Pandemic highlights value of digital learning

7th May 2021 By: Darren Parker

Pandemic highlights value of digital learning

GIEL BEKKER Digital online training formats can ensure that modules and training programs are always available and accessible

The Covid-19 pandemic made all sectors realise just how powerful the online technology at our disposal truly is, says University of Pretoria (UP) project management associate Professor Giel Bekker.

“Platforms, such as Skype, Zoom, GoToMeeting and Microsoft Teams, were available, but the real value and power of these tools are being realised only now.”

He says the lockdown forced tutors to convert training materials to be compatible with online formats in a very short time.

“For theoretical training, the conversion has been fairly easy, but there are many challenges regarding the practical modules. The introduction of gaming technology into training does assist in visualising some practical applications.

The amount of training that can be done digitally, however, depends on the topic of training. For managerial studies, such as project management, about 75% can be taught online, he says.

For subjects involving laboratory and testing work, online training does have its limitations. In such cases, the online component can decrease to about 20%.

On the positive side, digital online training formats can ensure that modules and training programs are always available and accessible, and can be completed after hours or over weekends for shift workers.

Moreover, learning is self-paced, although Bekker feels that this can be a negative aspect as well, since some learners may lack the necessary motivation or drive to get through the training in a reasonable amount of time.

Bekker says the lack of face-to-face engagement diminishes the quality of the interaction between learner and educator, with group discussions also dampened and limited.

He is also concerned about attendees becoming “lost” – a term he uses to describe attendees’ logging into training, only to leave or do other work, thereby not fully engaging with the content.

Another area of significant concern, particularly at remote sites, is a lack of stable Internet connectivity.

Although South Africa’s most pronounced constraint remains a technical one, with the countrywide roll-out of high-speed Internet still lagging behind other countries, he says South Africa is on par with the rest of the developed world from a teaching and content perspective.

“The role of UP is to ensure that training material is dated, accredited and presented to a high educational standard. So far, UP has been successful in achieving that, throughout the pandemic period,” Bekker states.

To this end, UP is continuously updating its online technology, by introducing the Blackboard Collaborate platform during its lockdown last year to support learning and administration across the university.