In South Africa, e-learning has been used in corporates for some time to develop employee’s skills – functional and behavioural – and knowledge. Increasingly, in recent years, we have also started to see Universities introduce online programmes as part of their degree or diploma offering, while a handful of Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges have begun to experiment with vocational skills e-learning programmes, alongside other programmes that they offer. Few organisations in South Africa, however, offer online vocational training programmes specifically for school leavers or for young people who are in some kind of employment, but who wish to become skilled in a specific trade. The DG Murray Trust recently engaged with experienced online competency-based learning service providers – including Regenesys, GetSmarter and Allied Learning – as we believe that an opportunity currently exists to create a purpose-built online learning portal with curated, and developed content, to fill existing gaps.
In the current global context of dynamically changing and evolving labour markets and economies, we believe vocational education and training to be a crucial element in the link between young people‘s competences and employers’ needs. We think it important, therefore, that we begin to explore how vocational training might be brought closer to the demands of labour markets, and in this way, provide a bridge for young people into productive and sustainable employment. In particular, our primary interest lies in ensuring that we exploit all avenues to expand education and training opportunities for young people who:
- live in rural areas or far away from any training college;
- are economically disadvantaged or who cannot attend full-time study, perhaps because they can’t pay or because they have a family to support and need to work;
- might already be in some kind of employment but who are interested in entering a particular trade;
- have some training, but are still not ready to be placed in employment i.e. need to further develop their work-readiness skills;
- are currently working as apprentices or interns and need to further develop specific skills and competences;
- are South Africa’s future entrepreneurs and need to build specific knowledge and skills to act on their ideas.
What are the benefits and challenges of e-learning?
E-learning presents an attractive platform for expanding learning and training opportunities for young people:
- students can learn in their own time, at their own pace, and in a place that suits them;
- costs can be managed irrespective of the scalability of the solution, with little or no requirement for classrooms or administrative offices;
- global best practice can be shared;
- content can be re-purposed and re-used;
- reliability – the only variable in the process is the student; the content is always the same, and the delivery is consistent;
- flexibility – e-learning is much more agile, and can be changed and enhanced much more easily than content that is delivered using traditional methods;
- transfer of skills is usually improved;
- retention is better, perhaps accounted for by the self-driven, personalised experience that e-learning offers.
While we absolutely must acknowledge the reality that the completion rates for distance learning programmes are typically low; that the learning experience for students can be lonely; and, that there appears to exist a mindset that says in order to learn you need a teacher, we are also swayed by the views of the late Peter Drucker who pointed out that “We used to think that teaching and learning were two sides of the same coin; in fact they are different processes altogether”.
Where to from here?
DGMT’s Enterprising School Leavers Portfolio hopes to contribute to the online vocational education and training debate by testing innovative models that match the learning needs of the student with the requirements of the workplace and the economic demands of the country. The question of whether this type of “teaching” will work in the South African context, remains unanswered. This year, our intention is to continue to investigate relevant existing content, some of which is being used at our Universities of Technology and TVETs. We have also become aware that some industries (Motor Manufacturing, for example) have e-learning content that they use for internal training, while exisiting portals such as www.worldwidelearn.com and www.seeklearning.com.au, which services inter alia the Australian TAFEs (Technikons) and VETs (which is similar to our TVETs) also seems to be widely used. We will explore these in order to understand how they are used. But, we also suspect that there is much that we might not be aware of. Hence, if you are currently using – or know of – online vocational/work-based training platforms that you think we should be looking at, we would appreciate hearing from you – Renisha@dgmt.co.za.
[DGMT acknowledges the contribution of Moira de Roche in compiling this piece]