Bottom Line: Learning for freedom

Blended learning in German prisons is second chance education in its truest sense.


Bottom Line – In this article series we meet a European professional and trace the effects of his or her work to a positive change in another person’s life.


Screen capture of the ich-will-lernen portal.


There is a link between learning disabilities and crime. Learning difficulties breed marginalisation which then may lead into antisocial behaviour and criminal offences. Individuals with learning difficulties are also said to fare worse in the judicial system. Many international studies point to such correlations, and some researchers claim that up to 80 % of prison inmates may have a learning disability, compared to about 10 % in the non-offending population. (Timor, 2012)

German prisons house a little over 56 000 inmates. Studies reveal that a significant amount of them have no professional or vocational certification. Some are even lacking basic education. (Eichen, 2014).

Thus, many German inmates need literacy and basic education. One avenue of providing this to them is through blended learning. The German adult education association DVV has been offering ist own online adult literacy learning portal for prisons since 2007.

Educator Michael Lasthaus uses the ich-will-lernen portal to educate inmates, including Karsten (name altered), who thinks he is finally on the right learning path. (Profile photos not of actual interviewees, Photos top, and bottom, Walt Stoneburner)

“I nurture the learners‘ independence“


Michael Lasthaus, 56
Pedagogue/Director of basic education at secondary schools
Münster, Germany

Learning rooted in real life

I am a director of basic education at the prison, responsible for both face-to-face and blended learning courses in German language. I also give study counseling.
We use the ich-will-lernen portal in the prison. The portal is aimed at functional illiterates and people who want to receive a school-leaving certificate.

The learner moves through the platform’s 16 levels, all the time to the more advanced level. So we progress from learning individual letters up to the school-leaving certificate level. Both online and “live“ tutors support the student.

Many exercises in the literacy area are rooted in real-world experiences. For example, the learner may be asked to organise a move to a new house or to visit a shop or bank. Exercises in the school-leaving area have a working life orientation. There are sections also for “life and money“ where learners get to grips with the basics of economic literacy. This is relevant as more than half of inmates have debt.

Less stress, more focus

As an educator I use the portal to nurture the independence of the learner. Blended learning requires self-discipline from the learner but rewards him or her with the possibility to learn at one’s own pace. I see very few  symptoms of overextension and stress in those students who learn this way. Also many students seem to be able to concentrate a lot better with earphones on!

In an ideal case the self-reliance that is developed through blended learning builds the inmate’s capacity to return to society. Learning online develops also digital literacy, while learning success hopefully leads to a hunger for more learning.


“Here I have more courage“

Karsten“, 33
Currently in Bautzen prison.

Bad memories of school

An assault conviction got me into the Bautzen Prison. This was last year. I should be released this year, in 2015.

I take part in subjects like German, reading and maths here in prison. My school days are far behind me already, and I want to take this opportunity to really brush up my knowledge. I am most interested in general knowledge, something that I can truly use, both here and outside once I am released.

When I was younger I was bullied for being a slow learner at school. I was considered stupid. I tried to hide it then but here I have gotten more courage. Here I am not afraid to show I have these problems. The group learning is no problem for me.

Plotting one’s own path

The learning arrangement here means that I can determine and plan my own learning. I enjoy using the computer and would like to continue with education outisde prison. But in a real portal with unlimited internet connections!

Once I get out I want to leave my old life behind me and find a steady job. I know it won’t be easy but my family supports me. Well, we shall see!


Timor, T. (2012). The Link Between Learning Disbilities and Moral Reasoning in the Context of Criminal Behaviors. In Electronic Journal for Inclusive Education Vol.2, No.9, Spring/Summer 2012. Retrieved from

Eichen, R. (2014). – the DVV learning portal in German prisons. In International perspectives in adult education. No. 69. DVV international.

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