Anne Isabella Ritchie is unofficially credited with coining the proverbial saying “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” E-learning, a booming global industry, takes the moral a step further with its capacity to proverbially teach an entire village to fish by making educational content available electronically, free from language, literacy, and social constraints.
E-learning is a broad concept which refers to educational material prepared for consumption on electronic media, and may include portable documents, audio and video. Integrated capacity for user input can create an interactive learning experience independent of a student’s language or literacy capabilities by relying on visual and audio cues.
It’s a $56.2 billion global industry, set to double in the next two to five years as more communities and businesses employ e-learning to obviate the difficulties associated with traditional teaching methods, and some of the costs, too.
A shining example of the successes of everyday e-learning is evident in Taiwan, a state with fewer than 23 million citizens and no natural resources, yet ranking fourth globally in terms financial reserves. Investing heavily in education, its students consistently trump their counterparts from oil-rich countries in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
At the heart of its educational successes is an e-learning infrastructure with internet and computer access in virtually every classroom in every school.
According Taiwan’s Digital Education Institute deputy director-general Dr Lin Li-Chieh, English testing scores, for example, improved by 30% following the internet penetration into classrooms.
In the industrial sector, International mining equipment simulator supplier Immersive Technologies earlier this year released a number of new simulators with modules designed to recreate actual mining conditions to prepare new and inexperienced staff before they are lowered down the shafts. These simulators demonstrate high-end e-learning technology.
According to Immersive Technologies public relations manager Ashley Mullaney, the simulator “reduces the overall training time and allows for the repetitive practice of hazardous or life-threatening scenarios” and eliminates the need to take actual equipment off line for training purposes.
The simulator is also capable of assessing a user’s hand-eye coordination and general skill-level. Similar assessment features can be built into standard interactive e-learning programmes, reducing instruction costs, and mitigating workloads of in-house training staff. These automated assessments can also identify learner weak points, and recommend and provide suitable e-learning modules to remedy shortcomings.
Yet while e-learning is typically associated with high-end devices and internet connections, it is important to remember that it can be tailored to the requirements of virtually any environment where some form of modern technology is available.
With an already-established mobile device ubiquity, South Africa could soon be in a position to leverage the benefits of e-learning both in class rooms, and on a community-wide basis.
Technologies such as ePub, a portable document format which allows for the integration of audio, video, graphics, text, and interactive material into a single distributable unit, have the potential to exponentially increase access to supplementary and self-teaching educational material through all social strata.
Combined with the fact that the document can be stored and accessed on a device with no internet connection, it mitigates the requirement for the physical presence of qualified and skilled educators as well as associated costs.
Although e-learning may still be struggling to escape its infancy in South Africa, it is simply a matter of time before it becomes as commonplace as mobile phones themselves. This will make access to education more accessible and more affordable for everyone, giving each individual more control over his or her own future.
Bangula specialises in creating and converting conventional learning material into epub (e-learning material) with interactive rich media activities and has a portfolio of our work available on request.