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Bridging the distance gap

Giving you the flexibility and choice to join a course irrespective of who you are or where you are based, the open and distance learning (ODL) mode of education has grown exponentially in the last few years.

education Updated: Jun 11, 2014 10:28 IST
Gauri Kohli

Giving you the flexibility and choice to join a course irrespective of who you are or where you are based, the open and distance learning (ODL) mode of education has grown exponentially in the last few years. Offering a range of conventional courses in law, commerce, arts and even offbeat programmes in urban planning, pottery and sericulture, the ODL space is poised for further growth. Experts believe that technology, new methodologies and open education are making open, distance and online education popular. The expenses involved in higher education are also making the ODL mode more relevant.

“The foreseen growth in higher education, globally up from about 180 million students to 420 million students by 2030 and the relevant demands cannot be met by bricks and mortar universities alone. Typically, if you are young and have access to affordable campus education and/or blended learning - many would prefer that. Most students, according to surveys, prefer a mix of face-to-face and online education (blended). Many students, in particular above 25 years, prefer flexible education or ODL,” says Gard Titlestad, secretary general, International Council for Open and Distance Education.

ODL: growing and how

According to the FICCI-Ernst & Young knowledge paper titled Higher Education in India: Vision 2030, the current higher education system in India is massive with over 30 million students enrolled across 45,000 institutions out of which, 16% are pursuing distance learning programmes. Enrollment in distance education has more than tripled in the last decade growing at a CAGR of 11%. The number of institutions offering distance education is almost five times the number two decades ago.

Worldwide, there are a few major institutions/universities offering education through the ODL mode. These are dedicated open universities that offer courses only through distance mode, dual style universities that provide correspondence courses and institutions offering a mix of conventional classroom-based programmes, distance education qualifications and online education. With fresh enrollment in ODL programmes at approximately 40 lakh annually, the share of distance education in the gross enrolment ratio (GER) is about 22-23%.

Students who prefer the ODL mode include those who are eligible for a regular course but cannot afford it, those who don’t get into regular colleges and working professionals. “The demand has grown in the last decade, the growth has been remarkable and can be measured at least 35-40% up in terms of absolute numbers,” says Manoj Shama, dean, faculty of distance learning and director online education, Amity University.

The reasons for such high demand, according to Sharma, could be attributed to the availability of a large number of programmes; professional services to students in terms of support and career guidance; not much seats available in campus/regular mode and high fee structures; and professional commitments. “This can be addressed by referring to the three Es – economical, easy (as it allows to adjust your learning at your own pace and time and finally with appropriate technology involvement) and it has ensured an enhanced learning outcome,” he adds.

Role of private univs Private universities/institutions are deploying a large budget towards the development and quality enhancement of distance/online mode education and, because of this, they are able to draw and implement technology-based learning which is proving to be not only effective but quite stimulating for learners.
“Constant efforts are being made to improve the quality by regular curriculum updates, besides deputing highly professionally skilled staff to handle operations in service to the students. There is also a constant drive to get accredited/re-accredited from various regulatory bodies from time to time,” adds Sharma.

How it is evolving

The access to ICT will revolutionise the ODL mode. E-learning modules, video tutorials and multimedia case studies are being used. From a correspondence degree based on printed study material to self-instructional modules with an integrated multimedia approach, virtual learning has got a fillip.