It is the introduction week for the first batch of 'online students'. These students, residing in many different countries, will do a full Wageningen master programme from behind their PCs. This week they are getting acquainted with the online education environment and each other.
Forty students have registered for the online masters Plant breeding and Nutritional epidemiology and public health. ‘That is more than expected’, says Ulrike Wild, director Distance learning. ‘We have only been advertising these courses for about nine months. Promotions in China, for instances, still have to start.’
The online masters are aimed at professionals that want to do a parttime study on the side. Therefore, the average age of these forty online student is 31 years, tells Wild. Another interesting statistic: the nutrition programme has attracted mainly women (‘I believe there are just two men in that programme’) and the plant breeders are mostly men.
The duration of the online masters - aimed at working people - is four years, twice as long as regular Wageningen master programmes. ‘This cohort of students will all study in the same tempo. The advantage is that students can do lots of group work, that they can learn from each other, coach and motivate each other.’
Not all courses for the second year have been developed yet, so the current first year students have to follow the set tempo. Next year's students could perhaps complete the study quicker, as courses of the next study year will already be available to them, Wild explains. ‘The goal is to make it all very flexible. If someone takes a sabbatical and has more time to focus on his or her studies, then that should be possible. Similarly, it shouldn't be a problem to put the study on hold for a while if work temporarily requires more attention.’
Besides flexibility in time, Wild also advocates more interaction between online and offline education. ‘My ideal is that online students can also come to Wageningen Campus if they have the time and that on campus students can continue their education if they want to go somewhere else for half a year.’
That ideal of fading borders between online and offline education is not so far-fetched. The freely available Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that Wageningen University launched last year are already used in on campus study programmes. ‘Not just in Wageningen. HAS Den Bosch is also using our Nutrition MOOCs. And the Chinese partners of the online education platform EdX is also interested. They are now translation the entire MOOC in Mandarin and they will appoint a surrogate professor who can be a moderator for the Chinese students.’
Distributing knowledge for free - in MOOCs - turns out to be a great marketing strategy. About a quarter of the students that have registered for a - paid - online master took part in a Wageningen MOOC last year. ‘And over ten new on campus students also did one of the MOOCs’, Wild points out.