The question why some learners successfully study through distance mode and others do not is increasingly becoming important as open and distance learning (ODL) has come to occupy a prominent place in providing higher education to large segments of the population in India. With barely 1112 students studying through distance mode in 1962, the number has crossed 2.8 million in 2006. This article presents the findings of an empirical research study conducted to investigate the study habits of successful distance learners of the India Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). Every year, nearly 70,000-80,000 pass out of IGNOU. What strategies were adopted by these diverse groups, what media they utilized, and what modes of support they prefered are some of the major issues addressed in this study.
India has emerged as one of the largest distance education systems in the world, with more than 2.8 million people studying through distance mode, which is equal to 24% of the total students in higher education in the country. The Ministry of Human Resource Development has assigned the target to distance education institutions of enrolling 40% of the total students in higher education by the end of the Tenth Plan period in 2007 (IGNOU, 2006).
Today, the Indian ODL system comprises a National Open University, 12 State Open Universities, and 106 dual mode conventional universities. IGNOU alone contributes to 10% of the total enrollment in higher education in the country (Srivastava & Ramegowda, 2006). In fact, it can be said that “IGNOU is leading a silent revolution in the higher education system of the country” (Dikshit, IGNOU, 2005, p. 4). It has emerged as the largest international education institution in 2006, with 1.4 million students on its rolls from India and 32 other countries (IGNOU, 2006).
Like other open universities of the world, IGNOU has adopted a multimedia approach to instruction. The learning (print material) package is based on instructional design and comprises printed materials (Self-learning materials), audio and video programmes, assignments, and limited face-to-face counseling sessions. In some professional programmes, practicals/ hands-on-experience and project work are also included.
To give more weightage to the component of interactivity in the learning process, IGNOU in the 1990s introduced teleconferencing through downlink stations and interactive radio counseling through radio and FM stations throughout the country (Manjulika & Reddy 2000). Since 2002, there has been an extensive use of the Internet for providing instruction in a few programmes, but mainly for supporting learners. Through a dedicated satellite for education, satellite-based education, namely EduSat, has commenced its operations since 2005. It has made two-way videoconferencing possible through a network of receiving-end terminals all over India.
Since IGNOU’s students are spread all over the country, it has set-up, and since its inception in 1985, it has a network of Learner Support Centres comprising Regional Centres (RCs), and Study Centers (SCs) located at major cities, towns, and even in some rural and remote areas of the country.
The details of IGNOU’s increasing student enrolment, staff strength, support services network, academic programmes, and so forth, is given in Table 1.Table 1.
An overview of IGNOU’s growth
|Programmes on offer|
Courses on offer
|Students enrolled (in 000s)|
Students on rolls
(cumulative) (in 000s)
Students awarded (degrees/ diplomas/certificates)
Academic Counsellors (at SCs)
|No. of audios|
No. of videos