Cyber Education and Training

Posted by Flux on 

19 September 2011

What’s trending now?

Cyber Education and Training

There is nothing groundbreaking about reporting the problem of education within South Africa. But a possible solution just maybe around the corner, as virtual learning takes off and begins to change the nature of the teaching process.

Modern methods of providing education and training are only slowly starting to become acceptable as the alternatives to classroom, lectures and school yard assemblies. But without a doubt, cyber – education is here to stay.

Why it’s important?

Online media has already taken off.  South Africa may be lagging the global trend, but given our slower cable speeds and reliance on mobiles rather than our PCs for accessing the web, this is understandable.  What is really interesting is that despite this, the market for online learning is expanding rapidly.

Take GetSmarter for example.  It is a company that was started around 4 years ago and recently registered its 7000th student.  Having digitized a number of UCT’s and Stellenbosch University’s courses, it offers certification in a variety of subjects from different faculties.  The model is working because it allows learners to study the courses from home and in their own time – with real help – using a platform that young people really understand and enjoy engaging with.  A key reason that it seems to be working is that innovation starts only once the technology itself becomes boring.  Widespread internet dependence is thus creating opportunities for businesses to capitalise on.

Another great example of how the modernization of education is taking place is seen in the Cape Town start-up, EDGE Campus.  It combines MXit and gamification to bring mobile learning to any willing player.  The company’s pilot project called MathX was launched just two and a half months ago, and already thousands of players have accessed the game and its educational content.  An opportunity to harness mobile internet and education?  That landscape is now here.

But what makes these digital programmes different to the correspondence courses?  Two things. One, correspondence courses are akin to do-it-yourself home-study, whereas cyber-education provides access to interaction and real teachers, as you grapple with the material.  (For an example of how this is working see Skype in the Classroom), which has over 16000 teachers using the technology already; giving lessons to other classes around the world, absolutely free.

The other point of difference between the regular correspondence courses and cyber-learning is that cyber-learning in our digital era flaunts an entirely new system of education whereas correspondence courses are actually no different to the old, standard way of learning – except that support for courses is offered remotely rather than on location.
Now there are two lessons to take from the growth in online education.  Firstly, we need to abandon the notion that online training services provide neither tangible skills nor business opportunities.  It is clear that online education is much more effective that it used to be a few years ago, and has great potential to up-skill the willing learner.  Linked to that, businesses ought to reassess the opportunities that online content creates for them to pursue their own agenda through gamifying advertisements and also through public relations.

Secondly, given the dynamics of the mobile-phone market in SA, companies who desperately need workers trained in a particular skill should look to developing those skills via the web.  Mathematics is not the only skill able to be taught online, and companies pushing free content that help workers develop, may even pass it off as a CSI project, despite their own benefits!

What’s the butterfly effect?

The internet as a platform for sharing information has always been hindered in that with so much information available, how best should one filter it?  Tailoring available information to suit a company’s needs may be both a profitable and effective way to get your message across, just as online educators are doing in reaching learners.

As this online education grows more reputable, we may see universities leaning more heavily on the online providers to help students who perhaps failed a single module or left varsity a couple of courses short of a degree.  The interesting thing to take from a business perspective is how one would be able to do the same in the corporate world.  Perhaps it could be by having in-house training outsourced to specialist online training companies.

Of course the other obvious butterfly effect is the notion of a paperless society – where education can take place completely digitally.  If tablet computers or smartphones become as common in SA as they have in other parts of the world, that society would not be far off.

The pioneers and global hotspots

EDGE Campus is pioneering mobile education throughout Africa. GetSmarter’s model shows that learning through an online conduit is both feasible and potentially profitable.  Overseas societies that are heavily tech-reliant (USA, China and parts of Europe) are embracing online learning as a way to enrich themselves, but there are no clear examples of businesses applying the same models to upskill their prospective employees as yet.

In other words, we have yet to reach the tipping point where professional development is done equally well through online and offline learning.   But we’re growing close.  And as digital solutions continue to offer feasible alternatives to common problems, we’re only going to get closer.

By: Benjamin Shaw

About Ben

Benjamin is a broad-thinker, fast learner and passionate trend spotter.
He particularly loves reading about the integration of technology into society, and the role that entrepreneurs have to play in new South Africa.

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