The open and distance learning (ODL) mode of study gives you a bouquet of choices - from a pottery course, a vocational and entrepreneurial programme in beekeeping, to a qualification in sericulture and a diploma in fish processing.
Whether you are a student wanting to take up a job along with an undergraduate degree, a lawyer wishing to pursue a qualification in history, a teacher with a love for plantation, an engineer aiming for an MBA, or a homemaker planning to study economics, you can follow your ambition through the ODL mode. This system gives you the flexibility and choice to join a course irrespective of who you are or where you are based.
Globally, the major types of institutions/universities offering education through the ODL mode include dedicated open universities that offer programmes only through distance mode and dual style universities set up to provide correspondence courses. Another category is that of institutions offering conventional classroom-based programmes, distance education qualifications and online education.
According to RK Gupta, former member of the Distance Education Council, “Distance learning offers education at an affordable cost. There are many meritorious students who cannot afford to pursue higher education. Not everyone can study in cities like Delhi and Mumbai... a large number of students belong to remote and rural areas and cannot go to a regular college. The ODL system offers hope and opportunities to these aspirants.”
Gupta says that majorly, there are three types of students who prefer to join the ODL mode. These include those who don’t get into regular colleges, those who are working and want to pursue conventional or professional courses, and those who are otherwise eligible but cannot afford regular education.
As per the NR Madhava Menon Committee report on ODL, ODL constitutes about 21.9% of total enrolment in the conventional system. However, enrolment in technical and professional courses in the ODL system is less than 10%.
The enrolment in open universities and distance education institutions in 2009-10 was more than 36 lakh. The share of distance education increased from 2.6% in 1975-76 to 8.9% in 1985-86 and was improved to 10.7% in 1990-91 and to 20.56% in 2008-09.
When it comes to the methods and tools used to impart education, the ODL system has come a long way. From a correspondence degree based on print material to self-instructional study packages with an integrated multi-media approach, virtual learning has got a boost. The application of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to provide flexible and cost-effective programmes has also made this system popular.
The ODL system is now growing faster compared to the conventional system. “One of the major challenges that need to be addressed is quality assurance and use of an innovative approach to impart education. Steps like providing access to video lectures by top faculty of the top institutions will solve the problem of giving access to higher education to each student. Students should also check the recognition of the institution, course material and quality of the programme before enrolling,” says Sudhanshu Bhushan, professor, higher and professional education, National University of Education Planning and Administration, who specialises in policy analysis and planning of higher education.
“The growth and access to ICT will revolutionise higher education. E-learning modules, multimedia case studies, video tutorials need to be given a push,” he adds.