The prevalence of e-learning has increased dramatically over the last year due to the lockdown restrictions caused by the pandemic. Suddenly classrooms and lecture halls were empty; every student was forced to work from home (WFH).
The only solution was to teach via the internet using various platforms that facilitated this endeavour. The increase in Matric pass rates for 2020 is a sign that e-learning can replace traditional teaching conventions. However, is it sustainable in the long term, and what does this mean for South Africa in 2021 and beyond?
The evolution of e-learning in South Africa
E-learning as a teaching method has evolved due to the advancements in education technology. The University of South Africa has been offering open distance e-learning (ODeL) for many years and has over 300,000 students, but this isn’t e-learning as we know it today.
The difference between E-Learning and Distance Learning
The following is paraphrased from an organogram on MANCOSA’s website.
Online learning endeavours to make sure that the teacher/lecturer and students work together via a digital platform, effectively creating a virtual classroom in which they can interact with each other, so lessons and assessments can be conducted in real-time.
Conversely, with distance learning, students work from home at their own pace without much communication. The teacher/lecturer simply reviews the student’s work.
The student-teacher relationship is absolutely vital. Some may feel the pandemic forced e-learning upon us, but it can be argued that it expedited the process. Thus, agile-minded education institutions embraced the need for customised learning management systems (LMSs) in South Africa.
E-learning models can be designed to provide various learning methods to prevent student/learner ‘interest disengagement’. There are world-class authoring tools available such as, but not limited to, Adobe Captivate and Articulate 360 that have the functionality to add videos and animations to offer a fascinating learning experience that stimulates the senses.
However, the beginning of the pandemic put the education sector into crisis mode, and the following months would test our ability to transition into full-scale e-learning quickly.
What are learning management systems
Learning Management Systems provide the platform to present e-learning courses to a target audience. E-learning professionals can help you by developing an appropriate system based on your requirements and available budget. Numerous LMSs can accommodate from 5 to more than 100 000 users.
LMS courses can be designed and developed to ensure students remain actively engaged. Courses can be built based on relevant motivational theories and follow a trusted recipe to teach and train online.
One of the most widely used LMSs is Moodle; it has established itself as the open-source learning system of choice for academic institutes, training companies, successful corporates, and many other organisations. Its features include but are not limited to
- An easily navigable interface
- Activity based learning modules
- Extensive reporting and learner progress management
- Extensive activities to assess student learning and performance
- Wide range of content development tools
- Collaborative learning tools
- All-in-one calendar
- Process tracking
Why will e-learning continue to increase in popularity?
Online communication methods can be taught to educators
Covid-19 became the reality check for many organisations where traditional classroom training still reigns supreme. Isolated staff and work-at-home strategies needed to be developed quickly to keep teaching skills and knowledge relevant regardless of the pandemic.
Suddenly e-learning was not a “Digital thing out there” – but a realisation that it offers a solution to bridge the isolation gap and build the necessary skills and knowledge. Sh!ft reports that face to face training’s retention rate is listed between 8 to 10 %, while the retention rate for e-learning is listed between 25 and even 60%!
Communication, engagement, support for learners/students
A good, supportive facilitator is trained on how to utilise the online platforms’ best functions to keep the lines of communication open to their students. It’s vital talking to, collaborating, challenging, monitoring, motivating and supporting your students to complete their studies on time and achieve success.
LMSs allow for a wider audience reach
LMSs are online specific platforms that teach students no matter where they are in the world. It opens an international education opportunity for learners/students and facilitators alike.
Three of the most significant elements that e-learning, particularly in South Africa, satisfies are
- Principles of teaching (foundations of education)
- The promises and opportunities of technology
- Bridging the digital divide (Educational technology)
Global News Wire commented that “In 2015, the global mobile learning market was worth just $7.98 billion. By the end of 2019, that number had risen to $27.32 billion. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ever-growing number of mobile users worldwide, experts predict that the mobile e-learning market will rise to $37.6 billion by mid-2021.
E-learning courses available through Fio Academy of Skills Development
As mentioned earlier, there is a considerable wealth and skills disparity in South Africa, and that’s precisely why the Fio Academy of Skills Development (FASD) has been established. “We provide blended courses to the communities of Alexandra and Soweto. Our outstanding group of driven, caring individuals work hard to provide unique training opportunities to change peoples’ lives in the short term, instil a sense of pride and eventually provide a change in lifestyle/quality of life.”
It’s fair to say that e-learning is a long overdue teaching method; its implementation and execution have shown it to be successful over the last year. There is no reason it can’t be sustainable by teaching the necessary skills and offering custom LMSs.