The dream of the democratization of knowledge might yet be fulfilled. “Massive Open Online Courses” (MOOCs) represent an important step in this direction. These are online courses with scientific content and a large number of participants – in some cases tens of thousands. The digital lectures are interactive and invite participants to join discussions in internet forums, or occasionally ask multiple-choice questions. Participation in a digital lecture is usually free, or at least very cheap. However, anyone who would like to obtain a recognized qualification must expect to be charged for the privilege. Well-known American universities began the trend. In the meantime, there are also many providers in Germany, including platforms like iversity, Peer 2 Peer University, and openHPI from the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Universität Potsdam online.
One criticism of MOOCs is that it is not (yet) possible to gear the e-learning events to the individual needs and prior knowledge of the listeners. “Blended learning” schemes represent an alternative to MOOCs here. They combine self-study on the computer with face-to-face teaching in seminars, and are also used in further training. A study conducted by the MMB Institute for Media and Competence Research has shown that such schemes are regarded as the most important learning format by German companies. The popularity of webinars is also on the increase. They are available any time, any place, and offer a combination of Powerpoint presentations, conference calls and internet chat rooms.
E-learning offerings such as MOOCs or blended learning promote the internationalization of universities and lead to new collaborations. For example, a web-based master's degree programme entitled “Intellectual Encounters of the Islamicate World”, which is promoted by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), was launched in 2013; 20 students from Israel, Palestine and Germany have since enrolled. The eight lecturers from all over the world link up live with their students for lectures and seminars via the internet.
Anyone who wants to be independent of time and location in their studying can also enrol with a distance-learning university. One of the oldest and best-known institutions in Germany is Fernuniversität Hagen. The distance-learning students can organize the way they study the material flexibly and adapt it to their own lifestyle and workload.