Distance education promises better reach through ICT
As India gears up to reach quality higher education to the mass-student community, through a 30% GER by 2020, distance education providers, are perceived as the channel to accomplish this mission. Promoting accessibility (remote), flexibility in learning and relaxed eligibility criteria, distance learning raises the bar for higher education.
Furthermore with the growing awareness about information and communication technologies (ICT), distance education has delivered a higher degree of quality and credibility in terms of pedagogy. This has led to a larger number of people opting for courses/specializations through this mode of learning, as it adds value to their profile and gives wider scope for career progress. At present, the Indian distance education market is expected to grow at the rate of 24% during the period 2011-12 to 2015-16. And, the Internet penetration in the country is expected to touch a market value of INR 80 million by 2015 – 2016.
The double thrust to higher education from distance learning and ICT will help India tap into its vast student potential and create a knowledge economy for sustainable growth.
The ICT – Boosting distance learning initiatives.
With the everyday milestones in information and communication technologies; reach and accessibility to the remotest parts of the country is only a matter of time. With companies oriented towards developing economically-viable technology-solutions, online systems are being implemented for many public-sector undertakings(railways, power and energy sectors). With the result, the interface with the public is also encouraged through the online mode. The use of internet is therefore becoming widespread, with more and more people, getting conversant with the online interface, its ease-of-use and ready access.
ICT in distance education
As the internet penetration increases, e-learning systems are establishing themselves, as the new and viable mode of teaching and learning. The boundary between the “real and “virtual” environment is slowly beginning to fade with the new-age technology tools, which make online distance learning an enriching process. Some of the other features and props of ICT, which helps in furthering the prospects of distance learning, are:
1) 24*7 access: The internet or the online mode operates 24*7. Ensuring anywhere, anytime connectivity, students can study at their convenient time by simply logging into the distance learning university’s online interface. Wherever they are, they just need a device and internet connectivity to study and learn.
2) Global pool of knowledge. The ICT overrides the barriers of time and geographical boundaries. There is world wide connectivity to a vast pool of knowledge resources. Be it references for studying or interacting with knowledge experts, the online interface facilitates these activities, as there is no physical presence demanded from either the student’s or the expert’s end.
3) Virtual class room: With the many advancements made in information and communication technology, distance education universities of repute have deployed e-learning systems, which recreate a real-time classroom set-up. Students in a virtual class room can :
4) Technology-props for the disabled: The mass-reach initiative of distance learning has gone a step further, with technology props being implemented in online learning systems for the visually/hearing impaired/physically disabled. Yet again, online distance learning breaks the barriers for those aspirants who have the knowledge potential for higher studies but don’t have the means to use that potential for lack of support, flexibility or eligibility in the education system.
5) Quality: The online medium thrives on the quality factor. With the growing numbers of internet users, one factor, which will connect them with the brand, is Quality. The same applies to the distance education universities deploying programs in the online mode. Students opting for distance learning programs look for quality courseware, which are: comprehensive, industry-relevant, and creditable for the current job-scenario.
6) The online connect with the student: Students demand greater accountability from the university, they are studying from. The student’s academic progress and the subsequent career goal, are all as much the university’s commitment as it is the student ‘s. It is no longer the “left to fetch” scenario, in distance education, where from learning to achieving, it is the student’s endeavor alone. Established distance education universities keep a live interface with the students through the online medium. Continuous assessments, periodic assignments, online trackers and projects help the student and the university track their academic progress
7) Employability: With the growing quality and credibility in distance learning programs, distance learning programs are edging closer to their campus counterparts. Apart from technical skills, soft-skills training are integrated with the programs to ensure all-round development of students. The online interface facilitates access to programs or seminars conducted in any part of the world, through the university’s privileged access mode. More so, the university can also call in experts to conduct training sessions at their convenient time and later, make it available to its students.
8) Offline study: Video lectures, seminars relating to academic and non-academic can be made available to students, in ready and easy downloadable formats, thanks to the compatible versions of software, which have been put in place for the same. Those who are not able or cannot schedule to their convenience to watch live video demos, can download them for later browsing.
9) Web-enabled, internet connectivity scaled-up: The ICT has evolved with the internet technologies to make connectivity go global. It is not just the PCs, desktops or laptops, which support internet connectivity. Mobile phones/gadgets also, with a wide and affordable cost-range support wireless internet. With the result, e-learning is slowly diffusing into mobile learning, which adds up to the flexibility factor of distance education. E-learning systems are being implemented keeping the mobile-interface in mind as well.
10) Career-progress: Distance learning enables studying while staying on job. Working professionals eager for skills-upgrade, for better designation and career growth can enroll for distance education programs. The online platform helps to strike the right balance between office, home and work priorities, as this mode of study can be used, anywhere, anytime. There is parallel growth in skills and work experience in the distance education mode of study.
The different attributes of ICT, as mentioned above, are focused on making online distance learning a richer and value-added experience, to draw in more students to this mode of learning and help them gain the skills and experience to cater to India’s vast growth potential.