Mar 3, 2020

What I learned about e-learning

It’s for everyone

My name is Nandipha Calana, I am currently studying International Relations, majoring in politics and history. I have a huge passion for socio-economic issues, primarily poverty and education. My biggest dream is to help create an environment in South Africa in which education is made an even bigger priority, and is followed through by public institutions. I want to make it known that there are many avenues through which one is able to gain experience and skills. Education needs to be a priority and with that, I strongly believe it will aid in allowing a diverse culture in the South African job force.

It is no secret that South Africa’s unemployment rate is ridiculously high. Stats SA states that 58.2% of citizens between the ages of 19–24 are unemployed. There have been numerous arguments on the cause of unemployment: the effects of Apartheid with regards to the low quality of education Black South Africans were subjected to, as well as the lack of opportunities that were afforded to Black South Africans. As a result, a large portion of Black South Africans have found themselves in a position of possessing limited to no skills. Furthermore, South Africa still has issues with providing all citizens access to the same standard of basic education.

Did someone say online learning?

Three months ago I was afforded the opportunity to start an internship at Groundfloor Labs. I hadn’t the faintest idea about what I was getting myself into. All I heard was “e-learning”, “tech-based learning”, “training”, “mooc courses”. I was so confused until I was given the task of researching data for a platform that would introduce people to the world of E-Learning. That changed everything. Suddenly I had a window into a new environment where there are unconventional means to acquire education and/or qualifications: the online learning universe!

Over and above my findings I was able to broaden my understanding of this industry because I worked with a team of people that are highly experienced and qualified in the field of tech-based learning. I managed to gain more experience by networking with delegates from the AfricaCom conference where I had the privilege of witnessing a panel discussion on the advantages of developing an inclusive online community. A comment that stood out to me during the conference was:

“Through our partnership, Think WiFi and Google will provide unlimited WiFi access to communities in townships, public areas, universities, transportation hubs and shopping malls, laying the foundations for broad-based, inclusive participation in the benefits industrial revolution 4.0 bring.”

These inspiring words came from the CEO of Think Wifi, Janine Rebelo (Google Brings Free Wifi Service to Cape Town) and it touches on the important topic of inclusivity in our country. The aim of this initiative is to help provide online access to the 26.1 million South African’s that do not have internet. Initially, this will benefit individuals in “disadvantaged” communities such as those in the Cape Flats, like Gugulethu, Langa, and Phillipi, and will provide unlimited access to free wifi. A large number of those internet users will access it through smartphones.

Could online learning be part of the solution?

The fact is that there are already South African organisations that are working to bring online learning to all South Africans. A prime example is the Valenture Institute. The institute is a private online high school that has a curriculum based on the Cambridge system. Their main aim is to provide quality education with optimum support for students. Their curriculum is taught through weekly, live, online classes and in tutorials facilitated by highly qualified tutors. The programme provides online mentors who make sure that any grievances that students have are attended to, and that they get the support they need to achieve. Of course, Valenture is aiming at a niche market for the time being, but I am excited to see whether this model could be a proof of concept that could be applied to South Africa’s disadvantaged communities in the near future.

Having discovered the Google Think Wifi initiative and through the process of collecting data, I have found so many accredited course platform providers that, like Valenture Institute, offer courses that provide certification. This is so important because it allows those who have not / do not have the opportunity to access traditional tertiary education the ability to add these certificates to their resumé’s as proof of competence. And there is so much to choose from!

Let’s take a closer look

There are SO many online course providers to choose from, such as Coursera, EdX, Udemy, and Futurelearn. There is no subject that is not already covered somewhere in the online learning universe; courses vary from fundraising and mentorship training to data analysis & machine business intelligence and everything in between. Some of the obvious benefits of online courses are:

  • Some courses have flexible time schedules
  • There are peer discussion forums available to interact with other students
  • You have direct access to your instructors
  • Some courses have lifetime access to their course content
  • Lectures are often interactive
  • Some platforms will provide you with free certification
  • More expensive courses have the option of payment plans

In order to make course content easily accessible, certain platform providers have created apps that prospective learners are able to download and use to complete courses.

So what next?

Now that I have acquired the knowledge from my experience during my internship I hope that, like me, you have discovered that there are great options available for those who want to learn. Whether you are a principal, an employer, an NGO, or a citizen, look out for ways to direct those in your network to these alternative learning options. We can all better ourselves, and acquire qualifications and verified certification along the way!