The information and communications technology witnessed a remarkable growth in the second half of the past century and in recent years the delivery of education has seen a rapid transformation on impact of this technology. Higher learning used to be a field reserved for a few who got access to the high towers. These have been gradually thrown open with unlimited possibilities and immense potential for imparting uniform and high quality education for everyone. The teachers as well as the taught have gained access to a wide range of media-print, radio, television, audio, video, audio/video conferencing and the tools like-computers, CD-ROMs, e-mail and internet. It expanded the reach of teaching/learning process to such an extent that education at a distance became not only possible but enriching too. The University of South Pacific, through its Satellite Tutorials, manages to reach its learners even on an isolated atoll in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. The Indira Gandhi National Open University has reached the people in remote districts in India with a great success. If fact, it has facilitated the transfer of focus from the teacher to the learner and the institution of instruction to the study room of the learner. Education, being an accepted resource for social and economic development, has become an easier and simple prospect, is really a significant development. The revolutionary developments in information technology has now enabled the practitioners of learning to take the classroom and campus initiatives on the cyberspace. The teacher-learner interaction, which is essential for effective learning process, has become possible at a distance through distance education. The capacity to adopt flexible teaching-learning strategies, providing high quality education and ensuring equity in educational opportunities, particularly for the benefit of physically challenged, remotely placed and SC/ST students has become a reality. Enough has happened during a brief history of Open University system. It seems to be the “wave of the future”. Everyone is expected to side this wave and benefit from this omnipresent educational system. With the cyber network expanding throughout the length and breath of country, this dream can be a reality in near future, to create informed and educated citizens.
With the advent of information technology and the internet the concept of distance has been significantly modified. A learner anywhere, at any far off place in a distant island in a vast ocean or a next-door neighbour, can be taught in equal terms through the internet, provided he has, of course, an access to it. Then there is a range of telecommunications media, like computer conferencing, audio-graphics, video conferencing which are provided to the distance educators. Besides, the communication media like computer-based text, interactive video and CD-ROM can be used in which the learner interacts with textual information.
Media can be synchronous and asynchronous. In an asynchronous medium like computer conferencing, both learners and tutors get time to think over their respective responses and prepare messages to be put into their machine at their convenience for the conference. One can read and re-read messages at one’s convenience, rather than set at a time. Further, messages go on filing up everyday from various corners and one gets time to read, reflect upon and respond. The conferencing remains alive through this process, though anyone individual member may not have contributed to this for days together. However, asynchronous communication, especially for distance learning, has at times been boring since issues take much longer period of discussion to be finally resolved. In synchronous communication, on the other hand, there is use of voice and vision, and both learners and teachers need to respond there and then. Those who like to think it over or lack command over language or do not feel comfortable with spontaneous communication, and would like to read more references before formulating an opinion, find it hard to cope up with this form of communication.
As such, the use of telecommunications media in the Distance Education has created a new world in teaching/learning process. The learner is free to connect himself to the system anytime through his telephone and computer or from a shared machine and a telephone line at any workplace. Through distance education, a wide variety of higher level courses, professional courses and the course on IT are being offered through telecommunications.
Since a great variety of resource materials are available on the net and the discourses and learning experiences have greatly enriched by the contributions of the learners throughout the world, the learning has, as such, become much more universal and according to the needs of latest standards. The handicapped and physically challenged learners have been greatly benefited by the system as they challenged learners have been greatly benefited by the system as they can easily respond and interact with their tutors and other students making use of their own language through their own PCs.
There is, unfortunately, some rigidity, in times of admission and contact due to the usage of the media within the traditional campuses and it has limited the practice of open learning. However, there is no doubt, that the use of these technologies has opened enormous vistas of learning and the delivering quality education. The quality of campus education has also improved by the use of there technologies. The students on campus use computer conferencing for greater interaction with tutors and students and for global experiences through the use of Internet. The concept of isolated studentship, depending on printed texts and postal communications, in distance education has been removed and these technologies have increased the level and extent of communication far ahead of those possible in face to face situation.
In India, we have a 24-hour education channel-Gyan Darshan-as part of the national repertoire, Gyan Vani-the radio co-operative to remove the remoteness through the use of communication technologies. The responsibility of running them has been essentially entrusted to the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), but what is needed, is more collaboration and networking. The task is to be tackled collectively. There is no reason to compete but collaborate. There is a consortium of 600 colleges and universities of the Western Governors Association, in the United States along with move than 100 corporations offering education and training programmes through collaboration. In the developing countries like India, there is limited access to internet, compared to the developed countries, but it is poised for a rapid expansion like the television and radio, in these countries including India. Also, those getting education through resources over the internet would soon the more acceptable to the employers.
We are made to believe that internet-based courses can be efficient and ultimately an inexpensive way to deliver quality education, and cater to the vast numbers of learners, anytime, anywhere, without any incongruence.