Although popularly considered to be the poorer cousin of regular college education, distance learning comes as a blessing to students who want to study further while continuing with jobs or who might not be able to attend a full-time course for various reasons. Advantages of studying through distance education are:
1. It offers the flexibility of learning while earning.
2. ODL saves a lot of time and energy on commuting in attending regular classes.
3. It allows learner to study at his /her own pace.
4. ODL courses cost less for a student and thus save money.
5. It is convenient to study and to submit assignments.
6. One can access study material and fellow learners virtually round the clock.
7. A student can study any topic of his or her choice.
There are some disadvantages of distance learning too. They are -
1. Distance learning requires self discipline and self-motivation. One has to be matured enough to take full benefit of the program.
2. Distance learning does not give you direct access to course instructor. Hence the learner has to be responsible for him to acquire knowledge.
3. One may feel isolated in distance learning programs.
4. It is important to have reliable access to technology in distance learning programs.
5. There is no facility to provide immediate feedback to the learner.
6. It may not always be possible to have all the courses online. Hence one must be prepared to work hard on sourcing study material elsewhere.
7. Some employers do not value distance learning. Hence it may not aid in employment opportunities.
8. Often there are some hidden costs.
9. The regulatory framework does not have any accreditation for distance education programs.
10. Distance learning does not provide opportunity for the students to acquire industry relevant skills such as communication, interpersonal, etc..
Issues and Challenges
Though the distance education programs have grown by leaps and bounds and the advantages out weigh the disadvantages, there are many issues and challenges to be addressed. There is no transparency in the pass percentages of distance education programs. While in some Universities the pass percentages are very high in others it is very low. Lack of transparency in pass percentages forces students to take uninformed decisions.
Most of the employers, both in corporate and academic, discount the qualifications acquired through distance education. There is not rating or accreditation mechanism for students to know the relative standards of the institutions/universities. Dropout rates from registered students are not in the public domain. Reasons for dropouts are also not clear. In the absence of such information, students tend to make mistakes and end up as losers of time and money.
Although contact classes are a part of most distance education programs, often students do not get benefitted by them.
Some universities are offering hundreds of programs. There is no transparency on the number of registrations in each program. Thus student is unaware of fledgling programs of a university and my get sucked into one of them.
The regulators such as UGC, AICTE and DEC have a formidable task at hand to put the distance education on track and create mechanisms transparency, standards and student services. Learners on their part should focus on knowledge and skill acquisition rather than easy way out to get a degree certificate. India certainly needs good quality distance education at graduation and post graduation level to realize its Vision 2020. Let all the stakeholders contribute to this national requirement.