VCSE Guidebook/Strategies for developing and running e-courses for the VCSE/Introduction: E-learning for Sustainable Development

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3.1. Introduction: E-learning for Sustainable Development

Against the background of globalisation and the increasing complexity of society, higher education for sustainable development aims at enabling people to acquire and generate knowledge in sustainability issues. Furthermore, and perhaps more so, it also encourages participants to reflect on further effects and on the complexity of behaviour and decisions in a future-oriented and global perspective of responsibility. Institutionally-based education must facilitate these tasks through promoting the development of skills, behavior change, and, importantly, through the fashioning learning for sustainable development. Students have to be familiarised with the changeability of complex systems in order to be able to adequately perceive and understand society and its developments. Since such competencies cannot be “drummed into” students, it is necessary to develop appropriate contents and forms of study which may facilitate such learning processes and which promote the required competencies.

Accordingly, such a focus on the development of key competencies to deal with sustainable development needs a “new learning culture”, one which examines its potential for a sustainable future. In this context Arnold and Lermen (2002) discuss the necessity of establishing an “enabling didactic”. The goal is to promote personality development, enabling a person to be able to cope with complex situations, to be able to act upon reflections, and to make decisions. It is also about being able to take on responsibility and to consider ethical standards when acting.

As a way of learning, e-learning has the potential to overcome constraints of traditional learning settings as it offers the possibility to establish an interdisciplinary and multicultural dialogue among students with the aim to develop competencies for sustainable development. Using the general approach of open learning environments, at least three main characteristics can be highlighted which are crucial to acquire competencies:

  • The principle of self-guidance implies firstly that the perspective of the student will be of key importance, and places the student as the growing entity in the centre. Learning is understood to be a search process organised by one-self, with open results. This strengthens individual initiative and responsibility.
  • The feature of collaboration aims to anchor learning in society, and looks towards the communal process of learning. In this context, participation, empathy and collaboration are considered to be important features in one’s ability to solve problems. The integration of interdisciplinary and inter-cultural perspectives helps to broaden the learning experience.
  • The concept of problem orientation aims to take stock of and grasp complex situations and the development of creative problem-solving competencies. Complex and authentic problems must be given as a starting point, as well as multiple perspectives, various access methods, and reflection on the social context.

This chapter will focus on the question of how such e-learning courses for a Virtual Campus for a Sustainable Europe could be developed and run. Thus, we fist look at the design of existing courses, with an emphasis on the variety of the different offers. Special attention is also given to the question of how to attract and involve students and how to find a common approach for evaluation.