A few years back the distance education system was synonymous with ’correspondence system’. But the present day nomenclature is increasingly growing in favour of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) system. Unlike the former where the teacher is not present and one is dependent largely on printed material, the latter has a dynamic environment where the course instructor/ faculty is omnipresent through the network of support centres. The students are virtually connected and can get clarifications pertaining to their doubts and difficulties from the academic counsellors at the learning-support centres. The facilitating environment comprises audio-video and soft versions of downloadable study material. Information and Communication Technologies are the key binders.
Inform yourself & spread the word
Having chosen the programme, one should be aware of other details related to the course, about the peculiarities of the institute, kind of study centres, impact of contact classes, exam schedules, nature of assignments, needs of the industry, job prospects, financial assistance and loans (if any), different types of learning resources including open sources and so on. For instance, IGNOU has a National Digital Repository called eGyanKosh to store, index, preserve, distribute and share the digital learning resources developed by the Open and Distance Learning institutions in the country. It contains learning contents of IGNOU, programmes available in text and video formats. This can be accessed through the website http://www.egyankosh.ac.in. This section gives you finer and important details about such aspects.
CLEARING DOUBTS This is done via e-mail, phone and contact classes
Q. If I have some doubts on course or topics, where do I go for that?
A. At times there could be some topics which the students cannot understand on their own. To understand them conceptually, students will definitely need good guidance. Hemant Panigrahi, a former MBA student from Pondicherry University says, “The university conducted weekend classes, where we could clear all our doubts with the professors.”
Ashok Mittal, Chancellor, Lovely Professional University says, “LPU’s Distance Education programmes are characterised by high-end student support services which manifest in various forms. Personal contact programmes are held in the university campus, which a student can attend, subject to his/her willingness and need. For those who cannot come to campus for attending classes, regular online interactive sessions between the students and teachers are held to clear doubts and queries faced at the end of the session. The students can also drop their queries at the website or online portal (LPU e-connect) of the university, to which answers are extended in a time-bound manner.”
Shilpee, who did her MA in Hindi from International Centre for Distance Education and Open Learning (ICDEOL) at Himachal Pradesh University states, “My institute provided me the information about the study centre and mechanisms to solve all types of doubts related to the courses.” She further states, “We used to get date-wise, location-wise, and subject-wise class schedule and all information about such classes was provided from time to time on the website or through postal/e-mail communication. As per the schedule, subject matter specialists were available at the centres concerned to resolve students’ issues.”
Q. What are contact classes and how do they help?
A. Contact classes help students to sort out their doubts, get a quick overview of the content as well as networking opportunity. Hence, contact classes are quite helpful. “In case students are not able to attend physical contact sessions, they can still have interaction with faculty and other colleagues through virtual classroom sessions. At WeSchool, the students have access to downloadable video lectures for various subjects,” shares Prof Dr Uday Salunkhe, Group Director, WeSchool.
Q. What generally is the schedule for personal contact programme?
A. It depends upon the university. A few universities used to organise classes during weekend only and few others organise them once in a year. “It depends upon the requirement of the course and scheduled as per the recommendation of the Board of Studies concerned. It may range from 7 days to 21 days,” says Prof. Sharma. But it is useful to attend these programmes as they are doubt-clearing sessions and you also learn required subjects of study.
|PRACTICAL SESSIONS Attendance is compulsory, and the sessions are conducted by resource personnel drawn from institutional collaborators|
Q. My Distance education course requires practical sessions in labs or field work, how do I go about it?
A. One should contact the programme study centres. These are not housed in academic institutions, but are with the institutional collaborators. For example, the Institute of Home Economics in New Delhi is a Study Centre for the Indira Gandhi National Open University for quite a few programmes such as MSc in Dietetics and Food Service Management (DFSM). Students are informed well in advance for these laboratory classes, which are normally held during summer and winter vacations or sometimes during longer holidays (say Durga Puja). Candidates enrolled in the said programme come from all over India to get hands-on-experience.
The practical sessions are conducted by resource personnel drawn from such collaborators. The attendance in practical sessions is compulsory and the learners acquire the desired skills. It is important that one takes them seriously not only to earn credits but as this extends a wonderful opportunity to link your theoretical understanding with practical learning - conducting experiments in front of experienced faculty and staff. This is also the chance to make friends and for peer learning.
Dr AK Pani
Associate Dean, Satellite,
Coordinator, Centre for e-Business, XLRI
The need for management education in today’s world for effective performance is a foregone conclusion. While mere experience might have been enough for effective performance in the corporate world of yesteryears, knowledge upgrading and continuous learning is the hallmark of employees working for the best organisations of today. Professionals/Executives may complete their management education while still being in service or while being involved with their own business.
XLRI offers a portfolio of consolidated programmes under the Virtual Interactive Learning (VIL) arm in different functional areas of Management, like ‘Business Management’, ‘Human Resource Management’, ‘Logistics and Supply Chain Management’, ‘Retail Management’, ‘Sales and Marketing Management’.
All these programmes respectively expose students to various theories and practices of business management, human resource management, logistics and supply chain management, retail management and sales and marketing management. Each programme facilitates five days of intensive learning at XLRI campus and includes project-based courses, lecture series, case methods, group work and assignments. The online sessions are delivered on the virtual classroom platform in different cities. The examination and evaluation required for certification are carried out by XLRI and the certificate will be awarded directly by the institute.
COURSE BOOKS form an integral part of DL mode of education in India
Q. How different are the course materials provided by different universities for the same programme?
A. According to Sunil Dhoundiyal, who was earlier associated with a company that was preparing course material for various programmes of different universities, the core course content remains the same and they use add-ons to differentiate the programmes. He says, “Suppose we are preparing study material for Hindi for two different universities, what we will do is that the course material of one university will comprise an additional book on Translation while there could be an additional book or two on Journalism or Computer for another university.”
Ashok Mittal, Chancellor, LPU says, “Certainly there is a difference. The course material varies from university to university on the counts of volume of literature extended, depth of the academic value in the course-content and its alignment with the needs of the job market. At LPU, we make a conscious effort that the course material of various programmes offered in the Distance Education Mode should be maximally aligned with that of regular one, though in a condensed form to facilitate its easy grasp on the part of the student. The curriculum is updated at regular intervals, keeping in focus the requirements and expectations of the recruiters. We strive to extend maximum quality and worth to the students, as far as learning is concerned, without missing the considerations of compactness, lucidity and intensity of the content.” On the issue of difference in course material, Shilpee who did her MA in DL mode says, ‘In DL mode students have to study by self and have to comprehend the subject matter by own effort. Keeping this in view, universities keep their study materials as simple as they can. At the same time the subjects offered by universities for the same programme also differ in terms of name and semester.’
|BE DISCIPLINED Manage your time by being organised, and have foresight|
Q. How can I be more disciplined and manage both studies and my job?
A. When an individual decides to undertake higher studies while holding a full-time job, he is taking on additional responsibility. Sticking to schedules can be tough. But a few pointers will help you sail through the course smoothly:
- Prepare a daily time table; irrespective of whether the classes are held on all days of the week or on some days, you are always up to date on your studies
- Make the habit of focusing 100% on one task at a time. When you are on the job, focus on the job. When you are in the class or have free time – focus on your studies. Never try to do assignments or studies on the job, or vice versa. It will only result in chaos and further irritation
- Plan your leaves/study breaks in advance, so that the management does not have issues with your planned breaks
- Be regular, both on the job and with your studies. A momentary lapse will break the momentum, and getting back the rhythm will be an uphill task
- Try and correlate some of your classroom learning with your on-job learning and vice versa. Correlating always helps remember concepts with real life examples
- Don’t be afraid to push your limits – be it for being regular for classes, assignments, follow-up studies, or be it tasks related to your job. By discovering newer boundaries, you will be able to broaden your scope of learning and abilities
- Most importantly, do not lose sight of your goal. You have decided to pursue a course and up-skill yourself to become more competent and to take up positions of higher responsibilities. Do not let pressures or challenges of any sort dissuade you from your objective.
Q: In what ways can a study centre help me?
A: A study centre or an authorised centre provides counselling and tutoring services. They are equipped with facilities to implement teaching in distance mode. It will be ideal if one gets the study centre near office or home. Students should seek information from the university about the faculty and resources available at a study centre beforehand. They should also check if the centre has that number of students that they can handle by finding out the ratio of students to counsellors. One should not count part-time counsellors as they may not be available in time of need.
Recognition of study centres is an important factor. No university is allowed to franchise the study centres and they have to operate them themselves. The latest policy on territorial jurisdiction says:
- Central and state universities can offer programmes through study centres as per their Acts and statutes for offering programmes through distance mode. However, the latter can’t go beyond their geographical boundaries.
- Deemed to be universities can offer courses through study centres as per government notification to accord them this status until a decision is taken by the UGC.
- Private institutions will be at headquarters and if they want to go beyond its headquarters, it should set up new institutions as per norms.
A study centre can provide you a degree but not enough knowledge. They try to portray themselves as full-fledged institutes but they are not. Students bear the brunt when it comes to finding a job or even internship. Throughout my course, faculty included industry professionals, but because of paucity of time the classes used to take place only for 2-3 hours a day. Their study material was never updated. No practical knowledge was given to students even when it was needed. Students should be cautious of choosing a study centre and for that matter, the university, for distance education.
Q: Will I get enough study material?
A: Course material holds utmost importance in distance education. This is because students do not study on-campus and there are no classroom lectures too (barring those available online these days in some cases). Students are often seen grappling with problems related to study material they are provided. For instance, Mehak Kapoor, a student of SOL, Delhi University shared that the biggest problem she faced was of course material. “The material provided to us was never updated. Visiting library was not feasible as I was working and books weren’t available all the time. So I had to purchase books at an extra cost,” she said. With availability of latest technology, many universities have adopted online means of sharing the material with students too. Some have their entire library online.
The issues related to study material that the students usually face are:
- Receiving the study material on time
- Quality of study material
- Updated information
- Availability of supplementary text books
MA (Mass Communication), Kurukshetra University
I faced many problems with the study material provided by the university. Though it was readily available at the time of admission, it wasn’t up-to-the-mark. Some books were in English and some in Hindi, despite the fact that I was doing the course in English medium. I was supposed to receive the syllabus along with the books but it was missing. I had to get it photocopied from my friends. In the books that I received, some pages were missing and printing was not at all good. I had to refer to other means of information like Internet to prepare for examinations as the study material wasn’t good enough. In the exams, several questions were not from the syllabus.
Q. Is there any financial assistance available for economically weaker and bright students?
A. Generally students who prefer working opt for the distance mode programmes. As students are already earning there is less demand for financing or scholarship offers. This might be the reason behind the fewer scholarship options available for DL programmes. When it comes to disbursing loans for the distance programme, the options are limited with some exceptions such as Sikkim Manipal University. SMU students can avail education loan from HDFC Bank for all programmes offered under distance mode. Minimum and the maximum limit of the disbursed amount is between Rs. 50,000 to 1.5 lakhs. Co-applicant/Co-borrower is mandatory as per the bank’s policy. SMU had also initiated Vidyadeep, a nationwide scholarship scheme, under which 1500 scholarships are offered to meritorious and deserving students of SMU-DE programmes. Out of these, 500 scholarships are for the students from North East region. LPU Chancellor Ashok Mittal claims, “The concept of financial assistance at LPU is aimed at reducing the cost of learning for the deserving and the needy. The fees structure of LPU’s Distance Education programmes has been economically calibrated for the students, such that the spirit of financial assistance gets enshrined in it, by itself. Hence, the university does not provide for a separate set of financial assistance for the students enrolled in its Distance Education programmes.”
|ATTENDING CLASSES is the mandatory for professional courses|
Q. What will be the minimum attendance requirements?
A. For professional courses one has to attend at least 50 percent of the classes or sessions but for non-professional courses it is not mandatory to attend too many classes. “I did my BCA from IGNOU and we used to have classes during weekends. I didn’t miss classes of programming and language. But for theory subjects I used to go very rarely though the minimum attendance requirement was 60 percent,” says Vinay Kumar Tripathi from Gorakhpur. “We try to make sure that attendance should not be less than 50 percent for the professional courses and for course like BA, B.Com we give more relaxation,” shares a professor.
Q: Is it necessary for me to attend classes in distance learning education?
A: Attendance is not mandatory but students are advised to attend contact classes to get their doubts clarified. These days institutes offer instructions online as well in the form of recordings of class sessions. Some have the provision for online classes being conducted, popularly called virtual classrooms. The proliferation of handheld Internet access devices has made it possible for students to access learning even on the move. So, students can mix online instruction with in-class instruction, depending on their need. Typically some institutes conduct classes on weekends while others hold week-long classes once or twice a year.
MA (Mass Communication)
I was all excited to attend eight-day contact class during my course but the difficulty was to find accommodation as the classes took place within the campus which is outside my city. I tried for hostel accommodation but it was not meant for distance learning students. In the city only Dharamshalas were available which were not suitable for girls. After some days, through a ‘contact’ I got hostel accommodation. I was still not sure about the room I would get and I was right! It was a room on the third floor with a wall full of windows. Outside the windows I could see only barren, scary land. I gathered courage and covered the windows with newspaper. The bed was almost like a wooden ply for which I had to bring the mattresses from the ground floor. Spending nights in that room was horrifying. The experience was so bad that I didn’t even think of attending the next class. I feel universities should conduct distance learning course classes only if they can provide decent accommodation to all students.”
Q. Many universities offer campus placements to its full-time students. Do they also provide this facility to their distance learning students?
A. This depends on a university’s approach and commitment to Distance Education. However, considering that most distance learners are already working adults, the need for campus placements for these students is considerably less. According to Dr Ashok R. Patil, Chair Professor, National Law School of India University, “Majority of candidates are working professionals, hence offering placements does not arise. The rest prefer to do it since it would be an added qualification to the nature of work that they already pursue.” “Distance MBA students are mostly working students and there is no need to offer any placement services. However, we do provide placement assistance to distance MBA students,” says Prof. Jayant Sonwalkar.
TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES like the advent of tablets makes learning easy
Q. What is the procedure for taking exams and submitting assignments?
A. While traditional universities such as Pune University offer pen and paper exams and have no assignments, many private institutes enable students to give them online as well as submit assignments online. The system used by Symbiosis Centre for Distance Learning (SCDL), allows the students to decide the pace and place of the exam, which gives busy working professionals an advantage.
- Online Assignments (through SCDL web portal 24x7): Facility of submitting objective assignments online at any time and receiving immediate results/feedback.
- On-Demand Exams: Students have the flexibility to appear for exams anytime throughout the year by booking a date, time and slot of their choice and appearing through exam centres spread across multiple cities.
- Project Report & Case Studies: These aim to assess students on the practical application of knowledge gained by them during the course of the programme.
- Resource File/Submissions: Students have to submit a Resource File for programmes belonging to Education, Humanities & Social Sciences, comprising teaching learning activities, case studies, projects etc.
- Practicals: Practicals comprising classroom training and lesson plans form an integral part of the Post Graduate Diploma in Pre-Primary Teacher’s Training (PGDPTT) programme in select universities.
Q. What resources can we make use of apart from the ones that are offered by the institute where we are enrolled?
A. One can make use of e-resources like open educational resources and other technology-based teaching learning tools. One can look at sites such as http://www.openlearningworld.com; http://www.openculture.com; http://bookboon.com; http://academicearth.org or institute- specific portals such as http://ocw.mit.edu; http://ocw.nd.edu; Open Learning Initiative by the Carnegie Mellon University; http://www.ocw.unu.edu; or domain specific portals such as http://www.science.gov (for Science & Technology); http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages (for languages); National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning - http://nptel.iitm.ac.in (for Engineering & Science); http://www.open.edu (for Arts & Humanities) and so on.
MBA, Symbiosis Institute, Pune
Digitalization is, of course, the essence of distance learning. It was easy to participate and get inputs from the university. The online facility for students of distance learning has options like online exam, online class, and online chats with consultants etc. It is so participatory! It feels awesome to say that you got the degree and real-time experience at the same time, and you aren’t a university student who’s had three years of partying and no commitments.
TELEPRESENCE TECHNOLOGY has made distance learning more engaging
Q: Do all distance learning programmes have provision for online learning?
A: With increase in the reach of Internet in various parts of the country, many DL providers are adopting online tools to disseminate information. IGNOU turned out to be a pioneer in it with others following the trend. AIMA’s Centre for Management Education provides substantial e-learning support to its PG Management Diploma and certificate students, including online classes, study material, assignments and project submissions. At Sikkim Manipal University, online learning platform - EduNxt provides opportunity of virtual classroom- like environment, with added access to faculty and students through discussions forums and online chat options. However, this is not mandatory and not a feature with every institute.
Q. What are the learning platforms on offer?
A: Today, DL institutes offer a mix of tools and learning platforms to students. Some of them are:
Virtual classrooms: This platform enables live lectures to be conducted and streamed live from anywhere across the globe. Institutes such as WeSchool, XLRI and SNDT all use these technologies to enable live participation via two-way audio-video virtual classroom sessions for major subjects in the evening. “The faculty conducts lectures as well as assessment through virtual classroom mode. Knowledge sharing takes place in a true sense amongst students spread across the globe,” shares Uday Salunkhe.
Video lectures: These are available for download on computer/mobile by institutes like WeSchool. “These lectures have been done by the best of the faculties from academics and industry,” shares Uday. We-tube gives access video lectures on relevant topics by industry experts. These are regularly updated and streamed over the net. The National Institute of Opening Schooling (NIOS) telecasts programmes on DD-I from 5.02 am to 5.25 am every Friday and on educational channel - Gyan Darshan, every day from 6.30 to 7 p.m.
E-learning portals: Most institutes have a learning portal, which feature all the study materials and can be accessed on your computer/laptop as well as mobile.
Placement assistance: Some institutes, such as WeSchool give students access to an Online Placement Support Service, whereby they receive vacancy information related to their specialisation on a daily basis.
E-Learning CDs/DVDs: Some institutes like Symbiosis Centre for Distance Learning develop interactive E-Learning CDs comprising case studies and scenarios in-house, which act as supplementary learning model. They help bridge the gap between books and classroom. They also offer pre-recorded lecture DVDs by expert faculty.
Antony J Alex,
CEO-Rainmaker, which provides online legal programmes at myLaw.net.
With the surge in EdTech or education technology over the last few years, online learning has come a long way from being primarily driven by downloadable PDFs to the use of multi-modal learning resources that simulates a classroom
|RECRUITERS SOMETIMES appear biased to candidates with DL credentials|
Q: Does recruiter’s preference change for students who pursue distance education?
A: Recruiters’ preference depends on students’ personality and the intelligence he/she carries. They more often take a decision in the first 10 minutes of the interview. Confidence level, knowledge level, communication skills, work experience, and IQ are usually checked. So, recruiters do go for students who pursue distance education but with the right combination of personality and intelligence. In recent times, universities have started taking initiatives. At Sikkim Manipal University, corporate connect initiatives and industry-oriented practical learning based on case study-is provided as part of the curriculum.
Q. What do we mean by a credit system?
A. In order to assess a student’s learning ability in an academic programme, the courses are designed taking into account the workload of a student while pursuing the course. As per academic standards, on an average, ‘one credit’ is equivalent to the workload that can be completed in 30 hours of study time. This typically encompasses all learning activities such as reading and comprehending the study material, making use of audio-video tools, writing assignment responses, attending counselling (both face-to-face and through virtual platforms). Based on an average learner’s workload for about 1000 hours in a year, the one-year courses are worth about 32 credits.
The ‘credit system’ has a provision of transferring the credits earned by a learner at one institute to other, thereby providing much relief to the learners. ‘Credit Exemption’ is also permitted in some courses where the candidate concerned does not have to undertake exercises meant for continuous evaluation, but has to appear only for the relevant term-end exam. In some institutes such as English and Foreign Language University (EFLU), Hyderabad and IGNOU, a cafeteria approach is followed. Here, students have to select courses up to the total number of credits earmarked for a course and they have the option of free choice. One can select courses as per one’s aptitude, interest and capability.
Director General, AIMA
Private sector has a bias towards hiring full-time graduates. Distance learning mode has traditionally been used by working executives looking to improve career prospects. So acquisition of a job has not been a major consideration.
Distance education students have to make some extra efforts to catch the eyes of recruiters. They should join short-term personality grooming courses, which help with the needed finesse.