Distance learning: 10 questions you must ask before you sign up
Want to study but don't have the time or resources to take up a full-time course? Distance learning might be the answer to your woes. However, before you sign up for a course you need to make sure the programme is well-established and that the certificate holds some value in the job market. Here are some questions you should ask before you join...
Does the university have the required approval from the UGC and the DEC to conduct the distance education programmes?
If it is a university, then it must be first approved by the UGC. If it is a non-university institution, then it can only offer diplomas and, in that case, it can be approved by the DEC. So, verify the approval status.
Is the specific programme an approved one?
This is applicable only to professional programmes, which need further approval from the respective agencies. For example, an MBA needs the approval of the AICTE, a BEd needs the approval of the NCTE and so on. So, look for relevant approvals.
Does the university conduct the same programme in full-time campus mode?
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.
The writer is an expert on distance education and was one of the founding members of ICFAI, the pioneer in distance learning for finance education in the country.
Photographs: Rediff Archives
How does the curriculum compare with full-time programme?
It is better that the curriculum compares well with the full-time programme at the university and such programmes at other universities. Also, ask and find out how frequently programmes and courses are updated.
How do the present or prospective employers perceive the programme?
Especially check if the programme or institute has an active placement cell. Find out how many past students have been placed by the institute. Also ask a few companies, which require the qualification you want to pursue, if they would accept DL programmes.
What kind of student support is provided by the university?
One should always look for study centres near one's place of work or residence. Verify if the study centres have the required expertise and experience available with them, in terms of faculty and resources.
How many students are undergoing instruction in the chosen study centre in the respective programme?
Some study centres end up having more 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.
Who evaluates the students, university or the study centre?
It is important that the university takes responsibility and is fully involved in the evaluation process. Also, examination schedules must be flexible and preferably online and on demand.
What support services do the university and the study centres offer?
'The more the merrier' must be your mantra. They must have online support for course materials, assignments and project work submissions, placement support, audio visual learning aids and e-larning facilities. A robust Interactive Voice Response System is essential for a successful DL experience.
What is the experience of students who are enrolled or have completed the programme?
Ask a few students who have passed out of the programme about delivery and quality of materials, level of student support provided, quality of their query handling and doubt clearing services and their ability to conduct exams and deliver results on time.
One important issue that you must check is the study load (rigour) expected of you to qualify in the programme. Some programmes have such a high level of rigour that it almost needs full-time attention to quality. Assess this scenario very carefully before you sign on the dotted line.