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Editor’s Note: In the larger scheme of education – from the editors point of view, Internet based “e-learning” may surpass print media as the primary education tool. Perhaps it has already done this in online distance learning.

Strategies for e-Learning in Open & Distance Learning (ODL)

Sunanda More


The charisma of the Internet has changed the way we think, behave, do business and in recent times even the way we educate and train ourselves. Today’s world has recognized the enormous potential of the Internet in almost every field of life. “Internet” has become a revolutionary word in the field of education. It is one of the most important tools in educational technology. e-Learning today is the latest buzzword in the education system. Now e-Learning is becoming popular among the young generations and in education.

e-Learning means learning by and with electronic media like Internet. e-Learning comes under the fourth learning phase of distance education. With e-Learning Open Universities can convert the present “Teacher-Centric” education system into a highly responsive and dynamic, “Learner-Centric” personalized education system. It is again “Self-paced Learning.” The dream of “Quality Education, Anywhere Anytime with cost-effectiveness and at the doorsteps of learners” is possible with e-Learning. Even though Internet based “e-Learning” is considered an important tool to improve academic quality, effectiveness and efficiency of Open and Distance Learning (ODL), it will act as a back-up media or supplementary learning media, for the primary print media of learning.

With the Internet as a medium, today’s learning and training is not confined to mere classroom sessions. What Web-based Learning offers is a global classroom wherein knowledge can be shared across geographical, cultural and psychological boundaries. e-Learning can be simply described as learning and training available through Internet or World Wide Web. It is Web Enabled Learning. It also includes education provided through CDs. It is expected that learning will be greatly enhanced and enriched by the Internet.

This effective, reliable and low cost communication system, from almost all parts of India, has opened up new innovative alternative avenues for the education offered through Open and Distance Learning.

The School of Science and Technology of Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University, Nashik – 422 222, MS, India already initiated the first step towards the e-Learning for its “Electronics Engineering Programmes (ESEP)”. This School has prepared Virtual Classroom Modules (VCMs) for some of the courses of this Programme. CD based pre-recorded VCMs from master trainers are provided to enhance and enrich the learning in the distance education mode.

The School visualized, planned and implemented various strategies to cultivate the practice of using web-based technology and Internet. This enabled faculty, Study Centre staff, and students to achieve success. Wherever necessary, corrective actions were taken and implemented with the latest technology. Faculty and students gained confidence by accepting these challenges.

Some features of the VCMs offered through Internet or CD based are listed as follows.

  • Maintain learner autonomy: anywhere, anytime learning

  • Best time-utilisation

  • Clear and consistent knowledge communication at all levels

  • Repeatability and portability

  • Use of multimedia for enjoyable learning

  • Value added academic services through on-line Counselling Centre

  • Student Services and Feedback Centre for the information of most of student’s interest and concern

This paper will describe various e-Learning components and to present key strategies used to cultivate the use of new Internet or web based technologies among the students, Study Centres, Experts, Trainers and University Staff.

1. Introduction

Today India has recognized the enormous potential of Internet in almost every field of life.  Internet has created key position even in education. Emergence of new technologies helped to initiate the process of speedy and better connectivity, higher access to information and critical understanding of phenomenon. Internet has brought revolution in the field of education system. “Electronic learning” or “e-Learning” is becoming more and more popular. This is possible because of phenomenal growth of Internet in India.

Now the Internet is used not only by a very few privileged persons working in business or in the computer industry but also by the common man. There has been acceptance of this technology in almost all levels of society.

Now in the beginning of year 2009, about 40 million users in India alone will use Internet everyday. Easy, reliable and fast access to web with local phone calls, from all parts of India, is almost a reality even today. This growth is phenomenal due to Internet access that is commonly provided through telephones, mobiles, wi-fi for 24 hours and through wireless modems. This can only lead to a further major jump in the use of Internet and in the demand for institutions to provide world-class education and other services via the Internet.

§  Along with the Private, Public and Industry Sectors, the Internet has created a key position even in conventional education in India.

§  Numbers of educators are using Internet related aspects to deliver their courses and to reduce the problems associated with the teaching and learning methodologies.

§  Government of India announced the inclusion of Information Technology (IT) as a compulsory component in the curriculum of all Polytechnics and Engineering Colleges to meet educational demands.

§  Apart from professional qualifications, employers now insist on Internet literacy from the candidates in new employment and business because of worldwide job opportunities.

Ultimately this will result in a major change in basic teaching-learning methodology of conventional institutions.

2. Why Distance Learning should go to the Internet?

“Can you afford to ignore the millions of potential consumers who have left their television sets, newspapers and magazines in favour of spending their evenings and weekends ‘ surfing on the net? ”

A distance learning system has to compete with not only conventional education system but also with business companies such as Microsoft, Aptech, NIIT, Zee Education, Brainbench, etc. which are now offering series of academic programmes through the Internet leading to professional qualifications. This growing competition will be potentially threatening to ODL of India.
ODL cannot afford to ignore the increasing demand for the Internet in education. ODL has to consider internet as Magic Stick due to following few reasons.

  1. The Internet is the world’s fastest growing medium and capable of educating large numbers of students
  2. Compared to phones, fax, and mail, the Internet is the fastest communication medium that will play a important role in ODL.
  3. The Internet enhances learning due to quick, easy, powerful and timely response to users. Also, it reduces time and cost in providing services and support.
  4. In ODL, with the help of the Internet, student isolation in time and geographic distance can be substantially reduced.
  5. In ODL, the Internet increases the opportunities for communication.
  6. The Internet provides many opportunities to enhance and improve access to education and training for people unable to attend a campus.
  7. The Internet allows students to access material outside the course content.
  8. The Internet attracts the students with flashy graphics, sound bytes and easy to use point and click links to other information details.
  9. Asynchronous communication through the Internet allows flexibility of time and place.
  10. Automatic database generation is possible with this technology.
  11. Well-designed web sites and online academic programmes attract talented students, provide better training and education, and create better opportunities for employment.
  12. The quality of teaching and counselling at a distance in ODL can be significantly improved via the Internet.

3. Electronics Engineering Programmes (ESEP)

Electronics Engineering Programmes (ESEP) of Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University, was the first technical programme offered through distance mode in India. Naturally, it was quite hard for the people to believe that quality technical education could be imparted through distance education. For this reason, student enrolment hovered between 100-200 students every year from 1992 to 1996.

An experiment kit was developed to allow learner to perform many different electronics experiments at a convenient place and time. Programme implementation effectiveness was substantially improved with introduction of various managerial innovations. Curriculum was totally revamped to ensure relevance to today’s industry needs. These changes initiated explosive growth in student enrolment from just about 150 students in 1996, to about 2800 students in 2001 and about 10,000 students per year in 2008. All over the state of Maharashtra, about 200 counsellors at 50 different study centres offer academic support to these students, distributed over 0.3 million km2 (about 800 km north-south and 600 km east-west).

  • Now, this is the first technical academic programme in India, offered with Internet based Learning methodology. It is believed that this programme will set standards of academic excellencebecause it uses effective programme implementation systems.

4. Learning Phases in ODL

The evolution of ODL may be grouped in following 5 learning phases, where each successive phase offers better quality as a result of features outlined above.

Zero Phases: External students without any support for study material and counseling.

First Phase: Correspondence Education with few supports for study material.

Second Phase: Self-Instructional Textbooks and minimal face-to-face counselling help at study centres (about 15-30 % of conventional education system).

Third Phase: All features of second generation ODL and additional audio video support with cassettes, radio, television and teleconferencing. This where ODL in India stands today.

Fourth Phase: All features of second generation ODL with additional features offered through CD or Internet with an access speed of 28.8 kbps speed. This mode is not truly “Online Education” but may be called “Web-Enabled Education”. Here, minimal face-to-face counselling help at study centres is enhanced and enriched with CD based pre-recorded “Virtual Classroom Modules (VCM)” from master trainers. The Internet is primarily used as a back-up medium for CD to provide (1) text based interaction between students and counsellors, (2) formative feedback about learning effectiveness and (3) additional learning resources. Today, due to present technology limitations and cost of Internet, only this generation is immediately feasible. Infrastructure required for this generation is highly cost-effective and hence it is suitable for mass education. As use of video is kept to a minimum, it is easy to design, develop and maintain this system. Hence, the university will implement this ODL model for Electronic Engineering Programmes in a phased manner.

Fifth Phase: All features of fourth generation and the following additional features offered through CD or Internet with fast Internet(128 kbps or better) using ISDN or other emerging technologies. This mode will be truly “Online Education”. Face-to-face counselling help at study centres may be replaced by distributed live Virtual Classroom with two-way video interaction. The Internet will be the primary media for delivery of fourth generation features with two-way video Interaction. The CD will act as a back-up medium for pre-recorded VCMs. It is estimated that, at-least 5-10 years will be required to make fifth generation practical and feasible in India. As two-way video interaction will be used, it may be difficult to design, develop and maintain this system. Hence, although it is mentioned here as a future perspective, the university will not implement model for this generation of ODL.

5. What is e-Learning?

e-Learning means learning by and with electronic media like the Internet. As described in learning phases, e-Learning comes under the fourth learning phase of distance education. With e-Learning Open Universities can convert the present “Teacher-Centric” education system into highly responsive and dynamic, “Learner-Centric” personalized education system. It is again “Self-paced learning.” The dream of “Quality Education, Anywhere Anytime with cost-effectiveness and at the doorsteps of learners” is possible with e-Learning. Even though Internet based “E-Learning” is considered as an important tool to improve academic quality, effectiveness and efficiency of ODES, it will act as a back-up media or supplementary learning media, for the primary print media of learning.

6. Why e-Learning?

Learning can result from many different medias. Why then should one consider e-Learning? It provides access to enormous information resources that can be explored at lightning speed. Students can learn more, better, faster, and collaboratively from the latest up-to-date knowledge resources. Face-to-face teaching and learning with supportive media have time limitations that can be overcome by asynchronous learning via the Internet. “e-Learning” can help a teacher to substantially improve active participation of students by allowing them to focus on exploration, research, and dissemination of knowledge, where the instructor serves as a facilitator and guide. “e-Learning" is a system that can empower both students and teachers to achieve quality education in an efficient manner. Teachers can clearly communicate more in less time using information rich multimedia, and especially interactive multimedia. In ODL, learning criteria (minimum quality standards) can be achieved at all study centres. In e-Learning, emphasis on print media may be reduced but not totally eliminated. The role of other media like audio, video, and interactive multimedia is substantially increased. “e-Learning” can provide freedom to students regarding place and time for learning. This flexibility makes learning an attractive activity particularly for learners who are home-bound, employed, distant from a university campus, or whose schedules do not permit regular attendance in a traditional on-campus program. Surely, ODL and the Internet will bring a clear focus on learners and thus evolve a “Learner-Centric” education system from present “Teacher-Centric” system.

7. Objectives of e-Learning

“e-Learning” can provide excellent learning support for students that is comparable to face-to-face teaching, support that is available anywhere anytime on the Internet. Master trainers will prepare, in advance, interactive multimedia presentations in modular form on the web. These presentations ensure learning effectiveness ,quality, and clarity of communication through interaction, discussions and tutorials with real teachers and fellow students. Learning will be an enjoyable experience due to master trainers and rich multimedia. This should substantially reduce the time required for learning. Textbooks written in self-instructional format for self-study are still the primary media due to convenience of use. “e-Learning” is highly cost effective without compromising quality. As broadband Internet becomes widely available, it will dominate ODL and e-Learning. The objectives of e-Learning may be summarised as follows:

  1. Effective Learning,
  2. Improved Quality,
  3. Reduced Duration,
  4. Cost Effective and
  5. Flexible

8. Components of e-Learning

e-Learning consists of the following components, which are created with the state of art Internet technologies for high quality, ease of use and effectiveness.

The Virtual Classroom

Virtual Classroom modules (VCM) are “well-prepared high quality lectures” from the master trainers, with multimedia colour presentation. VCM combine distance education instructional pedagogy with latest interactive multimedia Internet technology. VCM helps a counsellor to efficiently perform tasks to provide information in less time, without compromising with quality. He can utilise time saved to develop higher-level mental abilities such as comprehension, application, analysis. Aand problem solving. The smaller time duration of each module (i.e. about 15 ± 5 minutes) ensures better concentration. Due to highly compressed format, about 200 VCMs, which are enough for about 2-8 courses (subjects) or 16-32 credit points, can be supplied on a single CD. Streaming media technology ensures simultaneous playing and downloading of a module from the Internet, with a negligible initial delay of about 15-30 seconds. Hence, the Internet can be used as backup media for delivery of VCMs to provide “Anywhere Anytime” learning. Use of video is kept to the minimum possible level, and normally restricted for imparting only skills. Hence, easy and fast production of good quality VCMs is possible. Discussion and/or tutorial along with a live counsellor and fellow students follow lectures at each study centre. Thus, VCM ensures best learning through distance system due to

§  Best Time Utilisation: due to well prepared lectures from master trainers

§  Clear Knowledge Communication: due to latest multimedia and Internet technology

§  Best Development of Understanding: due to discussion / tutorials in a group of fellow students with a live Counsellor

§  Repeatability and Portability: Student can repeat the module (lecture) or its part, on any multimedia computer. University can even dispatch it through Internet / email.

§  Easy Quality Assurance as:

o   Lecture of master trainer directly reaches students.

o   Multimedia provides enjoyable and worthy learning experience.

o   Same criteria (quality standards) can be achieved at each study Centre.

The Discussion Forum

A discussion forum is an interactive web site that lets site visitors discuss topics by reading articles that have been posted, replying to articles, and posting new ones. Visitors can also use a search form to find articles of interest. The discussion forum offers asynchronous mode of communication, where messages can be prepared with editing and ‘post’ or ‘replied” without waiting for the receiver to be ready. But it allows only text-based interaction among students, counsellors and university. Any interaction on the discussion forum is visible to all. A discussion forum can have the following features:

§ A table of contents that contains hyper-links to articles in the discussion topics.

§ A search form that allows visitors to search the articles for a word or phrase.

§ An entry form in which a visitor types an article to be posted.

Threaded replies allow the visitor to choose whether the article being posted is a new top-level topic for discussion, or a reply to another article. This feature creates a well-classified and well-organised knowledge base about any academic or administrative topic in a short time.

§ Frequently asked questions can be easily retrieved from this knowledge base.

§ A confirmation page confirms that a visitor's article has been posted

§ A registration form that lets visitors login to protected Web site discussions.

Online Counsellors

An “Online Counsellor” is a well-qualified and experienced person who interacts with the students, only through use of the discussion Forum and/or email, to clear their doubts/difficulties. Depending on number of students, the university will appoint one or more “Online Counsellors” for each course. Once a week, each “Online Counsellor” will answer all questions posted on the discussion forum of the respective course. He or she will also initiate academic interaction by posting (1) Home Assignments, (2) Quizzes, (3) Critical Thinking Questions or (4) Any other interesting academic information about the respective course. Online counselling will be a step forward towards “Learner Centric” education, as it provide anywhere anytime counselling for those learners who cannot regularly attend counselling sessions at the study centre for various reasons. Online counselling cannot replace regular face-to-face counselling at study centres, but only can act as a backup for it, as email and discussion forum offer only text-based communication.

Online Self-Test Centre

The Online Self-Test Centre is a dynamic web application based on an adaptive algorithm. It allows any student to directly and immediately access his own knowledge level, before or after studying any unit or VCM of the course, by taking “Self-Test” on any selected unit(s) or VCM(s) for the course. This provides valuable formative feedback about his self-study immediately. With this, each learner immediately “knows” his or her weak areas and where to concentrate learning efforts. It also lets each student know where they stand among their fellow students.

9. Key Strategies Implemented

It is difficult to introduce new technology at the institute level because of traditional thinking of most human beings. Considering this hurdle, the University decided to introduce Internet based Technology in academic programmes with a well-thought out approach and planned publicity to reach the masses. Study centres and students are the two main elements in ODL that contribute greatly in making new technologies and implementation successful. Key strategies are planned considering the interests and motivational factors from the point-of-view of students and study centres and implemented to make Internet-based education popular. They are listed as follows.

1.    Large scale training was arranged for the University, Regional Centres and Study Centres staff, for better and efficient use of new technology.

2.    University insisted on the use of standard Internet software across the university, its regional centres and study centres. Sufficient time was given by the University to all its study centres for the development of Internet based infrastructure.

3.    A simple, well-structured, well-organised, and user friendly website was launched by the University to provide maximum, easy and high-speed access to information.

4.      University selected the latest, standard software to ensure the best multimedia website.

5.      University developed Virtual Classroom Modules (VCMs) on e-Learning Skills to create awareness of these technologies among the society.

6.      An online (course-wise) discussion forum was prepared for professional and technical courses like Electronics Engineering and M.B.A. Programmes on which students can interact directly with the faculty at the University and the study centre. 

7.      Value Added Academic Services, which can arouse the curiosity among the students to use counselling centre on Internet, are provided. The worthwhile services from student’s point of view are:

i)              Answers for Chapter Review Questions,

ii)            Hints for Critical Thinking Questions,

iii)          Educational objectives for the course,

iv)          How to take notes on each chapter with point, Study Guide,

v)            How to prepare transparencies, etc.    

vi)          Key words for easy searching,

vii)        Links to outstanding information for further readings

viii)      Result Declaration on Internet in Mark-cum-Grade sheet format

ix)          Outstanding and latest information

8.      University appointed well-qualified and experienced persons as “Online Counsellors” for each course (subject) in Electronic Engineering and M.B.A. programmes to provide value-added academic services to students and clear student doubts/difficulties expressed in discussion forums and to provoke the thinking process in the students

9.      University provides Students Support Services like information related to Admission and extension of registration period, Course Exemption, Online End exam Form filling and Generation of Examination Hall Ticket , Result, Study Material, Credit Transfer, etc to the students on the respective discussion forum.

10.  University prefers to communicate with the study centres on discussion forum for some programmes for quicker and faster responses.

11.  Clear and well-defined maximum charges for the Shared Internet Access for both the students and the study centres by the University are an important factor.

12.  University developed a Self-Test Centre for some courses of Electronic Engineering Programmes to provide feedback regarding study efforts put by the student and will motivate them for self-study.

10. Conclusion

The Internet has brought one of the biggest revolutions in the field of education. Quality and efficiency of academic and administrative services improved significantly when compared with the present status, due to fast, easy and reliable communication media. With the introduction of Internet based e-Learning methodologies, more students will come to ODL without hesitation.

With e-Learning methodologies it is believed that: Quality, accessibility and efficiency of the education will be significantly improved, which in turn substantially reduces other costs such as travelling cost and time cost.  Students’ rate of successful completion will be significantly improved; and skills learned and experience gained will improve their employability.

11. Recommendation

Online Distance Learning inf our country cannot afford to ignore the Internet-based learning methodologies.  ODL has to switch to a combination that makes it less distant, lower in delivery cost, and accessible to students anywhere and anytime. All Open Universities should prepare for upgrading. All the Open and Distance Education Institutes in India should plan and rapidly execute introduction of e-Learning methodologies to face the challenge of new millennium.

12. Special Thanks

The author wish to express thanks to Prof. Manoj Killedar for significant contributions in conceptualisation and development of e-Learning components in the University.
Prof. Manoj Killedar is Director, School of Science and Technology, YCM Open University Nashik – 422 222, MS, India

13. References

1.   Greg Shaw (1998), Quality Education On-line, Conference proceedings of Asian Association of Open Universities on Distance and Open Learning.

2.   Manoj Killedar (2000), Web Based Engineering Education in India, An International Distance Education and Open Learning Conference, Adelaide

3.  Mike Robert Shaw, Introducing Internet into Distance Education, Conference proceedings of Asian Association of Open Universities on Distance and Open Learning.

4.  Sir John Daniel (1999), Distance Learning in the era of networks, The ACU bulletin of current documentation No. 138 / April 1999.

5.      Web Sites on Internet:

5.1 Microsoft Corporation, USA

5.2 The Indira Gandhi National Open University, India

5.3 The Open University, Hong Kong

5.4 ZDNet University

5.5 Virtual Online University

About the Author

Mrs Sunanda Arun More is a Lecturer in Selection Grade, in the School of Science and Technology at Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University, Nashik, since 1993. She graduated in Electronics and Telecommunication from Amaravati University in 1987. Her experience includes about 5 years in a conventional education system and 16 years as an academician in distance education. Her present interests are e-Learning, its applications and its implementations in Open and Distance Learning of India.



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