Education for anyone, anytime, anywhere – this is the obvious advantage of distance education programs. Education on demand, convenient options for examinations – people who have not had the opportunity for regular education can reap the benefits and using these qualifications, catapult themselves into the next level of economic existence.
The often unnoticed learning that happens from interaction with classmates and classroom instruction is the casualty. This is the ‘unseen’ disadvantage of distance learning. The more visible disadvantages are the poor quality of material and the complete lack of instruction; the contact programs that distance learning programs have are generally review assignments and prepare the candidates for the forthcoming exams. There’s not a great deal of free discussions that would happen in these sessions.
However, it cannot be denied that distance education has its uses – the chief one being making education accessible to all.
Let us begin at the school level. Some countries have the NIOS – the National Institute for Open Schooling, which allows students to complete basic schooling outside of the formal school format. By basic schooling, we mean matriculation or tenth grade. There is also provision to complete the twelfth grade through NIOS. Students who have financial constraints or any other family problem can avail of this facility, without the added yoke of an age limit. I remember a touching incident of an autistic boy matriculating from NIOS at the age of 19, a mere four years later than most children. He could not have attended a regular school, and the open schooling option at least gave him a basic education.
A Google search reveals that Papua New Guinea also has a Distance Learning Program for schools, which is popular with their rural population. Rural areas have little access to technology, hence the distance learning programs have to use traditional correspondence formats (postal mail), audio lessons and maybe tie ups with local schools for laboratory work.
This also suggests that Distance education is especially useful in places where newer and the newest technology does not penetrate. Clearly, people living in these areas gain from these courses, especially because they are economical too. The same holds good for higher learning or college education.
But the problem is to get able faculty to create the course material, and to create it in time. Then there is the problem of the delivery of the above-mentioned material. It is not uncommon to receive the material more than six months after you have registered for the course. This makes structured and regular study difficult. Plus, you may not have all assignments ready in time for the contact program and examinations.
An additional problem arises during the contact program. Often the faculty that has been detailed for this has to travel to another city for a month. They consider it a little holiday and do not accord the DL candidates the seriousness they and the course deserve. In extreme case, even the examination may be a travesty.
In some instances, there could be the additional problem of the ‘recognition’ of these courses by employers. Distance Learning Courses are routinely dismissed as being way below the bar. This is especially true of an institution that deals only with Distance Learning Programs. It is also not unheard of for many such purely DL universities to shut shop after a few years’ popular run. Things are slowly changing, though, with the advent of DL courses from reputed management Institutes. These courses are designed for working people and if you are a young person who preferred the distance learning course, you are likely to be asked ‘why’ , in a job interview.
The reason they are not considered on par with a regular course is because everyone believes in the power of human-to-human interaction, we are still deeply under the influence of traditional learning. This brings us back to the earlier point of the unseen learning that happens with actual contact.
The obvious rejoinder to this argument is that some contact is better than no contact. Instead of a rural peasant toiling, dissatisfied, on the land, isn’t it better if he studies and passes a course that helps him improve the quality of his work, his professional output and his life, in general?
Besides, the internet has added a dimension to distance learning. E-learning courses, and the takers for them, are on the rise. Again, while they may not be comparable to regular three-year courses on a subject –it is something at least. And the instructors also take the trouble to respond promptly with their valuable comments.
Surely a step in the right direction!
This post was submitted by Ramya Raju.