Reaching the Unreached with e-Learning

The Indira Gandhi National Open University in its 22 years of existence has emerged as the single largest University in the democratic world. It serves the educational aspirations of more than 1.8 million students in India and 32 other countries through the 21 Schools of Study and a network of 58 regional centres, more than 1804 study centres/tele-learning centres and around 46 overseas centres. The University offers 138 Certificate, Diploma, Degree and Doctoral programmes comprising around 1300 courses. Conventional teaching learning methods are being effectively supplemented with Information and Communication Technology and Satellite-based teaching-learning systems.

The University provides multi-channel, multiple media teaching-learning packages in the form of self-instructional print and audio/ video materials, radio and television broadcasts, face to-face counselling/tutoring, laboratory and hands-on experience, video conferencing, interactive radio counselling, interactive multimedia CD-ROM and internet-based learning. Apart from the print based self instructional material, the educational programmes are reaching over 5 million homes through the Gyan Darshan Channels, via the DTH (Direct-To-Home) platform and webcasting. The University is now gearing towards the development of interactive multimedia content and learner support through web-based platforms.

The e-Learning market is booming world over and is predicted to follow an upward swing with more and more institutions, organisations and individuals implementing and adapting to this mode. The power of e-Learning lies in its potential to provide the right information to the right people at the right time and place. With advent of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), the delivery of educational programmes has witnessed a paradigm shift from print based teaching-learning to e-Learning. The learners having access to the internet and those who have adapted to learning through computers have shown their preference for e-Learning over print.

Web that gives information access to users who are physically remote from resources is emerging as a democratising, emancipating, empowering force facilitating self-publishing, knowledge sharing and peer-to-peer networking. It has now shifted from being a medium, in which information was transmitted and consumed, into a platform, where content is created, shared, remixed, repurposed, and passed along. In the same spirit e-Learning has moved from being merely a content repository and emulating classroom teaching to more dynamic concepts of Social Networking, Do-It-Yourself (DIY), Personal Learning Environment (PLE) and Mobile Learning.

The ICT led initiatives in the form of e-Learning, online student support, digital repositories, open source courseware, etc. are now part and parcel of the Open and Distance Learning (ODL) systems. The earlier generations of ODL has given way to new generations which are ICT dependant for dissemination of knowledge without compromising on the quality and being more cost-effective.

Realising the potentials of e-Learning to reach out the un-reached, IGNOU has recently embarked on a few major initiatives towards developing online learning environment for distance learners. eGyanKosh: a national digital repository, e-Learning platform for LIVE (Library and Information Virtual Education), PAN- African E-Network and Sakshat a one stop education portal of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), are some major initiatives of the University in this direction  have been discussed here.

eGyanKosh: A National Digital Repository of learning resources

Experience from the earlier experim-ents clearly indicates that a more learner and learning centric approach is required for successful implementation of e-Learning environment. While certain learning functions can be best performed by Learning Management Systems (LMS) based on structured content, higher learning that is based more on discovery and exploration require learner-centric, pick-and-choose tools. E-Learning technology can be put to good use by enabling blended learning through information, interaction and collaboration. Therefore, apart from the course based structured e-Content, an e-Learning environment requires the following features:

  • personal knowledge management tools- RSS feed, bookmark, tagging
  • platform to Interact with the instructor and connect with fellow learners- e-Mail, chat or VoIP,  discussion forums, blog, social networking (Orkut.)
  • constructivist content development platform- Wiki platform for learner expression-  blogs or portfolios.

Most of these tools are now available as open source, which facilitates easy integration with the existing e-Learning platforms. The platform for e-Learning delivery at IGNOU is now being developed integrating third generation e-Learning tools. An agreement has been signed with Google Inc. to integrate Google Apps with the system facilitating collaboration and real-time interaction.

LIVE (Library and Information Virtual Education) is an initiative of IGNOU

to develop an in-house Learning and Content Management System for imparting online education. It is envisaged as a complete virtual learning environment suite covering all the activities from registration to certification. In the first phase only the Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science (MLIS) is being announced at international level. The virtual learning environment has the following features and processes involved in it:

Walk in admission –

admission will be available throughout the year. The Registration form has been specially devised with the facility of uploading scanned certificates, other required documents and photograph. Registration will be confirmed only after verification of the certificates and payment of the required admission fee. Facility for online payment gateway is being integrated for the purpose.

Integrated multimedia courseware- once registered, learners will have access to personalised learning space (My Page). This includes self instructional material, related audio/ video, slides, self check exercises, etc. weaved in one platform.

Online counselling and mentoring – webcast based counselling integrated with text based chatting facility to be used for counselling purposes. Distributed model is to be followed with e-Counsellors available in remote locations.

Portfolio based continuous evaluation portfolios with individualised randomly generated assignments (both objective  and subjective) automatically generated from question bank. Portfolio space for keeping track of course status, assignment status and grades.
Assignment Management
System- in the first phase a question bank has been created with five hundred  uestions n each course. In the next phase web ontology/semantic web methods are to be used for automatic question generation. Complete automated system will be used for creation of individualised assignments and further distribution of completed assignments to concerned counsellors for evaluation.
Assignments will be of two types,
objective and subjective. Objective part will be evaluated automatically by the system and subjective part by the e- Counsellors online. e-Tutor based practical- online instructions and e-Tutorials for hands on practice of WINISIS and Library Automation Packages. Multimedia manuals for self-learning will be also provided. Group based online seminar- Blogs, hat rooms and discussion forums are to be used for group-based seminars. Possibility of integrating EDUSAT based video conferencing facility is also being explored for Seminar component.
Online Project platform- templates developed for synopsis submission, project uploading and evaluation. Viva-voce will be conducted through Skype or through web based video conferencing tool. Online Term End Examination- same pattern to be followed as in the case of assignments. However, examination will be conducted in specifi ed centres for proper monitoring. The same platform is now being
replicated for running other programmes of the University. The MLIS programme will be followed by Post Graduate Certificate in Cyber Lw in near future. Sakshat: One  Stop Education Portal, a landmark initiative of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to address all the education and learning related needs of students, scholars, teachers and lifelong learners has been developed at IGNOU. The portal envisages providing one-stop solution to educational requirements of learners ranging from Kindergarten to higher education and education covering all fi elds of study including vocational education and learning for life skills. The pilot was inaugurated by the President of India Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam on October 30, 2006. The portal has three tier architecture with user interface, content management system including built in learning object repository and administrative module. The user interface provides basic fi ve modules viz. educational resources, scholarship, testing, super achiever,
and interact. Apart from this, it has an inbuilt virtual class which follows four quadrant approaches, facilitating single window topic based access to learning
material. The ‘interact module’ provides facilities like talk to a teacher, blogging, discussion forum, career counselling, etc. The content generation module allows a Wiki approach of content development and deployment facilitating storing of content based on metadata in the repository.

Under the PAN-Africa e-Network
Project of the Government of India IGNOU has been given the responsibility of meeting the educational requirements of African learners in all the countries of the African continent through the tele-education mode. Under this pilot project, IGNOU has signed an MOU with the Universities of Addis Ababa and Haramaya, Ethiopia for offering the IGNOU MBA programme to the students of these Universities. The forty students admitted in the project are taught by IGNOU’s core faculty through e-network system, established by TCIL. Efforts are on to extend the project for other programmes of the University and develop SCORM compliant content for e-Learning delivery mode. As the University is surging ahead with e-Learning mode of delivery the real challenge is to develop e-Content at mass scale. As more and more programmes will be offered online in future, immediate attention needs to be paid for preparing the faculty for digital environment both in terms of content generation and programme delivery. The sustainability of the online programmes will depend on the accessibility to the basic infrastructure on the learner side. University has initiated a major effort in this front by equipping the regional centres and study centres with necessary hardware/ software and bandwidth. Sustainability of the online programmes ill mainly depend on the equity and
access to rich learning content and 24 × 7 online support. Mere duplication of
print material into e-Learning content will in no way be beneficial to the learners. An integrated approach is needed wherein one window operation learner has access to course content, and other learning resources in the form
of e-Books, e-Journals, educational multimedia programmes, radio and TV channels, etc. along with complete support service. The University recognises this and is trying to harness the capabilities of the ICT in education to fullest extent to reach out the unreached