Online sustainable tourism courses reach audiences worldwide

Published on
April 26, 2019

People from all over the world are learning about sustainable tourism from Wageningen University’s online courses. You don’t need to be a university student to participate.

Since its start in early 2018, 8511 participants from more than 80 countries have taken part in these massive open online courses (MOOCs). Of these, 264 have received professional certificates. Most of the participants are located in The Netherlands and the United States. Other countries include India, Spain, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Indonesia, Colombia, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

MOOCs are aimed at unlimited participation and access via the internet. In addition to traditional course materials, the programme also makes use of video clips and interactive assignments with a forum to support interactions among students and course instructors. Participants do weekly reflection exercises, give and receive feedback on one another’s work.


There are currently two MOOCs running side by side. Subscribers may participate free of charge, or pay a fee for a certificate programme in which they need to complete integrated exercises coordinated and graded by supervisors in Wageningen University.

‘Rethinking The Future’ is the more advanced of the two current sustainable tourism MOOCs. It aims to bring professional and academic learners from all over the world to work together on case studies. Participants can introduce a new topic or give a new direction to existing ones. The course starting on30 April has already attracted 523 participants, of which 33 are in the paying certificate programme.

The general public can also benefit from these MOOCs. The Society & Environment course has been set up particularly for new BSc students and non-university based learners. It aims to give an overview of sustainable developments, the history of tourism and how tourism can affect nature and society. More than 1300 participants have enrolled in the latest course which began in March, of which 69 are in the paying certificate programme. A new season will begin in July this year.


Among the participants of these MOOCs are university students who want to obtain study credits, and employees of tour agencies who want to know how to promote eco-tourism. “The main reason why people participate”, says course coordinator Arjaan Pellis, who is now doing a PhD in the Cultural Geography chair group, “is that they want to learn about sustainable practices, that they are happy to reflect on one of the largest industrial sectors in the world, a sector that many people either work or spend their free time in. Moreover, this sector is still predominantly unreflective by nature and something needs to be changed here. As facilitators of these courses, we hope to support a systemic shift in this sector.”

Each MOOC will take six to eight hours per week over a duration of five to six weeks. By studying in their own time and pace, learners can adjust the course duration.


The idea for setting up the sustainable tourism MOOCs came up when the Education Institute of Wageningen University approached Cultural Geography to offer an online version of a course given on campus. This was to give Wageningen’s MSc students more flexibility in attending courses. “Once we got started, we enjoyed doing this so much that we decided to work on another course to cater to students who wish to examine the problems related to tourism more critically based on inspirational case studies, and to find solutions to these problems,” says Pellis.

“In coordinating these online courses, I had enormous support from two of our own MSc students. We formed the Open-and-Online team and did a lot of brainstorming on the contents, and on the form and learning structure of the courses. Although I am already engaged with tourism within our chair group, these MOOCs have taught me a lot more about learning forms, which I can use in classroom teaching. Currently, I am also experimenting with more blended learning by incorporating elements of the online courses into classroom courses. In this way, students who are unable to attend classes every day can get the fundamentals online. They can then participate gainfully in discussion topics found in publications and daily life. I believe that students can get more out of what they learn than ever before.”

What about contact with students? “It is wonderful that thousands of people watch the film clips but as the instructor, I do not have much contact with my students since the courses have been recorded beforehand. Now and then, I do join ongoing discussions on forums on the Edx platform. Here, learners can go deeper into the themes, and be in contact with the Open-and-Online moderators, which now comprise students from course programmes within Wageningen, as well as several MSc or BSc tourism students.” - By K.M. Poon

Rethinking the future (3 sessions, with the first starting on 30 April)
Society & Environmental Aspects (next starting on 2 July)
Other MOOCs from Wageningen University