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E-learning: Opening Frontiers to the Future

03 April, 2014

Source: ICT Africa

 
Kihara Kimachia

The word "E-learning" has become a buzz word in many institutions of higher learning around the world. E-learning is the use of electronic media and ICT to deliver learning. Imagine a situation where you can log into an online portal and listen to a lecture, ask questions and interact with classmates. Many universities around the world have launched Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC) to deliver education to a greater number of students.

The use of electronic media and ICT in education is transforming the economic landscape of Africa. Africa suffers from a critical shortage of essential skills that are needed to stimulate essential sectors such as natural resources, tourism and finance. These skills are gained in the classroom as well as on-the-job-training. Skill development is hindered by high tuition fees charged by universities, colleges and vocational institutes across Africa.

By making use of e-learning to deliver learning, educational institutions and employers can impart vital skills to the workforce.

Benefits of e-learning
There are several inherent benefits of e-learning. Key among them is:

Lower Costs
There is no doubt that e-learning is more cost-effective in the delivery of learning in a classroom situation. It has also been found to lower costs in organizational training because the single largest training cost for an organization is the cost of staff attending the course. Staff has to leave their work stations unmanned. This hidden cost is much higher that the direct delivery costs of hiring trainers, purchasing course materials, travel and accommodation.

Faster delivery
In a traditional situation, the speed with which learning is delivered is directly related to the availability of classrooms and instructors. E-learning eliminates the need for classrooms and many trainers. One instructor can deliver a lesson to hundreds, thousands and even millions of virtual students.

More effective learning
Several studies have been carried out to assess the effectiveness of e-learning. There are many sticky points for debate on this issue but the consensus established from all studies is that e-learning is more effective than traditional classroom training when it leverages its underlying advantages to offer real-time communication, interactivity and tutorials.

Lower environmental impact
Climate change and environmental degradation are issues of major concern in the world today. Traditional classroom learning contributes to tree cover reduction due to heavy reliance on paper and paper products. CO2 emissions are also higher in classroom setups because institutions of learning often have to provide meals and housing, or, students have to travel to school. An Open University study found that e-learning courses use almost 90% less energy and produce 85% fewer emissions when compared to traditional campus study.

Trail Blazers
Blazing the trail of e-learning in Africa is the African Virtual University (AVU) based in Nairobi, Kenya and operating in 27 African countries. This Pan-African project began in 1997. Initially a project of the World Bank, it was eventually handed over to African governments in 2003. The distance education program was intended to provide sub-Saharan countries with higher education in several fields.

To date, the AVU has provided training to thousands of African business managers, technicians and engineers. The AVU currently has over ten e-learning centers and has courses available in English, French and Portuguese.

Many African nations are struggling to build education infrastructure. They are also struggling to meet a massive demand for primary, secondary, vocational and university instructors. Investments in e-learning programs can help countries meet their education goals faster, more effectively and at a lower cost.


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