Faculty Focus: Thomas Huelsmann

Thomas Huelsmann Brings Distance Education Within Reach


By Cheryl Balassone |   October 2010

Thomas Huelsmann , Faculty

Master of Distance Education
Graduate School of Management and Technology

UMUC's Master of Distance Education (MDE) program is designed for students who want to gain expertise in managing the distance education enterprise within business, government, educational and non-profit sectors. The MDE program differs greatly from the university's other postgraduate programs: it is a joint venture between UMUC and the Carl von Ossietzky University in Oldenburg, Germany, a leading European institution with extensive experience in distance education. This unique partnership helps to ensure that the MDE program has the broad, global perspective that is so critical to distance educators in today's world.

The MDE program was created in 1999 in response to the need for professional instruction in distance education that was able to capitalize on the rich experiences of instructors in both the United States and Europe. The global concept was devised to utilize the capabilities of the new technologies and involve leading distance educators from around the world in teaching in the MDE. Great distance educators like Thomas Huelsmann. 

Thomas, MDE program director and professor, has been involved in the program since its inception. A mathematician by training, he ventured throughout Africa, teaching mathematics and science at various levels in the Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar. After his work as consultant to the Ministry of Education in Madagascar, Thomas opted to take the Master's in Education and International Development offered by the London Institute of Education. He was invited to join the MDE after his work as research fellow at the International Research Foundation In Open Learning (IRFOL) brought him into contact with Uli Bernath, the MDE director at that time, who sought Thomas' talent and experience to support the upcoming launch of the program.

"Even though the MDE at the time was not yet the highly prestigious program it is now, it was both exciting and attractive to work with some of the leading experts in the field," recalled Thomas.

An accomplished author, over the past decade Thomas has incorporated his distance learning knowledge into more than a dozen publications and articles. Developing courses on the "Costs and Economics of Distance Education," where he cooperated with the foremost authorities in the field like Greville Rumble and Tony Bates, and "Policies for Distance Education in Developing Countries," where he worked with Hilary Perraton, allowed Thomas to draw on many of his own international experiences.

Stella Porto, MDE program director at UMUC, and Thomas are currently working together to create a UMUC alumni doctoral option at the School of Education in Oldenburg. It is supported by key members of the School of Education in Oldenburg as well as the presidents of both universities.

Said Thomas, "If this all this works as planned, it will initiate an even closer relationship between our two institutions. That should make for some interesting prospects."


UMUC's MDE program has received numerous recognitions and accolades, including the 2003 UCEA award for Program of Excellence within the Distance Education Community of Practice and the 2003 Sloan-C Most Outstanding Online Teaching and Learning Program.