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  • Benadette Wambui

The Future of Online Learning in Africa and Globally

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

Slow and steadily, global education prepared for a staged transition into online learning. The defined time frame was a decade in order to maximise efficiencies and tweak technology to suit the makeup of the digital natives.

Online learning is a modern educational approach where students and teachers follow a structured curriculum programme using advanced information technology that is mediated via the Internet. Modes of instruction include platforms like virtual study portals, apps and social media. Students are not required to attend on-campus classes and so are able to participate in this method of learning from a distance provided they have suitable hardware and software to facilitate the mode of instruction.

In many international higher education institutions, there have always been options of online platforms readily available, but academics preferred physical student interaction. Therefore, subsequent to the onset of COVID-19, they were able to seamlessly make use of these existing resources. COVID-19 has created new-found respect for the term online learning as meetings, training sessions, social events, empowerment activities and facilitation of lectures have become synonymous with the words Zoom, MS Teams and webinars. Formal education programmes, short courses and skills modules are all conducted online. Students can view material at their leisure, take assessments and obtain certificates of competence on completion.

While a blended learning approach existed globally, the preference was for face-to-face learning. In Africa, with the historic gaps in education and language barriers, the face-to-face approach is beneficial. However, with large classes and the lack of university infrastructure to manage these, online options may be more suitable.

Academics agree that the global reality, as indicated by McKinsey surveys in 2019 and 2020, forecast a predominantly individual classroom experience by 2030. These included collaborative platforms which would allow individuals to study from any location. The best tutors, virtual experience lessons and gamified learning experiences will be the order of the educational day. Workplaces will transition to virtual spaces and gig economies will allow the greatest minds to share their expertise with diverse organisations globally. This will be a revolution only similar to the open source software revolution.

A pandemic that has gutted world economies and impacted people physically and emotionally, has been the best possible driver for improvement in an education system rife with challenges. At some stage in the near future, we will embark on a post-COVID-19 journey and debrief. The challenge of things returning to “the way they were” remains. Public higher education confirms that a blended approach is necessary as practicals and lab work are required for STEM modules and programmes.

The reality and challenges of a fully online programme are that of the socio-economic background of the majority of the students. Students do not have access to infrastructure such as digital hardware, library resources, and the most important, data connectivity. Proper consideration needs to be given to students who live in geographic areas that do not support data connectivity infrastructure as yet, as well as the likely choice of spending money on data or a loaf of bread.

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