Distance Learning Education – Challenges

We all know that distance education has been around for at least 30 years. In India, the medium of distance education is mainly in terms of pencil and paper even today. There are three parties involved in distance learning, teachers,students and universities. All of three parties have barriers that prevents distance learning to more effective. Let us look at the distance education landscape prior to look for solutions.

Challenges faced by students

  • Generally distance learners have insecurities about learning due to reasons like disruption of family life, perceived irrelevance of their studies and lack of support from employers.
  • There is no face to face contact with teachers and students have trouble in self-evaluation.
  • Isolated feeling reported by distance students. They miss the collaboration of larger school community, and an important part of their social lives.
  • Lack of support and services such as reach to tutors, academic planners and schedulers. This added to the isolation in the distance learning process complicate things.
  • Students find that design of the study materials provided do not cater to the special needs of students undertaking distance education for the first time. The course content affects student persistence and poorly designed course materials contribute to student attrition rates.

When we try to introduce technology based learning, one needs to recognize the fact though mobile is available with students, they have used mobile only for making phone calls and entertainment and not for learning earlier.If mobile based distance learning is to be successful, technical barriers must be made a non-issue and the solutions should be easy to use and adopt.

Challenges faced by teacher

  • Faculty might perceive distance learning as threat to service tenure and human resource staffing.
  • A lot of upfront effort is needed to design distance learning material. This increases the workload on teachers who already have material for traditional classrooms.
  • Faculty must meet the needs of distance students without face-to-face contact. Teachers primarily teach 18 to 22-year-olds students. When majority of distance learners are adults, teachers may need to change their teaching style and is not easy task.
  • Teachers have less respect for the academics of distance courses. This can be enhanced by making distance programs have similar admission process as on-campus courses.
  • Some teachers might not like the idea of distance learning, nor want to participate. interest and motivation are not success factors reserved only for the student, even the teachers need the same.

So long as college faculty feels there is a burden associated the distance education program currently in place, there will be little support for expanding distance education opportunities.

Challenges faced by university/institution
Though universities understand some of the challenges faced by students, they have challenges of themselves which hinder them from solving the problems of students and teachers.

  • Technology needs investment and funds to setup toll-free lines and computers and pay ongoing costs of telecom and internet connectivity costs. In addition,the student also incur ongoing technology costs and possibly capital costs to purchase PC. Students might decide not to join the course and the problem continues.
  • There is reliable internet connectivity/network to carry large amount of learning content. This would make browser based education delivery little tricky. In addition, the perceived anonymity of the Internet can give raise to abusive behavior and this is a new challenge that needs proper care and regulation.
  • People believe distance courses are inferior to traditional courses and this reduces the motivation of teachers and students. To prove the belief wrong, universities need to ensure the quality in content and delivery of distance learning courses, matches with the regular campus classroom learning.
  • Assessing student performance is a problem area in distance learning. How to do assessments? who and where to administer assessments? Who would value and give feedback on the assessments? Should we recruit separate staff for distance learning compared to classroom learning? What is the best way to go forward?

I feel that mobile based learning products(with cloud as back-end) can help to resolve a lot of challenges faced by distance learning education.Let us look in another post how technology based distance learning programs can solves some of the challenges.