In blog one of this two-blog series on learning in South Africa, we considered the higher education environment and some of the challenges that teaching models are striving to overcome. Here, we take a look at how online and hybrid learning models can help meet South Africa’s education and skills needs through feature-rich, scalable courses tailored to deliver learning outcomes.
South Africa faces a two-pronged challenge of higher education capacity and the need to bridge a skills gap but investing in more bricks-and-mortar universities would be a huge expense. These reasons, together with the need to support students without access to finance who struggle to travel to university, are fuelling the drive towards a hybrid learning model.
A hybrid learning model blends online with face-to-face tutoring. It opens up studying opportunities by reducing the amount of time that students need to physically spend at university. Through virtual learning via a learning management system (LMS), students may attend university only one week out of four. In this way, the capacity becomes four times what it would otherwise be.
While migration to fully online courses may be a medium to a long-term goal, this aim is more challenging for some courses, such as those that deliver technical subjects. For this reason, a hybrid learning model, if approached in the right way, can bring the benefits of both classroom-based teaching and virtual learning.
Supporting a range of teaching models
The LMS should enable teachers to teach the way they want to teach. While this means support for face-to-face, blended and fully online models, the features of the platform are also important. They should enable student learning at their own pace and engage learners through a range of supported content formats, timely feedback, collaboration and reward and recognition.
The non-verbal feedback that teachers pick up on in the classroom that indicates whether students are engaged or not and how well they are understanding something, isn’t available in the same way online. The giving of timely feedback, student-to-student and student-to-tutor collaboration and the checking of understanding through the LMS are all critical to learning progress when teaching is fully or partly online.
A diverse student population with varying levels of starting knowledge makes a traditional ‘one size fits all’ teaching approach less likely to succeed. With course completion rates a challenge in South Africa, the more the LMS can tailor learning to suit each individual, the higher the chance that students will stay the course.
The modern learning platform can plug knowledge gaps by linking out to additional resources and present the right content to each student at the right time to optimise learning outcomes. Additional resources could include training in digital skills to bring students less literate in this area up to speed. Self-paced programmes ensure students don’t get left behind; they can feel more comfortable with what’s expected of them and how they need to go about meeting those expectations.
What’s clear, is that the LMS needs to be more than a simple content repository – while such an approach may have worked in the past, to sustain a proper hybrid learning model and improve the quality of the digital learning experience, a more feature-rich solution is required. The learning platform should support collaboration through the learning process and be equipped with tools that motivate and engage.
Support for a range of devices
The LMS also needs to work across a range of devices as not all students will have laptops, but they may have access to a smartphone or tablet. Students should have the same experience whichever device they’re using and be able to seamlessly pick up from where they left off with access to full functionality whether they’re on a PC, tablet or smartphone.
Responsive web design adapts layout according to device screen so that the entire learning environment can be accessed from any browser, including mobile. Most course content includes a range of document types and students should be able to view them on all devices without being sent out of the platform to separate document viewers.
Teachers need time-saving tools that help them achieve a bigger impact, particularly as the online student to tutor ratio is likely to increase. Such tools include the ability to pre-set messages that are automatically triggered when specific milestones are reached. They could include a ‘welcome’ message at the start of a course, a check-in with students who haven’t logged in for a while or are failing to meet targets, and a ‘well done’ when a learning outcome is achieved.
Analytics in the platform enables action to be taken based on actual data and this can make a big difference to learning outcomes as spotting a struggling student and dealing with any issues negatively impacting their studies can help them on their way to completing their course.
To be effective for teachers, the online learning platform needs to be convenient to adopt, help them address the challenges they face in their teaching environment and support the achievement of learning outcomes.
Technology-enabled virtual learning can help support the provision of flexible, personalised and engaging learning experiences. Through individualised learning pathways that can be accessed from a range of devices, student needs can be supported, minimising student drop-out and maximising learning outcomes. Innovative tools help teaching and administrative staff implement course programmes efficiently, while data from the platform supports progress monitoring and timely interventions to keep students on track.