Distance learning

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Distance learning (. English distance learning ) is a consumer protection law defined in Germany Term: According to Distance Learning Protection Act of 1977 is the "distance learning" about the "transfer of knowledge and skills in the teacher and the student are separated exclusively or predominantly spatially, and the lecturer or his representative monitor the learning success ”(FernUSG § 1 Abs. 1). Distance learning courses can therefore include face-to-face seminars, but according to the definition - and in contrast to direct lessons - the majority of the learning material is handled separately from the teacher, i.e. individually and with free time management, the corresponding educational institution is also processedCalled distance school . The pedagogical support and learning success control distinguishes the distance learning from self-study .


In the context of distance learning, the following elements in particular are used:

  • Printed teaching books, also called teaching letters because they are sent by post
  • Audio or video based learning units
  • Computer-based training courses and online web-based training courses transmitted via data carrier
  • Submission tasks that are sent by post or electronically to the lecturer for correction.

The cohesion of a correspondence course can be promoted through regular meetings, seminars and web-based methods of e-learning .

Content / educational goals / qualifications

In terms of content, there are few limits to distance learning. Distance learning offers are, for example, in the content areas:

  • Learn languages
  • commercial training
  • Further training in soft skills
  • Further training in IT.

With the help of distance learning, various educational goals can be achieved, for example:

  • School degrees
  • professional qualifications and specializations
  • University certificates without a degree
  • Academic degrees, e.g. B. Bachelor, Master or Diploma.

The degree to which distance learning courses are completed varies greatly. There are offers that end with a certificate of attendance (without examination) from the distance learning provider. There are also offers that conclude with a certificate or diploma after passing an exam at the distance learning provider. And there are distance learning opportunities that prepare you for an examination at an external body, for example at a chamber (IHK, HWK) or a professional association.

Consumer protection

In Germany, since 1977, all distance learning courses have been subject to an authorization requirement under the Distance Learning Protection Act . Distance learning courses organized under private law at private universities or universities under public law are also subject to the Distance Learning Protection Act. Only distance learning courses organized under public law, pure self-study programs from the e-learning area and pure hobby courses that are used for leisure activities or entertainment are excluded from this. The State Central Office for Distance Learning (ZFU) in Cologne decides on the approval of distance learning courses after the application has been submitted. Approved distance learning courses are given an approval number, which the provider must clearly list in the information material. Distance learning courses that are subject to approval and are still in the approval process of the central office and for which approval is likely are to be marked with the comment "Provisionally approved" and the corresponding ZFU number.

The central office's admission procedure checks whether the course objective specified by the provider can in principle be achieved. Practical relevance and didactics are checked as well as the concept of pedagogical support and learning controls . The central office also checks whether the distance learning contracts and the information materials comply with the requirements of the Distance Learning Protection Act. This means that distance learners are usually protected from surprises after signing a contract. Those who take a state-approved distance learning course have, among other things, guaranteed:

  • Right to withdraw from the contract for two weeks at no cost or risk
  • Three-month termination right at any time after the end of the first half year after conclusion of the contract
  • Constant tuition fees for the entire duration of the course

The central office checks - partly in cooperation with the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training - the distance learning offers based solely on information provided by the provider and teaching materials. The distance learning courses themselves are not used. Approved offers are thus certified that they comply with the legal requirements and that the didactic-pedagogical concept makes sense. Qualitative differences in the conception of the distance learning offer or the accompaniment of the distance learners are not taken into account.

Consumer protection by Stiftung Warentest takes a different approach. Distance learning offers in the test of the Stiftung Warentest are used incognito by trained test persons from beginning to end. For example, support for distance learners from the distance learning institute or the internet-based study center is also taken into account. On the basis of the use of the offers by test persons and the evaluation of the tester documentation by expert experts, independent statements about the actual quality of the offers can also be made by the providers.


Distance learning has a tradition of almost 150 years in Germany. The range of content in distance learning was already very broad in the early years: whether language lessons or technical training, whether offers on hobby and leisure topics or further training on very special technical topics, distance learning, as non-academic distance learning is called at least in Germany, was offered by Right from the start for everyone. The participants were even able to prepare very early for school qualifications or exams in the field of foreign languages ​​with the help of distance learning courses.

The target groups and participants of the early distance learning were as colorful as the range of distance learning courses in distance learning and distance learning: Primarily the working people are to be named as distance learning students who took the time for further training in the evening and at the weekend. This group formed the majority of the participants from the beginning and still represents the vast majority of distance learners today. But other target groups such as the blind, the physically handicapped and seafarers, according to contemporary descriptions, were also addressed.

Although the names of most distance learning and distance learning providers from back then - Rustin, Bonneß and Hachfeld or Simon Müller are examples - have long since disappeared from the market or, like Langenscheidt, are now devoting themselves to other topics, but the basic idea has remained over the years receive. The aim of the early, usually privately run, companies was to give participants who, for reasons of time, money or space, no chance of taking part in face-to-face classes, an opportunity to educate themselves independently of at least time and space restrictions. The content of this education was as multifaceted as the life of the people themselves.

With the years of the Weimar Republic, non-academic distance learning experienced a first, broader boom, as the reintegration of those involved in the war into economic life and the need to adapt more quickly to changes in the labor market resulted in an increased need for further training. But shortly after 1933, the state began to distrust private education from afar. Distance learning and distance learning as well as its participants therefore led a shadowy existence in the Third Reich. State funding no longer took place, state institutions were supposed to take on the role of private companies and the content of the distance learning courses should be enriched with political topics.

This changed both in the GDR and in the Federal Republic of Germany from 1950. While in the GDR it was the academic distance learning that was established relatively quickly after the founding of the state, private, non-academic distance learning, the classic, developed in the West Distance learning, a small but essential path to advancement and prosperity for many people. Companies such as the Studiengemeinschaft Darmstadt (SGD), Christiani, which was founded in the Weimar Republic, AKAD and Walter Schultz-Rahe's Hamburg Distance Learning Institute established themselves quickly and successfully on the market. During the Long 1950s, the distance learning or distance learning industry also expanded very significantly. It was not until the late 1960s that there was a significant break in the growth of the industry. The reasons for this were, among other things, poor contractual framework conditions, courses with poor content and didactic design, and exaggerated marketing promises made by the providers. In addition, with the establishment of universities of applied sciences, there was a first wave of academization in the field of technicians and graduated engineers, who made up a substantial part of the customers of the distance learning institutes. Another consequence was state regulation and structuring of the industry that was progressing ever further, but was absolutely necessary to improve the quality of the offers, and which made it difficult for the providers to create. The establishment of the Central Office for Distance Learning (ZFU) played a particularly positive role. The consequence of this development was, on the one hand, an economic decline in the industry from which only a few, high-quality, innovative and economically stable companies remained on the market. On the other hand, the establishment of academic distance learning begins in West Germany with the establishment of the Fernuni Hagen and state funding for further education, e.g. B. through BAFÖG. With the reunification in 1990 there was an explosive growth in the industry. There are essentially two reasons for this: on the one hand, the citizens of the new federal states had a lot of catching up to do in the field of business and legal knowledge; on the other hand, distance learning and distance learning were known and widely accepted forms of learning in the former GDR. In the course of the last two decades of the 20th century, distance learning and distance learning became more and more established in Germany and in addition to private institutes and universities, state institutions are also involved in the field of distance learning.

Distance learning in the 19th century was essentially based on correspondence. Learners received teaching texts by post. This phase is described as the first phase of distance learning. Around 1960, when distance universities were founded, private providers of distance learning began to integrate telecommunications, initially telephony and television, into distance learning. From a technological point of view, a third phase of distance learning begins in the 1990s, in which internet technologies and e-learning are increasingly used (cf. Dieckmann / Zinn 2017; Zawacki-Richter, 2011).

Current market developments

Currently (as of November 2013) interested parties can choose between 3,045 state-approved distance learning courses from 352 different providers. The higher education sector is excluded from this.

Distance learning statistics have been collected once a year by the Federal Statistical Office since 1983 - a voluntary survey of providers of state-approved distance learning courses on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and with the support of the DistanceE-Learning forum.

According to the most recent distance learning statistics, 268,622 people in Germany took a distance learning course in 2012, 240,753 of them in state-approved, 27,869 in unrestricted distance learning.

In 2012, distance learners took distance learning courses in the following areas:

Forms of distance learning are mainly used in adult and further education . Only 22% of distance learners were up to 25 years old in 2012.

52.2% of distance learners in Germany in 2012 were women; the proportion has hardly changed in the last five years.


  • Anne Oppermann, Gereon Franken: Fit for distance learning. Education and Knowledge Verlag 2003, ISBN 3-8214-7621-4 .
  • Heinrich Dieckmann, Bernd Schachtsiek: Learning concepts in transition, Klett-Cotta 1998, ISBN 3-608-91950-3 .
  • Olaf Zawacki-Richter: History of Distance Learning - From Lesson by Letter to Learning Together in Web 2.0. In: Martin Ebner, Sandra Schön (Hrsg.): Textbook for learning and teaching with technologies. URL: http://l3t.eu/ (as of February 16, 2011)
  • Heinrich Dieckmann, Holger Zinn: History of distance learning . W. Bertelsmann Verlag, 2017, ISBN 978-3-7639-5786-6 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. FernUSG § 1 Paragraph 1
  2. On the origin of the term distance school .
  3. Guide for distance learning ( Memento from April 24, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) October 2008, p. 24.
  4. Distance learning in vocational education. ( Memento of July 14, 2014 in the Internet Archive ), Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB), accessed on July 8, 2014.
  5. Distance learning and e-learning. ( Memento from July 17, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) on: test.de , July 25, 2013.
  6. holgerzinn.de
  7. fdlmedia.istis.de