Equiping staff with planning skills in ODL

Wawasan Open University organised an in-house training on the functions of planning and management in open distance learning (ODL) systems, as part of the revised ODL Core Competency Programme.

Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic-ODL) Prof Madhulika Kaushik conducted the workshop on ‘Module 2: Planning and Management of ODL systems’ at the main campus today, attended by 14 participants from the four Schools and the Educational Technology & Publishing Unit. They learned how failing to plan in ODL is essentially planning to fail and derived a better understanding of the whole planning process.

Prof Madhulika talks about the importance of planning.

Prof Madhulika talks about the importance of planning.

In planning an ODL institution, four questions must be asked, stated Prof Madhulika. They are: is there a need for another ODL provider; is there a sizeable need; what would be achieved, i.e. what is the gap the institution will address that is not being adequately addressed by existing providers; and, who are your learners and what benefits do they seek.

“You identify the un-served or underserved learning needs and go after that niche. However to commit resources to set up a University, you must see if there is a sizeable need and what is the solution you can provide that others cannot address, such as affordable pricing and the advantage of flexibility and learning while working,” she said.

Participants at the workshop.

Participants at the workshop.

Prof Madhulika shared that in planning an ODL institution, one must take stock of financial viability by devising a business plan. Other considerations include identifying development and operational costs, revenue sources, and competitors, besides developing a strategic plan incorporating the institution’s mission, vision and goals.

To ensure a plan succeeds, she told the participants they should have a clear objective or situation analysis of what resources they have, what time they have, and who their competitors are. They also must make internal (e.g. manpower) and external (e.g. demand) assumptions; identify and evaluate alternative courses of action before selecting the most appropriate alternative; implement the plan; and undertake follow-up and evaluation. The participants carried out two group exercises on planning during the workshop.

Presenting the outcome of a group discussion.

Presenting the outcome of a group discussion.

She said implementation of a plan usually fails if we do not take into account certain considerations. “While we have a plan, there are so many uncertainties associated with the premises on which the plan is based. Collecting as much reliable information as possible is the only way of minimising the risk associated with planning. Follow-up and evaluation of the plan and its assumptions are therefore important,” Prof Madhulika clarified.

“The general direction we want to go is courses and programmes that are in demand and can generate revenue. If you do a five-year plan, you need certain information, like the trend of general demand for that particular course. And to get an idea on the number of students, you tend to look at other courses with the assumption the demand is the same, which it may not be. A plan is only as good as the information on which it is based. So it’s important to go out and get the info and not sit in the office and plan, for example, seeking out and studying other institutions that are giving similar courses,” she added.

Prof Phalachandra Bhandigadi (right) shares how he plans his daily work.

Prof Phalachandra Bhandigadi (right) shares how he plans his daily work.