The value of e-learning

To hope that e-learning is adopted overnight would be futile, but surely the conversation needs to begin and stakeholders must weigh the pros and cons

To hope that e-learning is adopted overnight would be futile, but surely the conversation needs to begin and stakeholders must weigh the pros and cons

#DigitalDialogue with Delta Milayo Ndou
The value of e-learning is summed up nicely by Jennifer Fleming’s assertion that teaching in the Internet age means we must teach tomorrow’s skills today.

Or conversely, learning in the Internet age means children must learn tomorrow’s skills today.

Zimbabwean parents take education very seriously and often invest in supplementary tutelage offered through conventional learning methods such as extra lessons, private lessons and holiday lessons.

While the value of education is self-evident, most parents are yet to reflect upon the benefits of e-learning.

If it can be said that the goal of learning is to acquire knowledge and skills that will enable one to thrive in the future — then there is a need to reflect on the kind of future that children will inhabit.

If that future is digital, then the value of e-learning becomes apparent. Like education, I have found that access to the Internet can level the playing field.

I know many young people who, because they managed to get Internet access, were able to change the course of their lives through self-taught digital skills and by using technology to highlight their talents.

In a world where the digitally skilled can compete for jobs online, work remotely to deliver across time-zones and in defiance of geographical boundaries — e-learning is invaluable.

As is often touted, education is indeed the key to success, but in the digital age, the locks are undoubtedly changing.Children must have more than the key to success, they must have the master-key to achieve success in a digital context.

What if parents contributed towards e-learning?
How different is e-learning from the models of remote learning that Zimbabweans are accustomed to?

In the past, institutions that offered distance learning programmes would deliver course material to students through the post and students would, in turn, submit their assignments through the post.

In recent years, electronic mail (e-mail) has been widely adopted to facilitate remote teaching and distant learning, mainly by tertiary institutions and for the benefit of college-level students.

Examples that come to mind include tertiary institutions such as Zimbabwe Open University (ZOU) and University of South Africa (UNISA). I reckon that introducing e-learning (i.e learning conducted via electronic media via the Internet) is most advantageous from as early as the primary school level and right through to secondary as well as high school levels.

Many Zimbabwean schools are woefully under-resourced and for that reason, I appreciate that the introduction of e-learning is likely at the bottom of schools’ priority lists, if its included at all.

While e-learning may justifiably be at the bottom of the priority lists for many schools, I am curious about where e-learning is placed in the priority lists of parents.

Through parents’ representative bodies such as the School Development Committees (or Associations) SDC/SDA — I think parents can take a more proactive approach in pooling together resources to introduce e-learning within schools.

Given that parents are already cash-strapped, some of the measures they could explore towards ensuring their children acquire basic digital skills early require some creativity.

Parents are often required to contribute towards the purchase of school buses or the construction of sports facilities or even the supplementing of salaries for school staff.

Although often demanded by way of coercion, these contributions go a long way in filling gaps where the school and the parents agree that the need is pressing and the benefit is evident.

Can’t similar contributions be made towards introducing or facilitating e-learning at schools so that as many children as possible gain an early advantage?

Teaching tomorrow’s skills today through e-learning

There are at least four prerequisites for successfully introducing e-learning in schools or at home. Firstly, there must be Internet access; secondly there must be devices (desktops, laptops, tablets, etc) that can connect to the Internet; thirdly there must be digitally literate adults to assist (i.e teachers at school or parents at home) and fourthly there must be a relevant e-learning course that aligns with the syllabi.

The question for any SDC/SDA body to ponder (and engage the school) is whether these four prerequisites are within their reach as a collective.

To hope that e-learning is adopted overnight would be futile, but surely the conversation needs to begin and stakeholders must weigh the pros and cons.

As digital natives, children need to be equipped with the skills that will allow them to thrive in a digital world.

Parenting a preparative responsibility in that we try to anticipate what our children will need in future and then seek to equip them with the relevant skills and values that will enable them to meet future challenges.

We all know it is important that children learn (acquire knowledge), it is time to reflect on what they learn and how they learn it — because in a digital context, these factors count for something.

In my more (admittedly) outlandish imaginings, I imagined schools that had no computer centres or trained computer teachers hiring Internet cafes every Friday (or whenever) to conduct computer lessons.

I imagined that instead of having only drama and Interact clubs, etc – schools could form computer clubs that would have parents contributing for field trips to sites where various technology was used/showcased.

I imagined that perhaps it would be the parents of the children in the computer clubs who could contribute towards the hiring of aforementioned Internet cafes (at hopefully lowered rates negotiated by between the school and café owners), if doing so at a large scale proved difficult — then willing and financially able parents would be able to get their children exposed to digital tools, platforms and learning early.

I imagined that having hired Internet cafés, the computer clubs could tap into youth volunteers or tech organisations with proven digital skills to come and help students learn basic computer skills.

I imagined that through collaboration and using creative ways, it would be possible to have even the less-privileged students getting a chance to acquire basic computer skills.

But obviously, some of these thoughts seem absurdly fanciful in a context of under-resourced schools, cash shortages and all the stressful realities that parents face each day.

Nevertheless, someone somewhere has to be thinking about tomorrow and whether we are equipping young learners with the skills they will need to have a fighting chance.

Delta is a digital evangelist who advocates technology-driven solutions. Follow her on Twitter: @deltandou

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