The demand for top qualified personnel in Germany (e.g. in the IT branch) has reached a level where it can hardly be satisfied. Therefore, continuing education gains more and more importance. Companies have realized that the learning process of their employees should not stop after university, but should rather be ongoing throughout live. High-level continuing IT-education is intended for professionals with an academic background who already are employed or work in their own business. Many universities and private high schools offer a wide range of workshops and courses in all fields - for refreshing job-related knowledge, keeping the employees up to date or teaching them a new profession. Today, skills in one particular domain on one hand and computer science on the other (e.g. such as bioinformatics) is a favored combination which personnel manager look for in their employees. Due to this fact, IT-related continuing education makes sense and appears reasonable.
A new institution is now in charge of the coordination of NRW "continuing
education programs in information and communication technology", situated in Bonn.
It has been granted by the state of NRW in 2000 within the scope
of measures for further developement of computer sciences on German universities.
This institution places emphasis on continuing education of IT specialists at highest
level. The main target is the coordination
of a fast and requirements oriented extension of scientific education
programs on German universities and "Fachhochschulen". Advancenments will be presented
via internet to the interested public in form of a portal. This portal sustains the
apperception of continuing education offers, which are developed and realised
by the universities primarily. Additional offers can also be evolved by the coordination
Among others, the classical teaching methods are instructor-led lectures in classes where attendance is necessary. Strengths of such approaches are interactions in real-time and on-the-spot support. But often, the exchange of information and ideas among students or/ and teachers ends with the course itself. Pure distant education concepts are only based on multimedia and teach solely via internet tools. The challenge is to create a situation where discourses are possible at any time, e.g. courses provide access to subject matter experts who can share knowledge and enrich the learning experience through eMentoring. Time is spent on learning, rather than traveling to and from the classroom, and since the schedule is set by the student, on-the-job responsibilities don't have to be disrupted to accommodate learning. However, the latter teaching methods desiderate personal relation and the so called social effects, consequence of which is a weaken of engagement; students donít take part in virtual interchange anymore. Experience leads to the perception that a successful learning model needs both, a mixture of ex-cathedra teaching and a 24x7 virtual part.
Our research approach focuses on online communities and to find the assets and drawbacks of this teaching methods extension. We analyze existing online community projects like virtual universities, specialized on continuing education. We present the type of project/school and in which manner the offered community functions are used, e.g. how frequently do students take part in online discourses? Our target is also to show challenges of these concepts- related to lifestyle nowadays, or to general acceptance of this learning medium. In case there was the opportunity of contacting executive associates of the studied projects, we will report their experiences and ask users for a feedback.
Sabrina M. Steinfels 2002-08-15