Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Distance Learning – The Great Equaliser

Distance learning has existed for more than a century in the developed economies, for a few decades now in the other regions of the world, and has come a long way from the days of correspondence courses. While open learning has been a preferred mode of education and training delivery for adult advanced learners in developed economies, in developing nations it has played the role of reaching populations that could not be served otherwise. In India, where the sheer geography makes it difficult for education providers to reach their target audience, the recent developments in delivery technologies, allowing access over the internet, have come as a boon. In Australia, whose geographical spread is equivalent to that of India, but is extremely sparsely populated, the School of the Air, which started about 60 years ago and uses two-way radio communications, has been the only mode of access to standardised interactive education for young learners, some of whom are as young as five-year-old.

Distribution and delivery over the internet has allowed content that is interactive and exciting to be developed and delivered according to the requirements of the target audience, whether they are young learners without access to physical primary education infrastructure, or advanced learners who need flexibility in terms of location and time.

In the new global socio-economic order, which we call the knowledge economy, distance learning has been an enabler in competence acquisition for large sections of the productive population, and has changed the economic fabric of entire countries in many ways. In the case of India, it has played a significant role in the growth of the service economy through specific training delivered over the internet. Many nations have been successful in running large-scale awareness campaigns, for example, n the area of disease control, through the use of this mode. In countries where women or minorities have traditionally had lesser access to educational resources, distance education has played the role of a great enabler. For employers, it has meant the ability to standardise and deliver high-quality training to large sections of employees.

Continuous upgrade of employee skills, which large organisations today use as a strategic tool, has become cost-effective, customisable, and interactive. The use of open learning has been an accepted and efficient method of delivering training in the corporate world or in the case of advanced learners. However, in the case of primary or tertiary education, open or distance learning has not been accepted as a method with the same standard as that of traditional school-based learning, for a variety of reasons. There is probably a long way to go in terms of developing quality content, as well as in the areas of customising evaluation and assessment methodologies specific to open learning students.

As a country, it will only be to our benefit to fund the development of these areas of learning methodologies, as it can help us take a quantum leap in terms of India’s gross human resource capability growth. In the corporate world, we keep talking about the lack of talent availability, and developing better open learning methodologies may be one of the answers. In this issue, we have tried to look at various developments in open learning, and as always I hope you will find the issue interesting and useful. Happy reading!

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