Tuesday, December 29, 2009

ICT and Distance Learning in India in 2009

I have been closely observing the ICT and education developments in India, and based on this, I list here TEN landmark events/initiatives that rocked the educational establishments in India.

  1. National Mission on Education through ICT launched by Govt of India in February 2009.
  2. Controversial draft policy on distance learning made public by Govt. of India for discussion as part of 100 days of UPA Govt.
  3. Wireless telephone crossed 500 million subscribers in November 2009.
  4. Flexilearn – IGNOU Open Course Portal Launched in November 2009.
  5. IGNOU goes dual mode, by starting face-to-face teaching on Campus.
  6. Symposium on Open Educational Resources held to discuss and develop national policy on increasing access to educational resources held in August 2009.
  7. IGNOU Announces Rajiv Gandhi International Prize for Education and Technology Development in November 2009.
  8. Telecentre.org Academy agreement signed at IGNOU to start the Academy at IGNOU with support of IDRC, Canada.
  9. IGNOU Engineering Aptitude Test (IGNEAT) conducted online failed.
  10. IIM CAT Online Test showed problems in conduct of online examination.

If you think, this list can be further expanded, please feel free to add in your comment.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mobile Technologies in Open Schools

I did a small research and editing work entitled "Mobile Technologies in Open Schools" for the Commonwealth of Learning in 2009. The full publication can be downloaded. As a quick recap, I post here the guidelines I proffer for successful use of mobile technologies in teaching-learning situations, particularly in Open Schools.

Mobile technologies:

  • are accessible to learners (it is increasing at a faster rate);
  • are cheap and affordable (less costly for both institutions and learners);
  • are useful for numerous teaching functions (and are useful in learner support);
  • are interactive and therefore, improves two-way communication at a distance and reduces the transactional distance between the leaner and the teacher (also educational institution). They are easy to use and user friendly.;
  • are so pervasive and simple that they would require less organizational preparedness;
    have novelty value, as it is the latest technology trend (and can motivate both teachers and learners to use); and
  • provide the highest speed (quickness) in terms of access to latest information and knowledge from anywhere, anytime.

However, as the field is growing, in spite of huge amount of literature availability, institutions take unknown journey in the filed on m-learning due to lack of models to emulate. As in any technological innovations, the initial cost is high for mobile learning, and appropriate funding should be worked out in the beginning for the system to be successful. Though every institution will have their specific requirements, I propose “PICTURE this” as a set of guidelines for taking context specific decisions to implement the use of appropriate mobile technology.

P – plan purposefully
I – identify learners’ needs
C – choose media
T – technology implementation
U – user manuals
R – run the system
E – evaluate performance and outcomes

And at the end, I emphasise: “Training has in-built success!”

Friday, September 4, 2009

Policy on Distance Learning in Higher Education

My letter to the MHRD on the draft Policy issued for comments:

Dr. D.K. Paliwal
Deputy Educational Advisor (DL)
Ministry of Human Resource Development
Department of Higher Education
Room No. 325-C
Shastri Bhawan
New Delhi

Dear Sir,
This has reference to the Public Notice dated 28th August 2009 regarding “New Policy on Distance Learning in Higher Education”. While the attempt of the Ministry needs appreciation, I would like to submit before you some points for kind consideration of the intelligentsia of the Country so that we are able to create a knowledge society that recognizes the importance of 'learning' and for that matter Life Long Learning through Distance Education (DE).

Let me first appreciate the good work done so far. Probably for the first time in India, a policy statement on open and distance learning in higher education sector has been placed before the public for discussion. This is a bold attempt to admit past mistakes, rectify the errors committed, and willingness to improve and promote DE as a mode and discipline as recommended by the National Knowledge Commission. It is not possible for the Country to meet the challenges resulting out of the commitment towards Universalisation of Secondary Education, if we do not strengthen the DE systems of the country. Towards this, the policy clearly emphasizes the significance of distance education. The emphasis of use of ICT, research in Open and Distance Learning (ODL) and training programmes on ODL for teachers and administrators should be appreciated and implemented carefully.

The quality concerns on 7 (d) is really good as most institutions (including Open Universities) consider distance education as something in which with least investment can receive higher returns! Insisting on having full-time appointed faculty before starting any programme should help establish credibility of a programme, and this is something that should be insisted upon.

As mentioned in 7 (c), franchising of distance education by Universities should be stopped. It is where most distance education institutes and Open Universities, without proper quality checks join hands with private/less quality (private is not always less quality) institutions to offer programmes in the name of Private-Public Partnership (PPP) though a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) making it a perfect understanding to earn revenue from student fees. So, all the Open Universities and Distance Education Institutes offering programme through such MoUs and not having their own investments in the Study Centres should immediately be stopped.

Now, some suggestions and concerns.

  1. That the policy should emphasize the significance of distance education for fostering a knowledge society by encouraging life long learning.
  2. That the policy be re-named as “Open, Distance and Online Learning in Higher Education”.
  3. That the emergence of National Commission on Higher Education and Research (to be established) would call for amendment to IGNOU Act 1985, especially the role assigned to IGNOU for maintenance of standards in distance education systems. It is appropriate that the nature of IGNOU (as a single mode distance teaching open university) may also be reviewed, as it has already started on-campus face-to-face programmes (which should fall under the approval of UCG). The IGNOU Act, Clause 4 emphasizes that IGNOU should in spirit be a University that uses various communication technologies to deliver instructions. So, in the light of the new Commission coming up, it is imperative that the IGNOU Act be amended suitably and its nature be clarified. Moreover, the DEC of IGNOU will have no role after the new Commission is established. Till then the modalities suggested are good to streamline operations.
  4. That distance education will not be permissible in programmes having “extensive practical course work” is something of a major concern. What is meant by the phrase – extensive practical course work? Do we as a nation want our disadvantaged students to learn only Social Science and Humanities through DE? Do we believe that Science and Engineering subjects can't be taught through DE? This calls for a change in the mindset and understanding about DE and instructional design as such. Distance education can and should provide sufficient practical opportunities necessary for achievement of learning outcomes of a course/programme. If a programme that requires practical and does not have adequate provisions for the same in its design then that programme should be stopped. There are laboratories in colleges, universities and research institutions all over the country that are not utilized during week-ends, holidays and vacation period, and why can't we utilize such opportunities to provide practical experiences to DE students? Why can't Open Universities establish centralized/regional labs as done by the Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Open University? Let's all of us think -- What we want? Do we want quality education of all types for all or just one type of education for the large segments of population and another for the elite? My humble submission is that all kinds of programme should be allowed through distance education, provided the programme design adheres to the basic professional requirements of the programme and addresses the competence framework specified by the quality assurance agency ( what ever that may be).
  5. It is also not understood why exemption is being given for the time being to Universities offering programmes before 1991 and established before 1985. Quality is a matter of process and attitude and not age of the institution. Earlier established institutions do not necessarily follow the quality benchmarks, and therefore, everyone should be treated equal. We should not create different types of institutions within the system and thereby create confusion in the minds of the students.
  6. The point 7 (ix) is going to create hardship to the students who have already undergone a programme of study some years back. The suggestion of one chance appearance in another examination is probably not well thought out, and it is submitted that its operational mechanisms may be considered before the policy is finalized.

The above submissions are made before the Ministry for its kind consideration as a concerned Citizen of the country and as a professional practitioner of distance education and educational technology. Views expressed are personal and have nothing to do with the official position of the undersigned.

With regards,

Yours sincerely,

Sanjaya Mishra
Reader in Distance Education
Maidan Garhi
New Delhi 110068

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Role of Teachers in Distance Education

The Social Science Discussion Forum (SSDF) of the School of Social Science, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) organized a Panel Discussion on “Role of Teachers in Distance Education: Challenges and Prospects” on 26th August 2009. The Panelists were Prof. J.M. Parekh, Prof. P.R.Ramanujam, Prof. A.S. Narang, and Prof. Swaraj Basu. I attended the same and shared my observations and reflections on the presentations vis-à-vis the developments in the University. This is interesting to note that the topic of the discussion came out of the suggestion made by Prof. Basu to the Convener, Dr. Japgpal Singh on the basis of a University wide appeal sent by Dr. Ranjith of the School of Journalism and New Media Studies to discuss on the challenges before the University due to start of face-to-face classes. While all the Panelist and most of the speakers shared their views that the start of face-to-face is beyond the scope of IGNOU Act, I personally emphasized on the topic as I had written about dual-mode teaching at IGNOU previously in my blog, and the discussion was expected to be on role of teachers in distance education.

As a teacher of distance education as a discipline, I have always considered that teaching is teaching, irrespective of the mode, and urged the teaching community of the University not to consider themselves different as there has always been attempts to marginalize teachers as “academic managers”. The roles of teachers irrespective of the mode of teaching are: Curriculum design and development, Content presentation, Assessment of learner performance (continuous and term-end), Learner support, Research and publication (disciplinary and on learning technology), and Extension service and consultancy. So, it is only in the area of content presentation the method differs in distance education, as it uses media (print, audio, video, multimedia, web-based courses) to deliver teaching. These materials are designed with special care to facilitate learning, and are said to have the qualities of a teacher. In the face-to-face teaching, the teacher only delivers lectures and engage the class in various interactive methods. The other roles being same, there is on reason for always comparing distance education to face-to-face education system. Moreover, we do not compare oranges and apples!

The most important activity as such is preparation of learning materials. Interestingly, in order to quickly develop learning materials, the University adopted in the beginning a mode of taking help from teachers from the face-to-face colleges and universities to develop materials. Thus, without use of the term “Outsource”, it practiced outsourcing of the unit writing tasks. The teacher in the University writes only some units of a course that he/she teaches, and thus is labeled as “Course coordinator”. This is a serious issue, and teachers in the University need to assert themselves of their role as teachers, and develop courses without depending on external course writers. So, as we outsource unit writing, the University has taken it little further to outsource development of programmes to external agencies through MoUs and partnerships! This is marginalization of the teaching function, as there is a growing belief that courses and programmes can be developed elsewhere and can be delivered by an Institute/University without having faculty on its roll. In this connection, the role of Distance Education Council (DEC) needs to be re-looked. Interestingly the DEC is supposed to maintain quality and standards in the Distance Education System in the country; but it has failed to develop a credible system, and it is teachers of IGNOU who go in accreditation teams to different institutions in the country and approves them, without questioning the process adopted by the DEC.

There has been a serious degradation in professional ethics of teachers at IGNOU, as all the programmes and courses are approved by statutory bodies like the School Board, Academic Council, where there is sufficient representation of teachers. There is rarely any instance of dissent to any item in any of these statutory bodies. Thus, all the recent developments are proposed and approved by the teachers in the University. Once these items are approved, people talk about these issues outside in private (non-relevant platforms). It also seems that there is serious lack of integrity of teachers!

Many times, colleagues at IGNOU boast of their quality materials. It is time to have self-reflection. Who certified that our material is good? Even if, it is good, what is the “goodness of the good”? Are we aware of these? IGNOU is one kind of distance education system, and that can’t be a benchmark for others to follow. Most of the time, decisions are taken that are not in tune with distance education practices worldwide, making our system vulnerable to criticism and others looking at us as untouchables. If the recent developments in the University are not addressed seriously, there is every danger that the students of the distance education system shall be at a disadvantage!
I thank the convener of SSDF for organising a Panel discussion on such an important topic. The participation in the meeting was highly satisfactory as over 25 faculty members attended the same. Interestingly, non of the Directors of the 22 Schools of Studies of IGNOU attended the meeting!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Open Access and Open Educational Resources

On August 20-21, 2009 I attended a symposium organized by my University (IGNOU) on Open Education Resources (OER) for Network-Enabled Education. The meeting was attended by many educational leaders and technology experts who are engaged in developing educational materials using technology in Indian Universities, IITs and other civil society organizations. The meeting was facilitated by Dr. Vijay Kumar of MIT, USA and supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The objective of the meeting was to take follow-up action on the recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission on OER and Distance Education, and prioritize action areas for India in the area of OER. The Experts in the meeting deliberated on various issues surrounding OER in both the days through group work, plenary sessions and listing of ideas and voting for prioritization. While, a large number of issues and solutions were highlighted, the group more or less agreed on the following:

  • There is a need to have a national level research and resource centre for Open Source Software in Education
  • Educational content created through public funds be available freely for adoption and adaptation
  • Metadata standards for OER be developed urgently
  • Certification policies using OER be developed
  • Join international movements on OER

That in a meeting on OER, the issue of certification became a major issue highlights the importance we place in degrees. While there are people who would like to de-link degrees from jobs, there are yet another section, who think that a framework should be in place to help institutions to provide certification to individuals who use OER and learn on their own. While, it would be a good idea to have a national certifying body for various levels and disciplines of education, based on national qualifications framework, the OERs are created for anyone to learn and promote self-learning and life long learning. Thus, it should be left to educational institutions to decide how they would certify individuals who learn on their own.

Moreover, the use of OER should not be tagged with qualifications, as we want OER to promote education, which is becoming costlier day by day due to raising costs of textbooks and other resources. Alongside this, there is a prevalent misconception about OER that it is equal to Open Access. While, Open Access is a necessary pre-condition for OER, it is not a sufficient condition. UNESCO in 2002 defined OER as “the provision of educational resources, enabled by information and communication technologies, for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users for non-commercial purposes”. Thus, apart from free access the material should be free from Copyright to be adapted by another person of the community. This is also emphasized by the NKC, when it says that knowledge economy would progress through effective use of “quality Open Access (OA) materials and Open Educational Resources (OER) through broadband Internet connectivity”. However, many do not recognize this and consider the availability of video-based course of NPTEL as OER. It is possible to adopt the NPTEL courses by any institution for its academic programmes, but it is not possible to edit these videos and create something new out of existing materials. If the IITs and NPTEL would like to allow this, then probably they have to use something like Kaltura (a video wiki on the web).

The third aspect of OER, which is mis-understood by many, is quality. OER are created by the community and maintained by the community for the community. So, the quality is a concern of the community. But, Experts want to assure the quality of OERs or accredit the quality of OERs. This is not in the interest of OER development. The quality matrix should be developed by the community, and left to individual users (learners/institutions) to define their own quality in the context of the community matrix and use it for their specified purpose. After all quality is fitness for purpose. If we want to define quality upfront in a language developed by an agency or individual, then we are not going to support the development of the OER community. In the WikiEducator (in which I am involved), we make efforts to take decisions based on community consensus.

The technology platform for the OER should accommodate the quality matrix in its metadata scheme, and thus, make the OERs available, accessible and usable as per the user's choice. With Web 2.0 technologies, it is now possible to make OERs available in a variety of formats in an appropriate Creative Commons licensing. However, there is a need to provide incentive to the people engaged in OER creation and development. Those with substantial contribution to creation/authoring of OERs and/or community service as Editors may be credited for their work and due recognition given in terms of credit points in promotion and other forms of awards. This way, we can tap the large base of teachers in the Indian education system. However, I will again emphasize about the need of sustained training of teachers on OER (both concept and technology) to make the OER movement a reality. Let the OER movement grow in India, and national level institutions like IGNOU, NCERT and NIOS come out of the Copyright regime.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The World is Open

Recently Curtis J. Bonk (picture in right), Professor of Instructional Systems Technology at the School of Education at Indiana University sent a copy of his new book entitled “The World is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education” (TWiO) to me (as luckily I was interviewed as part of the research work on the theme of the book). I came in contact with this highly inspiring Professor and Thinker personally at the E-Learn 2008 at Las Vegas. On his invitation, I was there to talk about e-Learning in India in the E-Learn Asia day organized during the conference. Prof. Bonk, is Founder and President of SurveyShare and CourseShare. He is also a former educational psychologist and before that a CPA and corporate controller. His master's and doctoral degrees in educational psychology are from the University of Wisconsin. Though I knew about him from his earlier books, I was pleasantly surprised to know that he is alumnus of University of Wisconsin Extension and studied education initially as a distance learner. His new book is a must read for all who believe in the power of technology and open access to education and open learning. I asked him 10 questions about his book to get some more insights, and despite his busy schedule obliged me. I present the interview to the world, here:

Q.1. How did you get the idea for TWiO?
I read Thomas Friedman’s book, the World is Flat, in May 2005, or I should say, I listened to it as an audiobook. A freer and more open education was emerging as a hot topic just as Friedman’s book was swiftly moving to the top of various bestseller lists. When I was asked to keynote the International E-Learning in Vancouver that October, I was trying to make sense of these trends for myself.

I realized that Friedman was informing the world about 10 key forces that had leveled the world from an economic standpoint. He had documented an interesting and quite powerful triple convergence that had never previously been witnessed on this planet. First, there were new economic players competing with the United States and other dominant economic powers. Friedman forced us to consider the global impact of the billions of new economic participants from India, China, and Eastern Bloc countries. This mass of people would stick more than a dent into the American economic engine.

Second, he asked us to consider why these individuals could not do this in the past but could with relatively ease today. Among the obvious answers was the wealth of collaborative technologies that were free or inexpensively found in Web-based environments. With such technologies fostering instantaneous business collaborations across regions of the world, individuals formerly left out of most economic deals could compete with firms in North America. In effect, collaborative technologies had reduced the entry fee to participation and in effect equalized the economic playing field.

The third factor in all this flattening was the increased reliance on horizontal management processes. Traditional multi-level hierarchies had been condensed or flattened entirely. People normally considered to be at the bottom rung of the decision-making chain now had a voice, and, in effect, some sense of power and identity. And workflow patterns were becoming much more collegial and personal than they been decades earlier when I was a corporate controller working in a cube farm.

These were the critical “p” words of business—new players, playing fields, and management processes. In training and education, however, the three “p” words related to piping or technological infrastructure, pages of content or resources found online, and a participatory culture wherein learners contribute to the process and not simply receive information from a teacher or trainer. While the increased bandwidth or infrastructure and trillions of pages of content of the first two ideas is fairly obvious to anyone who has journeyed online, the latter idea is a new learning theory focusing on learner participation and contributions brought about by the Web 2.0. As such, it is still evolving.

Q.2. Tell/Describe in brief the central theme of TWiO.

With initial ideas about this triple convergence of the educational world in place, I went to the conference in Vancouver. When there, as with Friedman’s ten flatteners, I proposed a set of 10 emerging technology trends. At the time, I really did not understand the link to open education; all I saw were 10 cool technologies that fostered learning. Little did I know that the topic of my keynote would intrigue a Microsoft official in the audience to invite me back to the west coast two weeks later to discuss the free and open learning world to a room filled with corporate executives from around their planet. A discussion of free and open software at Microsoft? Yes it happened.

When that was over, I kept presenting on this topic. It was highly popular with all sectors of education from preschools and K-12 schools to government and military settings to corporate training environments to more informal or casual learning situations. In the summer of 2007, I began to write about these trends. And I continued to write for months without much of a break. Gradually ten trends or “openers” coalesced into an easy to recall acronym or first letter mnemonic, WE-ALL-LEARN. These ten openers are noted below.

Ten Openers: (WE-ALL-LEARN)
1.Web Searching in the World of e-Books
2.E-Learning and Blended Learning
3.Availability of Open Source and Free Software
4.Leveraged Resources and OpenCourseWare
5.Learning Object Repositories and Portals
6.Learner Participation in Open Information Communities
7.Electronic Collaboration
8.Alternate Reality Learning
9.Real-Time Mobility and Portability
10.Networks of Personalized Learning

These ten trends formed the basis for my new book, The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education, published in July 2009 by Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley (http://www.worldisopen.com/). Each trend is a chapter. If any one of these had emerged in the 1950s or 1960s, it would been deemed a revolution. With all ten coalescing at the same time, there are monumental shifts occurring before our eyes.

Q.3. What are the significance of "WE-ALL-LEARN"?

The WE-ALL-LEARN framework provides several advantages for leaders. First, it offers them with a tool from which to understand new learning technologies and resources. This perspective can breed confidence as well as offer sanity in the midst of this confusing world we are in. An open world metaphor symbolizes that anyone can learn any from anyone else at any time. Now corporate executives have a tool from which to make long-range planning and forecasting reports. They can also make decisions about where to place valued resources. Training managers might use the stories, ideas, and examples embedded within each opener to justify their e-learning and related training initiatives or strategic plans.

As with Friedman’s The World Is Flat book, ideas from The World Is Open (TWIO) book might be used for retreats and departmental reflections. WE-ALL-LEARN can be a framework from which everyone can understand and discuss. Thoughtful planning takes place instead of more haphazard initiatives. Each of the ten openers make evident the options for learning that exist for everyone. There is no shortage of content or tools for learning. Not every idea, resource, or opener will excite all learners or organizations. Many will, however.

Q.4. How do you describe WE-ALL-LEARN? Is it a framework/ model/ approach/ theory?

It is a framework. Each part represents a different opener. There are ten openers. The acronym helps people remember all ten. As indicated above, these include e-books, open source software, e-learning, blended learning, virtual worlds, mobile learning, collaborative technology, and many other ways to learn. If you tried to remember every announcement about technology, you would go crazy. The WE-ALL-LEARN framework helps avoid insanity.

Q.5. Could you elaborate the concept "fee learning zones" predicted in the book?

I just point out that with all the Web 2.0 technology available today, many educational contents are now free. Some people will package these educational resources up into certificates and courses. Governments will designate free learning zones without advertisements. So much is possible.

Q.6. What according to you is the major challenge/barrier to see TWiO grow?

There are many. Doubt and naysayers is a big one. Many will not believe that the world is open now or at any moment in time in the future. But it is! It certainly is. Right here, right now! They instead see only the problems—issues of copyright, cheating, assessment dilemmas, quality concerns, and so on. I detail 12 key challenges at the end of the book. Some might say that I should have them front and center at the start of the book. I think at the end is fine.

Q.7. How do you see the role of 'teachers' in the new world, where OERs are available in abundant?

Many new roles. Some will be facilitators or course moderators. Some will be counselors. Some will be course or program developers. Others will remain as teachers. And still others will assume multiple roles. We will soon see the rise of the super e-mentor or super e-coach who understands human development or counseling as well as the multiple paths and resources to learn online and also have discipline expertise such as social work, engineering, or art. You need all three skills to be a super e-mentor.

Q.8. What are your message for the educational leaders in the book?

Many here too. Read or explore what is out there. Take some risks with your teaching. Reflect on what works and does not work. Share what you find out or discover. Join professional organizations related to teaching with technology. Much is possible for the informed.

Q.9. What institutional changes are required in the open world?

An institution must become global—its leaders, instructors, students, staff, and alumni, all must begin to think more globally. We have to move away from traditional classrooms to nontraditional. Nontraditional should be the norm. Lifelong learning in an open world means that in a few decades most of your learners will be over age 30 or 40. Many will be over 80 or 90 or even 100. And some teachers may only be 10 years old or less. We have to totally think differently about training and education. There are a million ways to learn and millions more resources to learn with. Why do we restrict students to just 1 or 2 possible paths?

Q.10. Who is the major gainer in the 'Web of Learning'?

The learner. The learner has more ways to learn. More times to learn. More people in which to learn as well as share the results with. The learner has a gigantic vault of learning available every day rain or shine. The world is as open to learn at 6 am as it is at 6 pm.

Of course, educators are freed up too. The life of an educator in an open learning world is more lively, richly creative, and personally satisfying. There is no better time to be a teacher or a learner.

Thank you Curt. I wish your book goes on to become a classic in Education and WE ALL LEARN from it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Training 3.0

These days it has become a fashion to write 2.0 for everything in life, and thus, I decided to write something beyond! But, is that so simple? Interestingly, while analyzing the training technologies of the past and the present, it so happened that training has actually traversed three stages, and here I outline these as follows:

Training 1.0 -- The classroom-based training: Here, essentially the trainer and the trainee meet face to face in the training room or the workplace. The trainer used a variety of tools and technologies to deliver training, including the use of Over Head Transparencies, Slides, PowerPoint, Multimedia CDs, and Computer-Based Training used in Instructor Lead situations. Training was cost and labour intensive, and most of the time difficult to assess the effectiveness of the training.

Training 2.0 -– The Online Training: This is the second-generation training, where training was delivered in a networked situation using Learning Management Systems (LMS), Knowledge Management System (KMS) and Employee Performance Support Systems (EPSS). Essentially, the systems used Internet or Intranet for the delivery of text, audio, video, multimedia, and animation supported by group and individual communication to facilitate learning. This kind of training, is normally referred as eLearning in the training industry and by the human resource development professionals, added enormous benefits to the training and development professionals in terms of cost cutting, and time saving, leading to increased return of investments. However, training effectiveness remained a question again, and institutions started looking at more informal approaches to conduct training for their employees.

Training 3.0 -- Informal Learning Online: Informal learning is sustainable, and less structured to interfere in the day-to-day work of the employees. So, Training 3.0 is all about creating an informal learning environment that is motivating as well as informative. It tries to utilize the employee’s individual interest and abilities to network amongst peer group to learn and share. As such, human beings are social animal, who are more interested in what others are doing, and they would like to learn from talking and discussing from each other. So, Training 3.0 is about use of the Social Media in training.

Social Media Technologies
There are various types of social media technologies that are available for use in training. Some of these are: Blogs, Wikis, and Social Networks. We will discuss these in the context of training, and how these emerging trends in training technologies are influencing the world of training and development professionals.

According to Technorati – a blog search engine, today there are over 133 million blogs in all knowledge domains, and there are about 900, 000 blog posting every 24 hours. A blog is a website maintained by an individual or a team to share personal reflection and activities. Of theses blogs about 12% are corporate blogs discussing issues related to a company. The blog is a personal space, where other users can provide comments and develop a network. Seventy three percent of bloggers use blog to share their expertise and experiences. Training and development professionals can use many free blog services available to create their own space, and also filter related blogs on the web and make these available to the employees to subscribe. The use of Really Simple Syndication (RSS) technology in the blogs make it simple for the users to be informed about new postings regularly. This become a rich learning source, and really does not require any special intervention by the training and development professional except identifying and informing the employees about relevant sources of blog or providing them an orientation on how to find relevant blogs. Some typical blog creation software are eBlogger, moveable type, Word press, Liverjournal, Apache Roller, etc.

Wiki is a Hawaiian word meaning quick quick. It is a quick way to create web pages without the knowledge of HTML. But, most importantly it is a collaborative platform to create and share knowledge. The most widely known wiki is Wikipedia, which runs on the Media Wiki software. Besides this, there are many other wiki platform such as the pb wiki, wikispaces, etc. A wiki platform provides an easy to use method to edit webpages, and link to multimedia resources. Having used the www.wikieducator.org platform supported by the Commonwealth of Learning for providing wiki skills training and development of self-learning materials, this author can personally tell about the utility of this simple technology to create content and make it available to employees for learning at very low cost (almost zero cost!). The wiki makes it possible to develop a collaborative space for learners/employees to share and discuss. It keeps a record of all activities on the wiki site, and thus, can be used to record both explicit and tacit knowledge. Installing a company wide wikispace is easy, if some server side technical help is available, or it can also be done in free sites available in abundance.

Social Networks
We all recognize the potentials of social networks in our day-to-day life. It is now possible through the use of technology platforms to do all kinds of socialization activities from sharing photos, and files to provide expert advice and guidance online. The most popular social networking sites are facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Ning. Interestingly, the social networking sites provide an integrated space for blogs, wikis, message boards, and file sharing facilities. It is really a cool place to be in for both socialization and learning. Using social network technologies individual employees can create their own network of professional ‘community of practice’. Organizations can create their own social networks involving employees, customers and all stakeholders through Open Source technologies like elgg.

What’s the Big Idea?
It’s ‘informal learning’! Training and Development (T&D) professionals need to be the change agent and change themselves first to become “Learning Professionals”. As Jay Cross tells in his blog, learning professionals of the future needs to focus on the following three core processes:

  • Facilitating collaborative work and learning in the organizations;
  • Sensing patterns to develop new work practices and solutions; and
  • Working with management to support and fund new ideas and processes.

All these can be done through adoption of a social media technology-based learning space. Today’s organizations need employees who are creative and can think and reflect about their work. Such a workforce can only be developed by transformation at the top level by an understanding of the ‘value of the crowd at the bottom’. So, the biggest challenge before the T&D professional is creating the informal learning space for the employees in the organizations, though technology is not a problem at all. The culture of the organization needs to change from a ‘Tour and Travel’ based training to a ‘Table-based Thinking’ through the use of social media technologies. The use of social media technologies would enable T&D professionals to develop a learning space that is open, participatory and development oriented rather than closed, top-down and training oriented (just training for the sake of training). In such a scenario, the training content becomes resources available online, but are not instructor-led. The learner/trainee/employee takes the initiative to learn and improve, finds experts who can support his/her learning, develop a learning and development path, and implement it through reading, reflecting, doing and reviewing. While all these are also done online, the tacit knowledge generated in the process by the individual is also recorded in the online system making it available to others. The learning path used by one employee for a problem becomes a guide to other future employees. In the learning process, the employee may use blogs of a number of peers and experts inside and outside the organization; chat and videoconference with them; post comments to their blogs and receive advise; create his/her own wikispaces using already available learning resources with Creative Commons licenses; and develop a network of his/her own in the organization as well as outside the world.

Thus, Training 3.0 believes in the following:

  • That the training we intend to provide to a group already exists in some or all of the group members;
  • That people learn better from each other in an informal setting than from a master trainer in a formal setting;
  • That learning is more sustainable when it is situated, contextual, just-in-time, and work-place based rather than at a laboratory/training room/ tourist resort;
  • That people learn best when they have a genuine need to learn and are motivated and interested to learn; and
  • That staff learn best when they take the responsibility of their own learning, without being constantly monitored by a supervisor.

So, a T&D professional who uses Training 3.0 strategies believes in the core principles above, and creates the online social network place for its stakeholders. How does it look like? Training does not happen in scheduled 9 to 5 sessions with its usual coffee/tea and lunch breaks. The T&D professional is now re-designated a the Chief Learning Officer (CLO) of the organization, who with the help of the information technology division sets up a social network site for the organization that becomes the learning gateway for all its employees. It also gives access to the customers/stakeholders of the organization to be a registered user of the social network, thereby making it an open system with access control for the internal members. Individual employees can create their own blogs and profile, set their own goals and learning path. The T&D professionals create groups, to which employees join as per their interest and contribute. They create their own learning resources and work manuals using the wikispaces. The social networking site becomes a space for interaction with the stakeholders of the organization leading to quick response time. Individual employees use the system to search and find resources outside the organization, and create bookmarks and links on the organizational social network thereby adding more content to the network and making the system content rich. In such a learning space, even if an employee joins another organization, the content generated by him/her remains their for others to use while the employee may move on and still continue to update the social networking site of the earlier organization as a professional stakeholder from outside. The social networking site can be used for employee performance and review as we can relate the performance of the individual to the training efforts made. This will also solve the problem of training effectiveness, as we can quantify the time and efforts made vis-a-vis the individual and organizational gains. The system can also take care of the Training 2.0 scenarios to help T&D professionals organize occasional online training sessions/courses as required due to new initiatives and developments in the organizational supra system.

Training technologies are developing fast. New training technologies are now available almost everyday. However, in most organizations the T&D professionals need to adapt to the changing scenario, and the top management need to facilitate the change. It is through the appropriate deployment of technologies that we can leverage its power. A technology used inappropriately is as good as not having it. Thus, it is important to think of strategy first than the technology. A philosophical stand/vision on how the top management views the importance of learning and the need for empowering its employees is of paramount importance to the T&D professionals. With the new set of tools and technologies available to us in Training 3.0, it is possible to take organizations in the direction of its stated objectives. T&D professionals would lead in the new age learning organizations, if they use Social Media Technologies!

Note: This blog post has been selected for Certificate of Merit by the Indian Society for Training and Development in the Emerging Thinkers Awards Category in 2009.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

IGNOU started Community Colleges

The Community College as an alternative and flexible system of higher education and vocational training established itself in the early 20th century in the United States. William Rainey Harper, who became the President of University of Chicago at the age of 35, contributed immensely to the spread of “Junior Colleges” that became popular as Community Colleges later. These colleges normally offered 2 year “Associate Degree” which allowed students to transfer to four year degree college or universities in the United States to study for another 2/3 years to complete a bachelor's degree. These colleges are characterized by open admission, flexible scheduling and curriculum, vocational orientation, collaboration with industry and local organizations, and cost-effectiveness. In 2006–07, there were 1,045 community colleges in the United States, enrolling 6.2 million students (or 35 percent of all postsecondary students enrolled that year) (NCES, 2008). According to a report submitted to the Planning Commission, Govt of India, the first community college in India was established in 1995, and by 2003 there were 95 community colleges with similar objectives as that of the American counterparts. However, not all are recognized by Universities. By starting to recognize the Community Colleges, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) has started a “revolution” in Indian vocational and higher education sector, as the intent and objectives of these align with the open learning philosophy of IGNOU. This initiative of IGNOU will lead to more enrollment in the Bachelor Degree Programmes (BDP) in coming years when students pass out of the Associate Degree Scheme from these Community Colleges. However, it will be further good, if IGNOU can take one step more to initiate these Community Colleges to the concept of Distance Education and urge them to start distance learning programmes. Since the objectives of IGNOU is to promote distance education, and democratize higher education, it should always look for opportunity to promote this, and through the distance learning programmes of the Community Colleges, it is possible to reach more students and increase access to higher education . In the United States also the Community Colleges offer a significant number of courses through distance mode. In 2006-7, 97% of the public 2-year degree colleges offered some form of distance learning. So, in India too the concept has a strong potential to make quality education 'reach the unreached'.

While the objective of increasing access to higher education through Community College is welcome and appreciated, it is important that the scheme is implemented and monitored systematically. After the first back of Associate Degree holders are out, the system should be able to inform us, the success rate, trade-wise vocational education imparted, state-wise vocational statistics, percentage of student going in for BDP of IGNOU; placement of the students, etc. It is also necessary to ensure quality of operations and academic offerings in the Community Colleges, and therefore, necessary guidelines, standards, and manuals may be developed. Capacity building of the faculty and non-teaching staff to ensure quality is highly important and regular training programmes should be conducted by IGNOU on various areas such as needs assessment, curriculum development, teaching methodology. Distance learning material development, use of technology in teaching and learning, application of technology in office administration, evaluation technology, etc. It is also important to think of credit transfer of the Associate Degree to regular conventional colleges and universities. To this extent, the University Grants Commission may develop norms and guidelines to be followed by the colleges and universities. If the Associate Degree holders get opportunity to join the conventional higher education system as well, it will add to the value of the scheme and also improve mobility of learners giving them more choice.

In short, a good scheme has been initiated, but there are miles to go before its results are visible to the society. I will be interested in news and views about the success of the scheme and its implementation and monitoring aspects.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

IGNOU goes dual-mode

Distance education systems around the world manifest themselves in primarily two forms: Dual-mode institutions (where distance education is one wing of the face-to-face/ contiguous teaching) and Single mode institutions (where distance education/asynchronous teaching and learning is the prime mode of educational transactions, such as in the Open Universities). However, there are also other organizations forms such as consortia and network modes (due to the emergence of the Internet and its World Wide Web). While the history of distance education is over 150 years, the first single mode distance education university, i.e. Open University, United Kingdom was established in1969. It has always been argued that the dual-mode distance education institutes faced enormous problems of autonomy to exploit the potentials of distance education within the boundaries of the traditional face-to-face teaching learning system. In some dual-mode institutions, it has also been argued that the quality of distance teaching improved as the same faculty that teach in the conventional classroom develop the learning materials and provide learner support at a distance. But, the number of single mode distance education institutions grew to provide autonomy of innovative practices to reach the un-reached by deploying a variety of media and technologies in a quasi-industrial model. While increasing access has been the prime motive of open universities, the conventional universities have adopted distance education to become dual mode to improve their financial position.

When the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) was established in 1985, the prime objective of the legislature was to democratize higher education and provide educational opportunities to those who could not attend the conventional face-to-face institutions for various reasons. IGNOU was also mandated to promote distance education and maintain the quality of distance education in India. The IGNOU Act also emphasized that IGNOU will use innovative educational technologies to deliver its degrees. Open universities are also popular because of their cost-efficiency and cost-effectiveness due to economies of scale. It is also not possible for the public sector to establish large number of face-to-face institutions to meet the growing demands of the citizens, and therefore, promoted the establishment of single mode distance education universities. So far India has one national Open University and fourteen state open universities. Today the distance education system caters to over 25 percent of students in higher education. In order to accommodate the same number of students in face-to-face institutions, we need to create over 1000 universities. This emphasizes that the distance education system has both its political and economic place in our society. However, in spite of over 45 years of the existence of distance education and nearly 25 years of the national Open University, the quality of education in the distance education system is questioned. Sometimes, this is due to lack of awareness about the robustness of the educational practices in the Open Universities and sometimes due to the over zealous educational administrators who without caring for quality offer educational programmes through distance education. The distance education system needs to be strengthened at a time when there is a growing perception that without face-to-face interaction the quality of education suffers. Further adoption of new technology as envisaged in the IGNOU Act is the need of the hour.

While technology augmentation is underway, the IGNOU has suddenly decided to start face-to-face programmes on the Campus from July 2009. However, it may be quickly added that there are some highly technical programmes that are already offered through face-to-face mode in collaboration with other Government agencies (such as the Hotel Management and the Nautical Sciences). Interestingly, these programme were offered in collaboration with institutes that had no authority to grant degrees, and thus, they wanted IGNOU’s collaboration, and IGNOU had very little contribution in their design, development and delivery. IGNOU has not offered any sound reasons for starting face-to-face teaching, except that it says some form of face-to-face programmes are already in operation, and other Open Universities like Hong Kong Open University, Athabasca University, Canada and Open University, UK are also offering face-to-face programmes! Lack of sound academic rationale for starting face-to-face programme by IGNOU needs some clarification. The Govt. of India needs to explain to the nation its policies and priorities vis-à-vis distance education.

Without going into the context in which other open universities offer face-to-face programmes, it is important for IGNOU to think of its role and actions.

  • If IGNOU’s role is to promote distance education, is it right to start face-to-face teaching and create two categories of students? Do starting of face-to-face programmes lead to promotion of distance education?
  • Has IGNOU conducted any cost-analysis before starting face-to-face teaching? What has happened to the concept of ‘economies of scale’ and ‘cost-effectiveness’?
  • Is the present staff strength in each faculty sufficient to conduct quality face-to-face teaching? Is there sufficient infrastructure in the University to conduct face-to-face programmes, such as hostels, laboratory, etc?
  • How does IGNOU think to reach the un-reached through the face-to-face programmes?

Distance education is not averse to face-to-face teaching as long as it is used as one of the medium of teaching and learning and not the ‘sole’ mode of teaching and learning. So, face-to-face interaction is used in distance education as a support to enrich the learning experiences depending on the need of the subject and/or the need of the learner to have extra support. So, for having research degree programmes in face-to-face mode in Open Universities (which is usually happening else where), is natural as it is a specialized training not expected to have more number of students. But, to start master degree programmes face-to-face for only 20 students on campus is outcome of an elitist thinking that does not believe in democratization of higher education.

As a distance education professional engaged in research and training on distance education, I have been talking of the advantages of distance education for the last 15 years, and suddenly my own University starts face-to-face teaching. It not only leaves me thinking and searching for the justifications, but also gives me a sinking feeling. I ask to myself, is distance education dead? Is it not contemporary? I asked one of my colleagues what is your opinion on this issue? The reply was – at the time of convergence due to technology, there is a need to re-think distance education. Yes, there is a need to re-think. But, in which direction? The conventional universities are adopting technology to use e-learning (that provided flexible, open and distance learning opportunities). This is progressive thinking, as the emergence of technology has made it possible that the ‘distance’ could be next door, and interaction could be more than the classroom! We have always attributed face-to-face teaching as rigid and in-flexible system, yet, the University has decided to go dual mode. I wonder what kinds of technologies the University will use in the face-to-face classrooms to be innovative and reach more than 20 students. I am looking for a rationale for going dual mode, as a teacher of distance education. Maybe I get my answers soon, and I request readers to help me in my endeavors.

N.B. This is not a criticism, but a self-reflection of a distance education teacher.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Open University Degree

With the recent judgment of the Supreme Court of India, in the Civil Appeal No. 4173 of 2008, student community and the academia are confused because of the poor standard of reporting in the mainstream newspapers. The court order is not adverse on the quality of education through the Open Universities. It only reminds us of the supremacy of the UGC Act over the IGNOU Act. Though, the IGNOU is established by an Act of the Parliament with special powers to maintain the standards of distance education systems, the objects of the University is for a specific purpose, ie. To democratize higher education by providing an alternative system to those who can't attend the conventional face-to-face system due to various disadvantages. In no case, the IGNOU Act can be above UGC Act as the object of the latter is to maintain the standards of higher education in India covering all universities, including the IGNOU. The open university system has to follow the directives of UGC to maintain parity of the degrees issued, and the Distance Education Council (DEC) of IGNOU needs to frame ordinances and regulations within the ambit of the UGC framework. Though the system of distance education is different and uses a number of innovative practices (including a student study time based credit system), it should not violate the basic guidelines on nomenclature, duration and specification of degrees (getting permission of UGC, if a degree is not listed). The problem is: universities in India are autonomous without check, and sometimes overlook the guidelines/regulations set by statutory bodies in order to increase revenues. Such practices continue due to lack of respect for the Act/Statutes/Ordinances, which the senior officials should uphold and perform. Sometime back there was a proposal for a quasi-judicial tribunal for educational institutions in the country to consider cases of malpractices and disputes in educational institutions. The fate of which is unknown. A tribunal should be there to deal with educational cases speedily, and serve as a check to the unlawful acts of senior officers of the autonomous educational institutions, making them accountable for their actions.

Students in open universities and distance education system should be more careful before joining a programme or institution. The degree offered by state universities/ central universities/ deemed to be universities/ institutions of national importance are recognized, provided the universities follow the directives of the statutory bodies like UGC, AICTE, MCI, etc. Thus, before putting your hard earned money to a distance education programme, do exercise your rights to ask for the approvals of the relevant statutory bodies. It is important to look for academic rigour of the programme such as conduct and attendance in counselling, number of assignments and their assessment, examination procedures, quality of learning materials, etc. before joining a programme. Unfortunately, many distance learners want quick degrees without making adequate efforts to learn. When you go for quick and easy degree, you pay the price by falling into the trap.

Many a time, the issue of non-recognition of open university degree in admission to higher degree in conventional face-to-face universities also come to notice. It may be noted here that Universities are autonomous to decide whom to admit into a programme/course based on equivalence of the similar qualifications issued by them. Universities have their own equivalence committees for this purpose and the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) also deal with such cases, and all conventional universities by and large follow it. For the distance education students this is where the problem remains, as some universities refuse to give equivalence to open university degrees. The DEC may take steps in this front in collaboration with the UGC and AIU to create an 'equivalence framework' so that the students of distance education are not put to disadvantage. For employment, the distance education degrees offered by universities, in accordance with their Act/ Statutes/ Ordinances and duly offered in accordance to the guidelines/approval of the relevant statutory bodies, should be recognized by all employers. Otherwise, it would be discrimination.

Students in the Distance Education system should not worry about the validity of their degrees, but should worry more about their studies/learning per se. If you work hard and study to demand more from the institutions and teachers, you will get it. It is your performance that will speak for the system and bring in more legitimacy and respect.

Note: No offense is intended to any individual or institution. Apologies for any unintended interpretation by the readers.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Indian Journal of Open Learning

The Indian Journal of Open Learning is an internationally peer reviewed Journal published by the Indira Gandhi National Open University since 1992. The Journal shall now be available on a delayed open access basis, and potential authors are requested to submit their research papers for review and publication online. The Journal intends to disseminate information about theory, practice and research in the field of open and distance learning including correspondence and multi-media education, educational technology and communication, independent and experiential learning and other innovative forms of education; and to provide a forum to researchers for debate across the world on these areas of concern with particular reference to India and other developing nations.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

My Bookmarks

There is a nice way to create word mash-up like the above. I used the Wordle service to create the above for my delicious bookmarks. You may like to see these.

Happy New Year 2009 to all readers of this Blog...