Friday, May 21, 2010

Innovations in Distance Education

Innovation has become a buzz word in all walks of life, and Distance Education is not far from it. Probably, the Asian Association Open Universities (AAOU) Conference in Teheran in 1995 was first such occasion to devote full fledged discussion on innovations in distance learning. But, if we closely look at the deliberations there and elsewhere in distance education literature about what is innovation, it would be much clear that there is much to be desired. While some would consider the use of an existing technology in a new context as innovation, others would consider a new teaching learning programme an innovation. Broadly, innovation is the act of starting something new. It could be a new idea, a new product or a new process. Two important concepts are related to innovations – creativity and change. Innovation is a creative process, and it advocates change in the current practice. The change could be radical or incremental. However, it is different from invention. Innovation is ideas applied in practice. As such, distance education itself is an innovation in the field of education!

We can all be creative and innovative, but contrary to popular belief innovations are not always appreciated. Remember, Alexander Graham Bell, who invented telephone was turned down by Western Union telling it as a “useless toy”. Scott Berkun, author of the Myths of Innovation, states “Every great idea in history has the fat red stamp of rejection on its face”. Does that mean, we should stop thinking and innovating? No. The real innovators sustain and persist. There may be rejection due to ego, pride, politics, priority, fear, greed, etc, but innovators survive due to their convictions and belief in what they have strived to create. Fortunately, history shows that when institutions do not recognize innovations, it results in entrepreneurship. But, this is also a sign of institutional failure to accept innovations internally, experiment and institutionalize ideas, because it may come from a person in low hierarchy. Fortunately for distance education in India, and for the Indira Gandhi National Open University, we have the National Centre for Innovations in Distance Education (NCIDE), which has various schemes for recognizing innovations within the institution and the system in the country.

For distance education, innovation is an imperative. It is not something that we may do, but it is something that we must do. For example, cost-effectiveness is one of the strong pillars of distance education. If we do not constantly think and innovate how can we maintain cost-effectiveness? One programme may not be cost-effective, but the system as a whole should be cost effective to justify its existence as an alternative mode to provide quality educational access to large number of people. So, we need to innovate new programmes that cater to the needs of the market. We need to use new instructional and learning design principles to develop programmes that are suitable to the needs of the learners. We need to use appropriate technology to make the programme more interactive and useful to the learners. In all the activities, we need to think about the philosophy of open learning, and innovate appropriate distance education programmes that provide access to more people at less cost. Innovations in distance education therefore should follow a system-wide perspective, and IGNOU being a pioneer in distance education, it is the responsibility of teachers and administrators to think about the system as a whole. Particularly, as a national university we are accountable to the nation to show that the system is what it is meant for, and therefore, we should constantly innovate in curriculum design, instructional design, learning material preparation, ICT enabled programme delivery, new programmes, and new technologies in education.
Published in ennovate: NCIDE eNewsletter published on 21 May 2010.