IF you are considering doing a degree by distance just because the course is so heavily advertised, or because it is the easiest option, then look before you leap. Let's face it, if you want to be in with the crowd then you have to slog it out in the college canteen, bunk classes and be part of the college festival. Degree by correspondence is déclassé.
Reasons for low acceptability
So what is it about distance education (DE) that makes it appear as the poor cousin of regular college education? It might be the lack of resources made available to the departments of DE or it can be the relaxed entry requirements for such courses. There was a time when registering for a correspondence course resulted in thick wads of paper being delivered to your doorstep with no offer, whatsoever of any learning support. The wads of paper may have become slick but in many institutions distance education continues to have limited support.
Why is it still preferred?
If so, what makes DE survive in a market where education has become a commodity just like any other product? The answer probably lies in the Indian psyche which continues to be degree-crazy and degree-hungry. No matter how good a diploma from a private/ government institute might be, a degree is a degree! Countless Indians repeat in unison; "A person must at least be a graduate". So we have a profusion of young gals & guys dutifully registered for a BA/ BCom
through DE. The classic example is of those students who are doing a Hotel Management, Interior Design or even a commercial art diploma: on the side they are all doing a graduation. A graduation, which has no professional significance for them and yet is perceived to be a requirement for a good job. But as long as employers continue to prefer students with degrees over diplomas or other vocationally relevant courses, correspondence education in this form will continue to thrive.
- Saves your time
- You can pursue two or more courses
- It provides you a credential
- It is cost effective
- You lose out on the campus life
- Employers look down upon a DL degree
- It lacks provision for practicals/labs
However, a new welcome trend seems to have emerged, with the advancement of technology. Top-most institutions like Indian Institute of Technology Bombay are putting premium technology to use and setting up state-of-the-art centres like CDEEP which offers free courses via Edusat to put quality engineering education in every corner of the country. Thanks to programmes like these concepts like e-learning and virtual classrooms are gaining acceptability across the country.
Narrowing the gap
Instructional technology has become a subject of research and innovation, thus leading to newer forms of instruction delivery and evaluation. In this fast- paced changing ecosystem of learning if you are working and need a good degree or specialised knowledge to advance in your career then DE can be for you. Open Universities like Indira Gandhi National Open University
or Symbiosis Centre for Distance Learning have several programmes specially designed for people who cannot take a break from their careers. Thus you could do a course in instructional design
, retail management,
Customer Relation Management or a full-fledged MBA via distance learning
. The learning environment is then flexible or “self paced”. So you can choose when or where you will study and also in some cases, even decide when you will appear for the examinations!
What are the benefits?
So how can this flexibility be adequately exploited by a student? Since the distance learning frees you up from a rigid timetable it allows you to pursue full-time employment along with education. In fact, in my view, the value of distance education is magnified with full-time work experience. As it gives you an opportunity to develop time management skills, try out the education concepts in your work place in real-time etc. This inter-mingling of learning and working can really add value to your résumé. Moreover, if you want to change careers a short-term distance learning course can act as a taster for the change.
Does a DL degree work?
So really speaking, you can make DL and education work for you and your career advancement. Does it replace good quality regular education? Probably not in terms of the social experience. But if you are ambitious and hard-working then the choice of institution and course cannot stop you from success.
So on one hand you have institutions that offer DE catering to the motivation of people to earn a degree with minimal effort. On the other hand, in the turbid world of DE, we also have institutions that experiment with instructional technology, e-evaluation, e-delivery of education etc to serve the needs of working population. Thus in a country where the delivery of quality education is hampered by many constraints and face real difficulties in capacity expansion, high quality distance education can bridge the gap and democratise education like never before.
Shivani Manchanda is Director, Careertrack and a career counsellor.