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The often overlooked impact of e-learning

South Africa faces a wide range of social and economic problems, from access to affordable tertiary education, to a skills shortage across a number of key industries. Though it would be over-optimistic to say that online learning alone can solve these and other problems, the increased growth of e-learning in South Africa is having a widespread, and surprisingly often overlooked, impact on South African society.
The often overlooked impact of e-learning

1. Increased digital literacy

Hamilton Mphidi from the Tshwane University of Technology gives the following definition of what is called the ‘technology gap’ or ‘digital divide’:

“The disparity in access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTS) which may result from differences in class, race, age, culture, geography or other factors can [effectively] deprive certain citizens to participate in the global economy.”

E-learning, in secondary and tertiary education, is a way of fostering computer and digital literacy in developing countries. In an interview with IT News South Africa, Chief Technical Engineer at OpenWeb, Athol Wesselink, said:

“The use of technology to support education will not only enhance pupil’s access to quality tutorials and learning material, but will also develop their digital savvy and computer literacy – a skill that has become increasingly vital when entering the national workforce.”

Wesselink concluded by saying that “it is imperative that e-learning is rolled out in South Africa to ensure that students are adequately equipped with digital skills and a quality education.”

2. Increased access to education

One of the great benefits of traditional distance learning has always been that it makes tertiary education available in rural areas and to workers who cannot afford full-time classroom-based further education. In a report by the Educause Center for Analysis and Research, however, they state: “Online programmes in particular can reach previously untapped student populations in rural areas” especially when coupled with “mobile device proliferation.”

The Educause report further states that “[t]he greatest benefit of e-learning remains unchanged since its inception: It can increase enrolment by increasing access.” South Africa has a huge problem regarding access to quality, affordable tertiary education – as the recent and ongoing student protests have demonstrated. Moreover, the 2014–2015 report by the Institute of Race Relations found that an alarming amount of students who applied to universities across South Africa were turned away, with institutes like the University of Witwatersrand only having accepted 6,255 out of 51,000 first-year applicants.

3. Stimulating one of SA’s biggest sectors

In 2015, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille launched an extensive e-learning initiative aimed at “increasing access to quality education in disadvantaged communities” through e-learning. A consequence of Helen Zille’s announcement, according to the Western Cape Education Department (WCED), is that the provincial government “will be investing heavily in this project over the next five years”:

“Without taking into account the Western Cape Government's (WCG) investment into the WAN, the rollout of the LAN and various infrastructure, equipment and devices, will cost the WCED R1.2 billion over the next five years.”

Information and communications technology (ICT) is one of South Africa’s most successful, and rapidly growing, sectors. Research ITC Africa said in a report that “[ITC] sector growth continues to rise at (at least) double the national growth rate, and is now contributing around 6% to national GDP.”

With the rise of e-learning, the education sector is bolstering the ICT industry even more as it starts to employ more and more IT professionals: course designers, professional development staff, app designers, and e-learning services management staff. There is also a rise in the number of entrepreneurs who are eager to satisfy the growing market demand for e-learning solutions, with South Africa already boasting with a long list of e-learning companies.

4. Saving colleges money

In an interview with Die Beeld newspaper last year, Oxbridge Academy principal Elbie Liebenberg said:

“[Distance learning] means that we don’t have the same expenses as a full-time campus college... which allows us to offer high-quality courses at affordable rates.”

This is even more true when it comes to e-learning courses. Despite initial development costs, offering e-learning courses cuts away spending on textbook printing, postage and shipping, and administration (as e-learning portals often allow students to auto-administrate their studies).

E-learning also, as already stated, allows colleges to provide education to a larger number of students without straining resources. This enables educational institutes to grow, expand, and offer more high-quality educational programmes to a wider range of South Africans.

5. Improving student performance

A report on e-learning by leading multinational technology company Intel stated that e-learning improves student engagement, motivation, and attendance – factors strongly linked to students’ academic performance. The report, making use of a number of independent studies, states:

“In a study of the educational impacts of the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative (BWLI), teachers overwhelmingly reported improvements in student engagement and motivation… Teacher survey responses indicate that 83 percent of the teachers thought engagement had improved for their traditional students, compared to 84 percent for at-risk/low achieving students, and 71 percent for high achieving students.”

Multimedia and interactivity greatly contribute to this phenomenon. But new innovations like ‘gamification’ are also starting to play a big role in e-learning, using competitive game mechanics to make learning activities even more engaging.

6. Making employee training easier

The big focus of e-learning in South Africa has been on secondary schooling. But e-learning courses, as vocational skills development programmes, have the potential to impact the country’s workforce and private sector significantly. Max Messmer, chairman and CEO of Robert Half International, the world's largest specialised staffing firm, confirms that:

“Use of computer-based and online technology to deliver employee training content has become commonplace throughout corporate America.”

Messmer names the following benefits of e-learning for employee training:
  • It increases the extent of corporate training efforts.
  • It greatly reduces the cost of staff training (in a study done by Fastrak Consulting, they found that it saved businesses between 40% and 60% when they replaced traditional instructor-based training with e-learning).
  • It avoids production downtime by allowing employees to study at their own pace and convenience.
  • It enables participants to retain access to training tutorials and easily retrieve information transmitted through the course.
  • It liberates company training staff from classroom presentations.
  • It is particularly cost effective for small businesses.
Other benefits also include:
  • Higher levels of standardised consistency in training (Training Magazine reported that technology-based training has proven to have a 50–60% better consistency than traditional classroom learning).
  • It allows employers to better track training progress.
  • It allows organisations to tailor courses to suit their training needs.
Oxbridge Academy has recently launched a brand-new range of e-learning courses focused on vocational skills development, such as: 7. Rapid evolution

The digital age is well under way, and education is barely keeping up with new developments in technology. But this is actually a good thing, as the rapidity with which contemporary technology advances makes e-learning a dynamic and constantly evolving field. Already, with the mobile revolution taking the world by storm, e-learning colleges have embraced the ‘appification’ of studying. It is unlikely that e-learning will fall into any kind of stasis in the foreseeable future.

E-learning systems will keep improving, directly correlative to advances in digital technology. This makes the biggest benefit of e-learning the fact that it might still hold bigger benefits in the future.

Find out more about enrolling for an online course with Oxbridge Academy by calling us on 021 1100 200 or visiting:

25 Feb 2016 14:16


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