Distant Yet Accessible

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Distance education has existed for decades now, but the advent of technology has given it quite a boost in the last few years. Today, it is possible to earn any kind of qualification from anywhere in the world. Youth Inc’s cover story this month reveals the many ways distance learning is catching up with traditional learning

At the face of it, distance education sounds like a concept straight out of a science fiction novel. The instructor and the student are in separate geographies. They never meet physically, but manage to communicate in such a way that the student learns what the instructor intends them to. Add a few explosions, some futuristic technologies, a handful of action scenes, and hey presto! this could very well be a Hollywood blockbuster. This revolutionary idea was seeded in correspondence courses which, when devised in 1800s England, were meant to provide education to those people who lived in rather remote areas and did not have education facilities nearby. They would receive all their study materials – textbooks, notes, research papers, etc – by post. They thus received an education like they received letters – hence the term ‘correspondence’ course.
Today correspondence courses are just one aspect of distant learning. The umbrella of distance education has swelled in size, thanks to the kind of technologies available today. Correspondence courses themselves have progressed to materials beyond pen-and-paper, including DVDs and audio recordings. The internet has further made possible the existence of online classrooms – emails, live chats, multimedia conferencing, forums and other technologies that replace actual classroom learning. Another facet of distant learning combines the best of traditional and nontraditional learning: self-study with occasional real-world classroom lectures. With so many modes of delivery, the learning style in distance education is therefore relaxed and more student-friendly. Since the turn of the century, as internet penetration improved, the number of students studying distance has only grown. In the mere eight years between 2000 and 2008, American universities reported that the number of students in at least one distance class increased from 8% to 20%. And this figure will continue to grow as internet connection proliferates further.
In a country like India where there are more obstructions than clear roads to education, distance learning is a boon. There are a multitude of distance institutions and open universities in the country, the majority of them offering accredited qualifications at the certificate, diploma and degree levels. Additionally, a number of noted institutes, like the IITs, have jumped on to the massive open online courses (MOOCs) bandwagon, offering a number of modules and subjects online for free. MOOCs have given distance learning a considerable boost, and though they are not replacements for online universities, they certainly complement learning. In the end, education has boiled down to this in the 21st century: if you have a computer and an internet connection, you can learn anything.

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Distance Education’s Many Fronts

Distance education in India has one too many facets. Before you choose a course, get to know its many multiple routes

On the exterior it may seem like a single body functioning in many different ways. But in truth, distance education is merely an umbrella term that covers its many facets and modules. The select few aware of distance education associate it only with the open school model. However, there are a host of other modules that also fall under distance education. Open i.e. single mode universities, dual mode universities and MOOCs are 3 of distance learning’s branches.

RAISON D’ÊTRE
The raison d’être of distance education is to impart knowledge to those who wish to learn. There are no constrains in terms of geography, language, age and even religion, thus making it more accessible than full-time courses offered by universities across the country. The premise of distance education is to also offer education and highly subsidised rates, thus making it more accessible to anyone willing to learn. There is also a greater concentration on permitting a student to learn at his own pace as opposed to full-time courses that expect one to rush through studies and exams.

THE DUAL MODE UNIVERSITY
Jamia Millia Islamia Universty, one of the most popular in the country is known for both its full-time and distance education programmes. Borrowing from both full-time and distance teaching styles, dual mode universities are chosen by a host of different people – the youth and adults. Since dual mode universities adopt two different teaching styles, the learning is considered to be more analytical. Students of dual mode universities attend physical lectures while also mixing online modes of study. A blend of both styles, more often than not, gives learning the balance of full-time and distance education. Dual mode distance education works for those who do wish to completely succumb to online learning, but who like a healthy mix of full-time and distance learning.

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THE OPEN UNIVERSITY
Open university is probably the most popular route of distance education. It facilitates learning to those who cannot afford full-time learning, those who cannot commit to full-time learning and more importantly, those who are averse to constant study and examinations. A majority of those who choose distance education via an open university do so while managing different careers and jobs. Undoubtedly, the more feasible option, a student of IGNOU, YCMOU, Mumbai University and the likes juggle many lives while also pursuing a higher educational degree. The primary focus of an open university is self-learning. A student is given the prerogative to manage the time he dedicates towards studies. Open learning offers learning options like physical classes, study material and also online course work. It is up to the student to choose the kind of way he’d like to learn. This style of learning goes down well with several youth who wish to keep their jobs but also wish to enhance their knowledge.

THE MOOCs
Massive Open Online Courses were launched with the intention of garnering mass participation in online courses via the world wide web. Coming to the fore only as recent as 2012, MOOCs have today become one of the most popular means of distance education. A student can choose from an array of courses easily accessible through sites like Yale, MIT, edX and the like.

THE BENEFITS OF DISTANCE LEARNING

FLEXIBLE: Since a student has the privilege to choose when he wishes to study and for how long, distance learning courses are much more flexible compared to traditional learning programmes.
POCKET-FRIENDLY: The fees charged by distance education colleges and universities are nominal.
GOOD PROFESSORS: Almost always students of distance learning are taught by some of the most talented and skilled professors.
NETWORKING: Through student forums a student stands the chance to network with people from across the globe and also from different age groups.
TRAVEL: An advantage of distance learning is the lack of travel. There’s no need for a student to travel from home to college every day.

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AN ALL-YOU-CAN- LEARN SYSTEM

The open education system in India, aimed at bringing education to those who can’t access it, is in fact a system that is open to all. Here’s what you need to know about it

Open education’ is a term that gets thrown around a lot, especially by politicians. But what does it mean? And is it being implemented?
Open education is a system of making education accessible to as many people as possible by removing as many obstructions to it as possible. For many, traditional education is a struggle. Either distances weigh them down or the lack of facilities in a school or college does. Or barriers are put up in the form of high entry requirements, eliminating several applicants. Open education attempts create a system where neither distances nor lack of facilities or even high cut-off marks limit one’s learning. While this is the aim of normal distance education too, open learning differs in that it is much more flexible than standard distant learning offered by mainstream universities and colleges.
In India, there are plenty of open universities catering to higher education. The bastion is Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) in Delhi. IGNOU has local centres throughout India and is considered the largest university in the world with 4,000,000 students.

WHAT’S SO DIFFERENT ABOUT OPEN LEARNING?
Several things. For a start, it is more learner-oriented. A student is given top priority in open schooling. Can’t finish a degree in three years? No problem. Take your time. Six years is good too. But there is a maximum permissible period for every course for ease of administration. Didn’t get very good scores in class 12? That’s not a hindrance either. Open universities just need you to clear your HSC for a bachelor’s degree programme. However, a higher qualification like a master’s degree requires a bachelor’s degree, as per UGC rules. You are also usually allowed to be a student of another institute and an open institute simultaneously.

WHAT’S THE LEARNING EXPERIENCE LIKE?
Extremely flexible. A reputed open institute allows its students to learn in whatever form they are most comfortable in. If you don’t like textbooks and printed notes, you may switch to videos or audio recordings. If you don’t like that either, you may use the internet. If that doesn’t work too, you could visit the institute or one of its centres and perhaps attend a lecture. The aim is to learn. How you learn is up to you.

WHAT ABOUT EXAMS?
Most open institutes hold their exams at different times in the year, so the student may choose when they’d like to take the exam. For instance, at IGNOU the student may take the exams in either June or December.

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WHAT QUALIFICATIONS DOES AN OPEN INSTITUTE OFFER?
All kinds: bachelor’s degree, master’s  degree, diploma, certificate and some even a PhD. It’s up to the university what they’d like to offer. Just make sure that those who offer full-fledged degrees are recognised by either the UGC or the AICTE (in the case of engineering and management programmes).

 

MAY I CHOOSE MY SUBJECTS?
That’s up to the institute, but because open education aims to be as flexible as possible, a good open institute would let you choose what you want to study. Each subject costs a certain amount of money and offers a certain number of credits. Based on your budget and your credit requirements to graduate/obtain a qualification, you may choose subjects.

SO IT’S NOT FREE THEN?
No. Open education can’t afford to be free since it costs some money to provide quality education. However, fees are subsidised. For instance, a basic BA degree at IGNOU for an Indian student is a mere Rs. 6,000 for all three years. At Nalanda Open University, it is Rs. 6,600.

IS IT RECOGNISED? COULD I STUDY ELSEWHERE AFTER AN OPEN UNIVERSITY?
As long as the institute you study from is recognised by either the UGC or the AICTE, your degree qualification is recognised everywhere. This means you can go on to study in another institute. Previously, open institutes were affiliated to the DEC (Distant Education Council), but that body has dissolved, transferring all its responsibilities to the UGC. If an institute says it is DEC-recognised, it is possible it is now UGC-recognised.

WHAT IF I DON’T LIKE INDIAN OPEN INSTITUTES?
There are open universities abroad too! Open University (OU) in the UK is one of the most famous ones. OU functions much like Indian institutes except that most of its modules have no entry requirements whatsoever, and that some modules require mandatory classroom attendance. OU has plenty of international students studying in distance mode. There are open universities in other countries too – USA, Australia, Hong Kong, Netherlands and more.

COURSE CANVAS

* Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi
*ŠŠ Nalanda Open University, Patna
* Tamil Nadu Open University, Chennai
*ŠŠ Dr B.R. Ambedkar Open University, Hyderabad
*ŠŠ Netaji Subhas Open University, Kolkata
*ŠŠ The Global Open University, Dimapur

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The Duality of Distance Education

A mode of distance education in India is dual mode universities. What are these universities exactly and how do they function? We find out

A major part of distance education in India is dual mode universities. Unlike open universities, dual mode universities have a different way of functioning. All dual mode universities adopt a blend of open and distance learning. While the method and the style of function of this university are different, its basic principle is to impart knowledge to anyone who seeks it.

 

 

THE DUAL UNIVERSITY MODEL
Dual mode universities are those that offer full-time and distance learning courses. They not only include dual and distance models, but also adopt teaching styles from both models. The courses for full-time and distance learning are more often than not different from each other. However, the course material may different depending on the university that a student chooses. Recognised universities in the country like Jamia Millia Islamia University are very popular for both its full-time and distance programmes.

DUAL MODE EDGE
There has been much debate about the manner in which dual mode universities function. On one hand it uplifts the principle of imparting knowledge to anyone irrespective of geographic bounds, but on the other hand there is also the mandatory face-to-face style of teaching that is borrowed from full-time teaching.

DUAL VS SINGLE MODE
Which mode of teaching is better? Which one is more beneficial? It all depends on the student and his desire to learn. Single mode universities rely heavily of teaching through the internet; this can be helpful to those who juggle jobs and families. Dual mode, on the other hand will require a student to take on face-to-face and virtual and physical study methods. This is helpful for those who wish for an added sense of assistance and guidance while studying. A full-time teaching method is in so many ways more helpful as compared to computerised portions and online teachers. Face-to-face interaction is also a crucial part of the entire learning process and hence dual mode of education comes to hold significant importance. On the contrary, dual mode of teaching is a far cry from what the cusp of distance education is all about – spreading knowledge irrespective of location.

DUAL MODE UNIVERSITIES IN INDIA
• Jamia Millia Islamia University
• University of Pune
• University of Delhi
• Aligarh Muslim University
• Andhra University
• Karnataka State Women University
• Calcutta University

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THE NEW CLASSROOM

With the growth of the internet, distance learning has been given a massive boost with the emergence of massive open online courses – MOOCs

A new branch of distance education emerged in the late 2000s – massive open online courses. MOOCs gave the opportunity of education to people who did not have access to it for various reasons. They connected students and universities across the globe and continue to do so. MOOCs are free non-degree online courses with unlimited enrolment for anyone who wishes to learn without any regard to their current educational status. Think of it as an online version of the open school model. Today it connects some of the world’s leading universities and brings their courses to anyone who has access to the internet. The subject options range from computer science to medicine to literature to photography to humanities. MOOCs are now offering a paid credential ‘Verified Certificate’ for someone who wishes to showcase their online learning achievements in the real world.
MOOCs are an emerging educational body. While they are yet to take over the traditional classroom set-up, they are still proving to be a big advantage to students across the globe by bridging gaps between them. The discussion forums on many of these courses bring together students and teachers and the exchange of ideas is like never before. It is very common for students to be confused about their possible majors. Taking courses on MOOCs can help them get a better view since a student may dabble in as many avenues as they need to before making their decision. Thus, these courses are a boon not just to distance learning students but students in general. And these students could be anyone – the unemployed, housewives, retirees and just about anyone with access to the internet.
Students can spend their summer taking academic courses on MOOCs and get ahead of their class or develop a new skill. For instance, a medical student could take a course on photography, or a sociology major could try their hand at astronomy. And then there’s the added bonus of being taught by professors from universities like Yale, MIT, Harvard and Stanford.

TOP FIVE MOOC PROVIDERS

COURSERA: Brings to you courses from University of Pennsylvania, Sapienza University of Rome, Yale University and the Chinese University  of Hong Kong
EDX: Associated with IIT Bombay, Harvard University and Berklee College of Music
iTUNES U: Download lectures from the University of Melbourne, University of Oxford and Princeton University
APNACOURSE: Indian panellists from various walks of life conduct classes
WIZLQ: Courses from IIT Delhi and Des Moines Area Community College Additionally, IISc and the IITs in the country are offering their courses online under the banner of NPTEL (National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning), funded by the HRD Ministry.

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Decoding Distance Education

Students who choose distance education have their share of qualms about its courses, institutes and modes of learning. We debunk myths and answer some FAQs

HOW EFFECTIVE IS DISTANCE LEARNING?
The success of distance learning courses is a subjective factor. It depends, most importantly, on the student pursuing it. Making time to study amidst managing a job is crucial. While many assume that studying for a distance learning programme is easier compared to a full-time programme, it is quite the contrary. Time management, avoiding succumbing to laziness and making time to read course content regularly can ensure effectiveness and success in distance education.

DOES IT HELP WITH A JOB?
Most distance education courses do not offer placements from the institute or university they are pursued from. So, allegorically distance programmes do not help in terms of jobs. Professor Kishan Pawar, a professor of distance education at Mumbai University says that on record distance education doesn’t help with jobs but it’s assumed by general public that IDOL students are more hard-working for they study on their own without regular teachers. However, no matter what mode of education a student chooses it will help him with employment as it will enable him to think better, broaden his mind and think creatively. Yes, distance learning does help with jobs.

HOW IS DISTANCE EDUCATION DIFFERENT FROM TRADITIONAL EDUCATION?
The primary purpose of both distance and traditional education is to impart knowledge. The manner in which both these affiliates function however, is completely different. The major difference lies in the length of the programmes, the teaching methods, course content and the cost of the course.

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IS IT DIFFICULT TO CLEAR EXAMS?
Every course, full-time or distance requires a certain amount of effort that has to be put into it. If that requirement is adequately met, clearing out the exams are a cakewalk.

DOES DISTANCE LEARNING INCLUDE CREDIT SYSTEM?
Credit system enhances the value of a degree internationally. So any course with credit points will have a greater importance in the future. That being said, not all distance education programmes have credit points for their courses.

ARE DISTANCE EDUCATION INSTITUTES RECOGNISED BODIES?
While there are many distance education institutes in India, not all of them are recognised. In India, the University Grants Commission is the body that awards recognition. Before enrolling for a distance education programme under a specific university, make sure that you have done your research and are fully aware of the universities status in the eyes of the UGC.

IS THERE AN AGE LIMIT TO APPLY FOR DISTANCE EDUCATION PROGRAMMES?
There is no age barrier for distance learning programmes. Universities accept applications from students, housewives and even elderly citizens looking to add to and enhance their knowledge.

IS ATTENDING CLASS MANDATORY?
It depends on the kind of distance learning mode chosen. Some modes have online classes or e-learning options, while many others have weekend classroom lectures. Distance education is a combination of self-study and online/classroom study. A mix of both lead to good results.

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CHEERLEAD YOURSELF TO THE END

It’s hard enough to stay motivated under the pressure of traditional college study, harder still when you have minimal supervision. Youth Inc has some tips on how to power through self-study

It certainly is exciting to study in a non-traditional format. All that time you would otherwise waste travelling to and from a college campus, sitting in a lecture that has the most boring professor ever, struggling through mandatory classes that have no relevance to your subject whatsoever – is now yours for the taking. You are the master of your education. This seems almost utopian, but it has a serious downside – not having anyone breathe down your neck, while doing wonders for your creativity, is also destructive for your motivation. Without the threat of attendance, continuous assignments, professors’ supervision and hard-set deadlines, how do you stay motivated?

START WITH A REALISTIC SCHEDULE
Timetables are not for schools and colleges alone; you need them too so you can make the most of your day. Create a comfortable and realistic schedule that can accommodate a sizeable amount of study time. Don’t go overboard. Don’t assume you will study 16 hours, for instance, and do everything else in the remaining 8 hours. Perhaps you should start small and then ramp up your hours as your progress with your course.

SET SHORT TERM GOALS
Take a look at your coursework and create a weekly lesson plan. Decide how much you should learn by the end of a week. Track your progress with a calendar; at the end of every productive day, cross the day out. At the end of the week if you have crossed out all days and have accomplished your weekly goal, you’re doing well.

TAKE BREAKS TOO
No good can come from hours of continuous study. Your brain will get tired and stop processing new information after a while. Short breaks taken every 3 hours or so will make you more receptive. However, as with anything, moderation is the key. Don’t prolong your breaks longer than you have scheduled them for.

GET TALKING
Talk to someone through your progress – your parents, siblings, friends, anyone. The most effective talking, however, will be with fellow students of your course. Go online and get social with them. Several distance learning institutes offer the facility of online forums to talk to other students and sometimes even a professor or two. You’d be surprised by how helpful the community can be. For a start, set some goals or some friendly study competitions with fellow students – who finishes the study material first? As long as you can keep the people around you, you will be motivated.

QUESTION WHAT YOU’RE STUDYING
Not question as in, “What is the point of doing this?” but “How am I helping myself by doing this course?” Think big picture. Think about how doing the course would help build your future. Is there a certain career or a certain industry you want to be in? Will your course help you get there? If yes, push yourself to visualise your dream in connection with your studies. Alternatively, maybe think about what would happen if you didn’t finish the programme. Would you end up as a waiter in a fast food joint asking people, “Do you want fries with that?” That thought could scare you enough to continue studying.

EXPERIMENT WITH DIFFERENT LEARNING STYLES
After the grind of school, most people know the best way they learn. While it is important to study in a way you feel comfortable, it might also be useful to use a different strategy for different portions of the coursework. Maybe you learn historical dates the best by writing them down over and over again. Why not try associating each date with a particular picture? Change around your learning method once in a while to make it that much more interesting for you.

QUANTIFY IN TERMS OF MONEY
This is a slightly modified version of the typical guilt trip parents like to use on their children. Divide your total course fee with the number of modules you’re taking. That should give you the cost per module. Now, consider a module you don’t feel very inclined to study and look at the amount of money associated with it. How much is it? Is it large enough to buy you something you really want? Equate the worth of the education you’re getting out of it with the item you want to buy. For instance, if a module on astrophysics as is expensive as a smartphone, tell yourself that if you drop out of it, you’re wasting the money that could buy you a smartphone.

FINALLY, REWARD YOURSELF
Positive reinforcement is a powerful thing. Every time you finish on or before schedule, give yourself a small reward. Maybe award yourself a larger break time. Or buy yourself a treat. Or maybe even that smartphone at the end of your course. But the converse must be put in practice too i.e. whenever you go off schedule or transgress, punish yourself by taking away some privileges. This system might seem childish to you, but it works on people of all ages. And when you’ve been studying hard, a longer break time is the most beautiful thing to have.

 

Volume 4 Issue 3

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