Discuss the characteristics of the Open and Distance Learning (ODL) system. How can the ODL system promote equity and access in Higher Education?

Discuss the characteristics of the Open and Distance Learning (ODL) system. How can  the ODL system promote equity and access in Higher Education?




The Open and Distance Learning (ODL) system has come a long way. from
the earlier correspondence education to the recent online and digital learning,
it has gone through a radical transformation. The formal conventional system
of education, largely focussed on face to face teaching, was not in a position to
provide education to all those who wished to be educated. The development of
education was uneven, there were not enough resources to build new institutions
of higher learning. Open and Distance Learning system was established to provide
educational opportunities to those who could not access the formal system.
In India, the ODL system has fully grown with a number of universities and
institutions. After completing this unit, will understand the meaning, nature and
the growth of the ODL system as well as the emerging trends in the system.


The Open and Distance Learning has evolved from being known as
Correspondence Education (UK and India), External Studies or “Off -campus”
(Australia), Fernstudium/Fernunterricht (Germany), Educacion a distanica
(Spanish) Extra-Mural (New Zealand) to Open and Distance Learning (ODL as
the widely accepted term).The earlier name symbolised its function of imparting
education through the correspondence mode.
In India the beginning of ODL can
be traced to correspondence courses
being offered at Delhi University in
1962 as a pilot project.


The word ‘Open’ in the term refers to the philosophy, which is being ‘open
to people, places and ideas’. In other words, it means opening up educational
opportunities for people irrespective of their location, social and economic
background or educational qualifications. The system is flexible and allows the
learner to study at her pace, time and place the system reaches out to the learner,
learners do not come to the institution for learning.
The word ‘distance’ refers to the mode of teaching-learning where the teacher and
the learner are separated in time and space and do not meet each other. Education
is imparted through print materials, different media and occasional counselling
sessions at the Study Centers. Here the students and the Counsellors (who are
different from teachers who have developed the learning materials) meet in a face
to face mode and the Counsellor takes care of the academic problems related to
the Course, amongst addressing other needs of the learners. Learners are assessed
through a system of continuous and term-end evaluation.


There are certain characteristics that   are distinct to the ODL



ODL as any time opportunity
in life: Without any restriction on
the entry age, ODL provides an
opportunity for learning at the time
the learner is willing and ready to
learn. Consequently, learners take
admission at any age and complete
their studies. There are numerous
success stories about elderly people
who have successfully fulfilled their
educational dreams with help of
ODL institutions.


ODL as an alternative to formal
higher education: ODL has emerged
as a cost-effective alternative to
higher education in India. Many
learners who can’t afford formal
higher education, complete their
tertiary education through the
ODL Mode. The learner-centric
teaching-learning materials, other
learning resources and the variety of
media. provide a cost effective and
meaningful learning experience.


Offering learner-centric, need
based, quality education: Unlike
the formal system which is largely

teacher-driven, the ODL system is learner-centric. The learner is self-motivated
and can take charge of her learning which takes place with the help of selfinstructional materials, (SIMs) specially designed to promote autonomous
learning. Supplementing the SIMs, there is a variety of media, some of which
make a two-way interaction between the learner and the teacher possible.


Lifelong and continuous learning for working professionals and others: like
teachers, development workers, and others who are working but need to update
their knowledge and skills, without leaving their workplace provides a good
opportunity for professional development. In a world where information and
knowledge are constantly changing, prior knowledge often becomes obsolete
very fast, necessitating acquisition of the latest information and skills’ is suited
to the convenience and pace of the learner and is a convenient mode for lifelong


Reaching the Unreached: In India, a large section of the population is still out
of the system of higher education, which is inaccessible due to many reasons.
These. are typically from the marginalized classes, rural and tribal areas, women,
person with reasons. These people, who aspire to study find ODL a gateway to
pursuing them. Open education system has opened its doors for various learners
like women, people from the socially and economically marginalised sections,
defence personnel, jail inmates, the LGBT Community, who can study at their
pace, place and time.


A Significant Contributor
to the GER: Open and
Distance Learning system
is contributing significantly
towards the Gross Enrolment
Ratio (GER), (GER indicates
the number of students enrolled
at a particular level of study) in
higher education in India. The
Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER)
in higher education in India
was 26.3% (AISHE Report, 2018-19). This number indicates that nearly 75% of
the eligible number is still out of colleges and universities, the government has
set a target to increase it up to 30% by 2020-21. The draft National Education
Policy (2019) also emphasizes enhancing quality and expansion to access in
higher education. It further suggests, “all types of institutions may be allowed
to offer ODL in order to enhance their offerings, improve access, increase GER,
and provide increased opportunities for lifelong learning. (p. 219)”



Use of Technology: In the ODL system teaching at a ‘distance is possible because
of the use of a range of technologies available to suit the needs of the learners.
Education printed learning materials are supported by using different media.
It is ensured that learners have access to technologies at home or at the Study
Centers. Moreover, reaching large number of learners in different places, for the
ODL system, is only possible by using technology.



Flexible Learning Options: The Programmes are designed in a way that offer
flexibility and choice to the learners. They can opt for a number of courses,
depending on their need and preferences, get as many credits as required and exit
the programme. There are entry and exit points available in a number of courses


MeanstoAchieve National Goals:The ODLhas emerged as a tool to fulfil national
goals especially when it is related to educating or training a large number. For
example, there was a large number of untrained teachers teaching at the elementary
level in schools, but under the Right to Education Act, only trained teachers are
eligible to teach in schools. To fulfil the need for trained teachers (running in
lakhs) Institutions like IGNOU and the National Institution of Open Schooling
(NIOS) have contributed significantly in training of lakhs of teachers





IGNOU is considered the world’s largest university in terms of enrolment and
is catering to the learning needs of more than 3 million learners with help of
its nationwide network of 56 regional centres, more than 3000 learner support
centres and special study centres.





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