldwide regardless of place, time, income or social status.

The EdTech nonprofit organization Kiron is a best practice example. Their mission is to establish non-formal curricular and programs through online educational offers to be accredited by traditional learning platform such as universities. At this point the organization supports refugees in Europe and all over the world by providing online educational offers that are being adapted to be adequate for the individual learner. The organization cooperates with universities all over the world and has competent network partners in the field of education to assure that their programs meet the international quality standards of higher education and will be accredited for further offline studies. By giving access to high quality education from various universities and platforms a person has a better chance to start a new life in the country they now live in. With this approach Kiron becomes a mentor to refugees who want to either start or continue their studies.

To learn more about the work of Kiron, the researchers on the beFORE project at Freie Universitaet Berlin, Institut Futur gladly accepted the invitation to attend Kiron’s Partner Event “Digitalizing Access to Higher Education: identifying scalable best practices and innovative solutions”. The day started out with keynotes followed by group discussions and workshops that were set out to find ideas and input on the connection of quality higher education and e-learning. The participants were from universities, companies, and the federal administration. The workshops revolved around access and assessment of e-learning offers, policies in the education systems as well as the accreditation of courses. For example, one group discussed, how offline institutions such as universities need to keep monitoring the online offers to assure comparable high qualitative level of the educational offers to guarantee the accreditation of e-learning courses. In a final round, it was discussed that for online education to be most effective offline communication still is needed. The well-known concept of Blended Learning, where students work online in their own pace but have offline feedback or mentoring with teachers and peers, was understood to still be up-to-date and a viable path of quality education in the future.

The discussions that day made it apparent when higher education is translated to e-learning the online educational offers deal with problems that often stem from the missing face-to-face relationship between teachers and students, e.g. how to motivate a diverse audience or give personalized feedback on the performance of a student. The beFORE project team finds such issues important as well and has frequently discussed them internally. As we have taken on the challenge in the project beFORE to design courses for learners to get a first idea on the concepts in futures research and foresight, we are looking at organizations such as Kiron to inspire our research on the topic of e-learning. As they our goal is to create a quality online educational offer as a tool for our target groups. We want to motivate students and academics of all disciplines as well as entrepreneurs to transfer the theoretical knowledge about foresight and future studies into practical yet sustainable real-world solutions.

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