The 17 Panditas of Nalanda

Neo-Education in India – Indian Distance Education University

Distance education has existed for centuries.  It, like many other new models, is a product of technological, industrial, and theoretical advancement.  The story of distance education is believed to have begun in the early 1700s.

The oldest widely-recognized record of this is an advertisement in a newspaper which sought students who wanted to receive lessons via mail. It is reasonable to believe that if someone felt compelled to place an ad, the practice matured after many years of this being done “underground.”

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It is also fair to say that if distance education follows trends in the advancement of society, it likely began with the first methods of printed literature and delivering messages.  Throughout the history of the world, there have been scholars, politicians, and businessmen who have communicated and shared ideas for millennia.  That is where distance education began; with the world’s oldest civilizations (throughout Asia and Africa) sharing knowledge, studying each other’s findings, and developing their own ideas from them much like students today learn from courses delivered via internet rather than horseback.

The development of modern distance education has more direct and documented roots in the correspondence courses created by a man who taught a shorthand system via mail in the 1800s.  Its success triggered a market response.  Universities around the world began offering what they referred to as “extended” programs.  The main motivating factors in university support were that distance education promoted education, and such practices also gave universities more support from different classes in society, which mirrors many of the motivating factors of universities today.

Distance education followed other trends.  It began with improvements in mail delivery and lower associated costs.  The development of radio and television also brought more distance education models and support.

eduSAT, satellite for education broadcasting

It has been popular for millennia, but why exactly has it survived?  Beyond the human thirst for knowledge and the advancements that support the practice, there is the theory of distance education, and why and how it works.  This is a subject that has not been heavily explored until fairly recently.  It is primarily because it challenges powerful institutions, and compromises billions of dollars.

Distance education, theoretically, concentrates the educational process and actually brings it to a natural place.

As per Kartikeya Sharma, theories surrounding its practice focus on the industrialization of education, the customization of education, theories surrounding the way humans communicate and receive information, and on pure education theory.  These ideas deeply examine what education actually is and divorce it from the controlling bodies of education and credentialism.  These ideas are also potently concentrated on the actual benefits for the student, and industry, rather than viewing the student as cattle.

It is this theoretical research and viability of the returns on investment that have shaped how industry has come to view distance education.  It appears that the market is mixed in its view, but that is more a reflection of old dogma that does not die easily, and people who are very emotionally invested in their credential rather than a real view.  There are also many institutions actively fighting distance education, however, virtually every institution offers distance education and creates new programs each year.

Recent trends in distance education universities of India have dramatically changed any remaining doubts.  The government has introduced meta-universities, NPTEL (e-learning facilities), and the SWAYAM MOOC platform in support of distance education.  This gives industry confidence in its viability.

NPTEL, government e-learning facility

Over a period of time, businesses have also found that traditional university programs cannot satisfy the dynamic needs of industry.  For example Tathastu Information Technology Private Limited, while dealing with dealers in B2B segment, found that the MBA educated sales force, wasn’t convinced with the idea of B2B in technology.  To overcome the scenario the entire sales department was re-trained in B2B selling, and the concept worked out wonders.

Traditional programs are great in preparing students to manage a wide variety of things, but businesses are often frustrated that they receive individuals who need years more training to be mission-ready.  This has led to many businesses creating their own programs or courses, and also utilizing distance training services.  Established professionals with busy schedules are also exploiting distance education to remain competitive.

It matured from the simple sharing of knowledge into a government and industry-backed practice, but there are those who still remain skeptical.  One idea/criticism that is quite popular is the idea that viable programs of study are scarce or non-existent.  This is simply untrue.

Distance education has evolved to a level that allows nursing, engineering, and legal programs to occupy the space with full support of governments around the world.  Some of our most critical professionals are prepared through distance education.  These professionals are able to meet the standards of practice dictated by state and government licensing boards.  Each day they save lives, advance society, and enhance the way we live.

Distance education is the future of education.  It is the natural progression of education.  Technology is responding to various markets in a fluid and focused way.  Education will also adopt the same model.  The future of distance education is a fiercely competitive market of large organizations that combine publishing, technology, and educational service providers into one powerful entity that aggressively serves and responds to the needs of students and industry.  This is already apparent from the volume of learning management systems in use and being developed.  This will be a global phenomenon.  The education of tomorrow is not bound by region or language.

The same dramatic shift experienced ages ago when education moved from homes or places of worship to government facilities will happen again, but it will be accelerated.  The traditional degree (for those outside of medicine, law, and engineering) will either disappear or have an entirely new definition.  That new definition may be a series of government-regulated certifications.

This change will also eliminate educators of poor quality.  Educators will have to be competitive and actually offer viable services because the competition will be brutal.  They will not be able to use old models and techniques, and there will be a greater demand placed on all those in education to analyze the learning and instruction process in addition to accommodating the characteristics of those they educate.

They will have to respond to the market in an almost real-time way because they will no longer be able to exploit the old model of government support and “locking” students in.  Students will have greater choice and more flexibility, and all at affordable prices; if the educators are not viable, they will lose.

 e-Glass, wearable e-learning tool

This will not be limited to the “university level.”  It will exist at every other possible level.  This is another aspect of how the entire definition of education will change; a program will be dictated by performance and acquisition of knowledge.  There may come a time when people no longer make distinctions between traditional levels, and instead refer to actual knowledge acquisition.

This is significant because the universities of today, compared to other eras, have dramatically lowered their standards (to make more money), in many ways, and new education tools and methods will fight against the degeneration of education quality.



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