Being a distance learner as well as an academic of Distance Education (DE) this author is at a vantage point to view the critical factors for the success of distance education from both the perspectives. However, here the issues have been discussed primarily from the perspective of the learner. This learner feels that the issues discussed below need to be addressed by DE institutions for the success of their programmes as well as the success of the mode of Distance Education itself.
The issue of credibility: There is exists some amount of cynicism about the quality of the DE programmes as well as students enrolled in them in the society as well as the job market. The Batchelor Preparatory Programme of IGNOU, for instance, is a passport to the Batchelor Degree programme for students with no previous education. Such short cut provided by the university has proved to be a pitfall for the students enrolled for the programme. It has invited criticism from all spheres – students, the job market, and the academia. It has led to a blanket ban on employment of IGNOU students by many private sector firms. Rajiv Gandhi University in Arunachal Pradesh is refusing to admit such students for further studies. Also, it has led to confusion in the minds of the existing students as well as prospective learners – many think that after getting a degree from IGNOU they will not get admission for further studies. The DE institutions need to take urgent measures to stem the rot and restore pride and prestige to distance learning.
Inadequate counseling and untrained counsellors: As a learner it has been observed that counseling is not being provided for many programmes. In many programmes the counseling provided is inadequate. Often counselors resort to lecturing as opposed to counseling. The lectures very often do not conform to the course content. Often the staff at the student support centres is not found during the appointed hours of duty. The institutions should ensure sufficient number of counseling sessions through counselors trained in the DE system.
Lack of proper intimation of counseling schedules: It has been observed that often counseling schedules are not displayed on the notice boards, and if displayed, changes in the counseling are not intimated properly. It is important for the DE institutions to have a mechanism for constant communication with distance learners.
Underutilization of ICT facilities: It has been observed that the existing teleconferencing facilities are not functional in some study centres. In some others, the staff is not adept at operating the satellite interactive terminals. DE institutions should have trained staff to handle ICT infrastructure to ensure better utilization of the facilities.
Non-receipt of study materials is a very common complaint among many students. Even more chronic problem is the delay in delivery of study materials. This gives the student very less time for study and submission of assignments. Besides improving the logistics of delivery of study materials, DE institutions should take measures to make the study materials and prospectuses readily available in the market. Students who do not receive the material on time or those who have misplaced their study material can source it from the market.
Delay in declaration of results of Term-End Exams and assignments are yet another chronic problem. Such delays cause uncertainty in the minds of the learner. Often results of the previous term-end exams remain undeclared even as the next term-end exam begins. Hapless students have to appear for the next term-end exam without knowing the fate of their previous attempt. This leads to frustration among the learners. Many of whom get demoralized and drop out from the course. Also, such delays cost dear to the learners in terms of the extra time spent by them. DE institutions must ensure timely declaration of results.
Inadequate student support: Often queries and complaints of students are not attended properly at the Study Centre, Regional Centre, and even the Head Quarter of DE institutions. In a DE system the learner is remotely located and therefore lonely in his/her academic pursuit. Therefore, it is important to be sympathetic towards distance learners’ queries and provide all possible help to them.