E-Learning: The present and the future

There is still a huge need to promote online education in developing countries.

13 October 2020 | Education

Enzo Amuele





In an academic piece titled ‘Assessment of Student and Teacher’s Reaction in a Blended Learning Model for Higher Education’, Maricarmen González Videgaray, who is an academic researcher with eight publications and five reviews to date, defined e-learning as learning based on information and communication technologies (ICTs) with pedagogical interaction between students and the content, students and the instructors or among students through the web.

During the fourth industrial revolution and amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, e-learning is the cornerstone of modern-day learning and the epitome of quality education.

Namibia has a policy on e-learning, known as the Namibian National Open and Distance Learning Policy.

This policy defines e-learning as the application of ICTs to enhance distance education, implement open learning policies, make learning activities more flexible and enable those learning activities to be distributed among many learning venues.

Furthermore, these are forms of learning that utilise networked computer technologies and applications. Both to access learning materials and to enable participants, teachers as well as learners to communicate with one another in one-to-one, one-to-group and one-to-all situations.

They also refer to the design, development and delivery of learning programmes by electronic means.

Improving public education

In a developing country like Namibia, the use of e-learning has become an important part of a national effort to improve public education.

This is because of its various benefits. E-learning saves time and money, leads to better retention of information, it is consistent and scalable and offers personalisation.

In Namibia, e-learning in higher education is gaining momentum, especially through blended learning.

According to the World Economic Forum, e-learning requires 40 to 60% of learning time, which is less time to learn than in a traditional classroom setting.

This gives learners more time to study on their own. E-learning has the potential to solve problems of large classrooms because learners can now study at their own pace. The use of blended learning through e-learning could also increase enrollment.

This is because there is now no need for learners and parents to wait in long queues to enrol.

Improving computer literacy

In addition, e-learning has an effective capability to improve learners’ computer literacy, which is a skill needed in the current workforce.

Experiential evidence indicates that people in developing countries are less familiar with technology and therefore are far more suspicious of e-learning.

There is a low acceptance of e-learning in most developing countries and this could mostly be due to low awareness levels, low computer literacy skills, unreliable internet services and the high fear of isolation.

As a result, there is a huge need to promote online education in developing countries like Namibia.

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the unplanned and rapid move to online learning, with no training, insufficient bandwidth and little preparation can result in a poor user experience that is unconducive to sustained growth of technology in Namibia.

Priorities

There is a need for government to prioritise and budget for internet accessibility. This should involve the provision of electricity in rural areas, as well as technological devices to all registered learners and students for the successful emergence of inclusive “online/blended” education.

Another crucial aspect of priority is the promotion of online learning via all communication modes, because the finale of the Covid-19 pandemic is unknown to all of us globally.

The Namibian government has made many reforms and investments in the education sector over the past years, but the demand for quality education still outweighs the supply.

Covid-19 has revealed and taught us the hard way in terms of fostering quality education and the use of e-learning during these troubling times. Hence, there is still more to be done in this sector as the demand for open education looms.

Government’s role

Government has a huge role to play by formulating a coherent national e-learning policy that covers all public education sectors, and in so doing investing in the information technology sector.

The spread of digital technologies, including access to e-learning, can empower the poor with access to information, job opportunities and services that improve their standard of living.

Therefore, open and distance learning (ODL) institutions like the Namibian College of Open Learning (Namcol) are at an advantage.

As open education and e-learning go hand in hand, ODL is formally known as distance education and refers to educational approaches that exclude the physical presence of learners.

Distance education allows home and independent study at a time and place of the learner’s choosing, thus making use of e-learning platforms.

Namcol

Namcol, better known as “the people’s college”, is the nation’s leading and most formidable institution of ODL, established by an Act of Parliament (Act 1 of 1997) to provide learning opportunities for adults and out-of-school youth.

Namcol has been the father of open learning in Namibia since inception. Using online open educational resources, which are accessible on the Notesmaster Namibia Platform, Namcol, with the assistance of subject matter experts and teachers from formal schools, has developed interactive content in several subjects over the years.

According to the college’s annual report for 2018/2019, registration for the 2019 academic period was done both online and manually. Online registration for the secondary education programme took place across 12 towns.

The college develops content for e-learning materials. The college’s 2019//2020 annual report states that the NotesMaster and Moodle learning management systems have been utilised as one of the learner support strategies to enhance teaching and learning.

There are 8 104 users on Moodle and more than 26 000 on NotesMaster as of July 2020. The creation of additional content for all tertiary programmes, technical vocational education and training programme, international driving licence and basic computer literacy course are completed online.

Fostering online education

The college, like many others, further aims to foster online education to speak to the global demand for e-learning brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The college strategic plan focuses on six key performance areas, which are:

· Ensuring equitable access to quality education

· Strengthening human capital management and development

· Promoting good corporate governance

· Improving financial management

· Creating effective advocacy strategies

· Promoting corporate social responsibility.

Equitable access to quality education through the provision of tools and resources that will help learners to effectively navigate e-learning is a priority for the college, thereby meeting government halfway.

In addition, the continuous training of online facilitators and the decentralisation of online centres to all corners of Namibia remains crucial.

This is to ensure that Namcol has well-trained facilitators and access to online centres countrywide.

As computer, cellphone and other technological appliances ownership grows across the globe, e-learning becomes increasingly viable and accessible.

E-learning is here to stay. It is therefore the responsibility of all educational stakeholders to collectively provide the necessary resources that will make online learning effective and beneficial to all.

This will realise the objectives of the Harambee Prosperity Plan in the short run and Vision 2030 in the long run.

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