In this age driven by technology where time management is a crucial factor, taking a break from work to continue education can be a tough decision to make. Here comes the role of distance learning and education.
While these courses offer you the convenience of learning from the comfort of your den, it is important to ensure that the experience be a hassle-free one. Here are a few pointers you can consider before choosing a distance learning course and institute.
1. Quality of material
This is the primary source of knowledge for any programme offered through distance learning.
Fauzan Ali, a student of IMT-CDL, New Delhi, says, "We even have the entire library fully online." The material must be up-to-date and the periodicity of updation is a crucial factor you must consider.
IGNOU claims to thoroughly revise the entire curriculum every three years.
Availability of supplementary text books is also another factor one must look at before selecting an institution.
2. Promptness in response
Since they operate through innumerable study centres, the quality of response normally is better in these cases. The ease of admission process, query handling and effective counselling are factors one must look for while selecting a course.
The way the institution attempts to steer you towards a particular programme communicates a lot about the nature of the college.
If the counsellors are just interested in making you sign up for a course, be vary.
If a college/ study centre takes days to respond to an email, it is a sign of worse things to come when you actually enrol.
3. Ease of examination
Moreover, examination schedules must be flexible and preferably online and on demand.
For Akansha Kumari, PR executive, online examinations are a big draw. "My schedule is dictated by client needs and it is impossible for me to sit through regimented exam schedules," she confesses.
Many more echo the same sentiments.
4. Online support
Many colleges offer entire course material online.
The Learning Management System (LMS) as these schools call it, must be easy to use, interactive and support live chats, query management and effective means to communicate.
Online submission facility for assignments and electronic marking, if available, would be very good value adds.
5. Student support
They must have online support for course materials, assignments and project work submissions, placement support, audio visual learning aids, and e-learning facilities.
A very robust Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) is essential for successful DL experience.
6. Access to study centre
Verify if the study centres have the required expertise and experience, in terms of faculty and resources.
Some study centres end up having more number of students than they can handle. So it is important to find out the ratio of students to counsellors at the centre.
The ideal ratio must be 60:1. Do not count part-time counsellors, they just may not be available when you need them.
7. Lab/ Library support
The college must be able to demonstrate adequate facilities for practicals so that your course does not end up becoming purely theory-based.
8. Quality of support faculty
But still visit the study centres and interact with the faculty available.
Try to see their qualifications in the brochures. If there are senior students, make it a point to ask them.
For example, an MBA needs the approval of AICTE, a BEd needs the approval of NCTE and so on. So look for relevant approvals.
In case of open universities this may not be applicable. But it does help if the institution conducts it in the full-time mode as well.
It will assure you that the university has the necessary expertise in delivering the relevant programme.
10. Cost of the programme
Finally employers treat all distance learning programmes almost on an equal footing.
Other influencing factors
According to a Government order dated 1st March 2005, all non-professional degrees offered by institutions approved by DEC are valid for jobs and higher education.
But this is applicable only to non-professional degrees.
Medical degrees cannot be offered under distance learning mode. For most other programmes, approvals must be sought from respective regulatory agencies unless you are working in the same domain and do not conduct a professional degree in DL mode.
Final approval rests with the NCTE. So examine if the institute you want to study is figuring in the list of approved institutions maintained by the NCTE.
According to the GoI ruling, correspondence BTechs must not be recognised. But there is a case in the Delhi High Court and as on date the government's order is stayed.
Stay clear of the correspondence degrees until a final decision is taken.
Foreign University approval
Degrees from recognised open universities are recognised by most of the foreign universities.
If you are planning to study abroad, ask the college you intend to apply for the list of Indian universities recognised by it.
Also, check with the registrar of the Distance Education Institute you wish to apply if the degree awarded by it is recognised abroad.
Distance learning programmes of any university can be pursued from any State of India. But State universities cannot open study centres outside their State. The issue is not yet resolved but would not affect your studies.
Choosing a school
Factors you ought to keep in mind while deciding on Distance Education Institutes (DEIs) are: qualified faculty, quality of study material, number of contact classes, provision for online learning and submission of project work and campus placement opportunity. Also to be kept in mind are relevant approvals and availability of good study centres.