Distance Learning courses: We answer YOUR queries!

Updated On:08 Jan 2014 10:14 AM IST   By: Sumita Vaid Dixit

87,86,732 students are registered in 114 Distance Learning institutes in the country according to our research. Add up  the students registered in 62 more recognised and about 400-odd unrecognised institutions in the country for which estimates are available, the number of students would easily cross one crore (10 million). That is ten times the number of engineers (1.01 million) India produces, and two times the number of regular college seats that are available (5.25 million).

For a nation which has about 1.59 crores students at 10+2 stage, the regular college seats are woefully inadequate. And it is this widening gap that the Distance Learning institutions seek to bridge. And they come in different shapes and sizes from mega universities with enrolments crossing millions to small universities with a Directorate of Distance Learning catering to a few thousand students. Institutions like IMT and Symbiosis, recognised management schools, also have capitalised on the burgeoning demand, but only cater to niche domains like management and IT.

If you have questions on distance learning, post your queries at the bottom of this article and the Careers360 team will answer your queries through the month of August!

And the 249-odd institutions vary in size, reach, quality, and efficiency. So we undertook the first ever objective ranking of 30 select institutions, based on a host of quantitative and qualitative parameters (refer to Ranking on Page 24 ). With technology being a biggest enabler, a look at VSAT-based Distance Learning  (DL) institutions is also included. Columns and interviews with leading experts and listings of all approved Distance Learning  (DL) campuses roundup the story. Read on to find out more.

Amit Ahuja, 32, works as a systems manager with an IT company in New York, and his résumé says BCA, MCA from Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). Yes, he was disheartened that despite scoring 78 per cent in his Class 12, he failed to get admission in a regular college. “But I am doing quite well in life!” Be it people like Amit, or homemakers or managers with top MNCs, millions turn to  Distance Learning (DL) to advance their education and career needs. 

DL institutions come in various forms. Universities like IGNOU, which are open universities, exclusively offer DL programmes. Many like Delhi University are ‘Dual-Mode' wherein they offer both regular and DL programmes. Private institutes like IMT and private universities like IFCAI also offer programmes through DL (See detailed listing on page 54).

The target audience
"Two kinds of students populate the universe," says Sumanto Mukherjee, Director, MediafeaturesIndia, a study centre for Sikkim Manipal University. "Most of our students at the first degree level are those who could not get admission in regular streams," he said. At. Master's and specialised diploma levels, people who work and cannot take time off to do a full-time programme dominate, a fact reiterated by Dr. A M Sherry, Director, IMT Centre for Distance Learning (IMT-CDL). Specialised short-term programmes and diplomas attract good professionals for whom time is at a premium.  

Types of DL Institutions
Open Universities (State and Central): Established either by a State or Central legislature. They exclusively deal with open and distance learning form of programme delivery. A unique feature of these institutions is that they provide a bridge course that allows those who have attained minimum prescribed age, to enroll for a preparatory course that would lead them to enter the formal education stream.

Dual-Mode Universities (State and Central): These are institutions that, offer programmes both in regular and distance mode.

Standalone Institutes: These are institutions which offer specialised diplomas and certificates, and have to get themselves approved by DEC. To offer a degree they need to tie-up with a university.

Classes, Courses, Degree
The core learning in DL comes from the study material. The material, for example, is prepared by university professors and Head of Departments at School of Open Learning in DU. Kavita Mishra, a public relations officer who has done her BA in English from SOL, says that her study material was so useful that her friends in regular colleges often borrowed it to make notes, a point that is seconded by Dr. Manjulika Srivastava, Director, DEC.

Contact classes supplement the learning process. At School of Open Learning, Delhi University, classes are held once a week. In many universities like M.P Bhoj Open University (MPBOU) or Annamalai University they are held two times for 15 days a year at the university campus itself. 

Since it is not possible to cover all the subjects in those limited number of classes, students must be self-learners, says Prof. Nishant Pokhriyal, Executive Director, & Dean (Exam), SOL. Resources such as study material, library, teachers are available to open school learning students. But the quality and quantum of resources vary substantially amongst the different players.

But the best part is that the degree awarded by open universities is the same degree awarded to regular college students. Also, a distance education student can migrate to a regular college, provided there’s a seat.


Meeting vocational needs

Open learning is also addressing an un-met need in conventional education: the need for vocational courses. Open schools such as Symbiosis Centre for Distance Learning (SCDL) or IGNOU offer a wide-range of skill-based programmes. Venu Gopal, for example, is pursuing Master's in Media Business Management (Distance Education), from ICFAI, Tripura. He wanted to do an MBA programme that would be relevant to his field and not just a regular MBA without a specialisation. “I even looked at programmes being offered by regular colleges, but found only ICFAI offered it.”

Another case in point is Ashima Chowdhary, a graduate in English from Delhi University. She has done a diploma in child psychology from Amity School of Distance Learning, and works as a counsellor in a school in Mumbai. “The course gave me the skills to work.”
 
Wrinkles in the system
In spite of the advantages of ODE, there’s much to be desired when compared with developed ODE markets such as the US and the UK. Even now printed study material is lost in post. At the moment, only a handful of schools such as SOL are giving the entire material upon submitting admission fee. In fact, SOL students can download the study material from the website. But even SOL is yet to offer courses online.

There are some private DEIs that are conducting classes online and via satellite. For example, Tanya Munshi, editor with a publishing house based in the UK, did a postgraduate diploma in Instructional Design from Symbiosis Centre for Distance Learning, online. From start to finish, the entire module was conducted online, including the exams and submission of project work.  But having just a few institutes exploiting e-learning will not resolve the situation.

Other issues plaguing the system aren’t dissimilar from those affecting the conventional education system. There’s a shortage of qualified faculty, interaction with teachers is uninspiring and in some cases, there’s isn’t any at all. The course material isn’t revised as frequently as it should be and the admission process is still tedious. The revision varies from once in three years as prescribed by DEC to once every 6 months by pro-active schools like IMT-CDL.

Shamshid Khan, working with a Gurgaon-based chemical engineering firm, had to take an off from the office to travel to an SCDL study centre in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, to find out why he hadn’t yet received his material. “I tried calling up their customer care division but it was of no use. They could have easily informed me on the mail or through a phone call."


There is hope
Although the present infrastructure of Distance Education Institutes is struggling to cope with the growing number of enrolments, Pokhriyal of SOL says that steps are being taken in the right direction. SOL has simplified the admission process. "It now takes five minutes to fill up the form. No mile-long queues anymore,” he said.

All that the admission officer at the counter asks for is the student’s CBSE or any other examination board roll number. The officer punches in the roll number and the system throws up all the details. The form is submitted in five minutes flat. Pokhriyal says that SOL has access to the data centre where information on all Class 12 students is stored, hence the moment the officer enters the roll number of the student, the student’s marks, date of birth, parents’ names and contact details appear.

Also, DEIs are spreading their network by setting up more study centres and information kiosks. Some provide links to open courseware to distance education institutes, overseas. For example, SOL’s website has links to open courseware available on Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “An excellent source for students to learn more about their subjects,” says Pokhriyal.

In addition, DEIs are establishing links with companies and industries to offer employment opportunities to students. ODE isn’t seen equal in rank to classroom learning as not much has been done to promote it, thus recruiters tend to have a different impression of students who have passed out from DEIs. But efforts are being made to improve the interface between DEIs and recruiters.

At the institutional level, there's a vast difference, as the rankings suggest. Some are rich in resources but have a long way to go in ensuring a pleasant learning experience for students. Some others have excellent e-learning platforms and IT-enabled student service systems but lack personal contact. The system is evolving but has a long way to go. 

COMING SOON: 30 best distance learning institutes in India!

If you have questions on distance learning, post your queries at the bottom of this article and the Careers360 team will answer your queries through the month of August!

First Published On:26 Jul 2013 04:33 PM IST

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