[Column] Jens Ischebeck: Online Education - Linking up Africa with some of the best colleges in the world
Bill Gates wrote in his 2015 letter to his foundation that soon, world class education will just be several computer taps away, regardless of where anyone lives. The great news is that online education and e-learning has the power to knock down the geographical barriers to close the skill gap and ensure that everyone in Africa with access to the internet can attain a good education. As seen in other parts of the world, online courses such as an online MBA program, or an online Master program, can serve as a stand-alone source for official education if the university or college is accredited by the government of the country in which the learner resides, or in the country where the program has been devised. The latter for example, could mean a brick and mortar US college or university which runs both on-campus programs and e-learning programs, both of which are recognized by the US government. In such distance learning cases, there are no compulsory visits to the brick and mortar institutions as they could be on the other side of the world to where the learner actually lives. There are in fact, countless online courses which do not require hands on practical work, so not attending regular classes is not compulsory.
The Global Business School's Network's Chief Executive Officer, the economist, Guy Pfefferman, highlights Africa's negligence towards African higher education in the 2000 UN's Millennium Development Goals. He notes that the reason for this shortfall is down to its exclusive concentration on primary education. The fact of the matter is that in the case of Africa, the need for higher education has outstripped supply, and this has led to higher education organisations in the private sector rapidly springing up. Furthermore, the quality of the higher education has turned out to be a massive challenge as the financing has not kept up with the huge rate of enrollment. And while it can be said that throughout many regions of Africa, higher education has been relisted on the agenda for development, Pfefferman puts forward the case that substantial reform is needed for Africa's existing institutions. He notes that radical change is essential if the continent is to provide the necessary skills for employment. Pfefferman states that the only way to attain this is via e-learning. Clearly MOOC courses, online MBA programs, online Master programs, and online graduate degrees are the courses of the future that will help make Africa a thriving and booming
Although it can be said that the term “online” was not particularly appealing some 30 years ago, all that has now changed. The 21st Century is bringing with it high tech internet and computer availability for countless millions across the continent of Africa, and the number of people with access is growing every day. Eight years ago, Sub-Saharan Africa received its initial submarine fibre optic international cable connections. Since that time, the continent has had numerous cable systems laid on the east and West African coasts, and every year more nations are becoming connected.
There are a number of elements which have spurred the increase in enrolling for online courses in Africa. These include: 1. People who are driven to attain an educational goal regardless of being in a poor economic situation. In the past this would have meant that they could not attend a traditional college, but now they have the opportunity to opt for online courses as a form of stand-alone or means of add-on education. 2. Younger individuals opting for a non-traditional method of studying in order to attain a qualification which will help them with their intended career, or for the purpose of advancing their career while simultaneously advancing or finishing their education via online courses. And 3. Mature students such as those from their late 20s onwards who have not had the opportunity to study before due to family or work commitments.
There is a rising amount of local and regional companies which provide products and materials for online courses and exam preparations, the classical fields of m-learning. This African providers guide illustrates a list of edtech startups in several countries.
The Pros and Cons of Online Courses
It is extremely important to contemplate the advantages and disadvantages of online courses. This will ensure that you will be ready to address the various challenges of e-learning and being in this innovative situation, and that you will be able to make the best of all the new possibilities that come with it.
The Pros of an Online College
Learning via online courses has the potential to be hugely successful if the learners are motivated, have an independent outlook, are well organised and self-disciplined. Excellent time management skills are also a must. There are three main advantages to this form of e-learning: the convenience, the greatly reduced cost, the technology, and the additional benefits.
Convenience of e-learning
This relates to various aspects such as the duration of the e-learning program, the time of day a student chooses to study, and the location they do it in. There is no need to commute to a college, and so you save on traveling time. Furthermore, as colleges in Africa are often many miles from learner's homes, it would be impossible for many people to gain a qualification at a bricks and mortar college as they would have to rent somewhere to live within the district, thereby generating more expenses, and they would also have to cease any family duties. E-learning means that students are not faced with any geographical location constraints when they select distance education options. Moreover, there is no constraint on the pace of learning, as online courses usually allow you to work at your own speed. When you study via mobile learning, you are also able to fully express yourself through writing, which can be far easier than doing so verbally. Moreover, you are able to be part of virtual discussions as opposed to a professor-led lecture. In addition, m-learning instructions and course work are frequently customized to fit your subject area and field. e-learning also facilitates excellent quality dialogue: a student has the ability to cautiously reflect on their caliber of thinking on the comments from other students prior to answering. Online learning is also student-centered: learners are supposed to read the contributions of their fellow students, however, they only need to actively pursue the parts which are most applicable to their requirements. Another great e-learning benefit is the huge access to resources: it is so simple to find quality information from all over the world. And students and guest speakers from other online learning institutions are also easy to access.
Naturally, so many people in the Sub-Sahara region of Africa are interested in buoying online courses simply because they are far less expensive than physically attending a trade school program or going to a regular college. Also, when a student living in Africa dreams of having a qualification from an Ivy League university or college in the US such as Harvard, but has no means of funding it, and even for those who could, many would be unable to leave their family and other commitments, there is a solution. Such enterprising individuals are delighted to find out that they can enroll on an e-course at an online college which may either offer solely online courses, or offer both traditional learning and online courses. And some online courses such as MOOCS (massive online open courses), are free and open to unlimited participation from people living all over the planet, are available from some of the world's top universities and colleges. And although online education remains in its infancy in Central and South Africa, in the case of the latter, the government has shown that they are dedicated to the expansion and improvement of e-learning programs and opportunities, and various online programs have shown that this is highly feasible within the current marketplace. It is only a matter of time before other regions in Africa follow suit.
Saving Money by Purchasing an Online College Course
And whether someone is doing an online graduate degree, an online MBA or MOOCS, they do not have to worry about travelling expenses to the college or paying accommodation and housing costs at or nearby the college. In addition, individuals studying online courses can continue with their regular job while taking an e-course.
The Advantages of the Latest Technology
Another major advantage is the cutting-edge technology that is now taking hold throughout Africa. This means that you can do an online course anywhere in Sub-Sahara Africa where you have access to a computer. An e-course provides you with a great chance to practise using the internet and various software packages. You will also be able to find out about and start using new technologies. All these elements will prove very useful in the future whether it is for further studies or work.
Other Benefits of e-learning on online colleges
Further benefits of online courses include interacting with fellow e-course students from all over the world. For example, some of the colleges running MOOCS online courses and online MBA courses, have participants from all corners of the planet, and even tiny islands that many people have not even heard of. And the great continent of Africa is so vast, that it is a magnificent way to unite African e-course students as well.
And on the subject of discrimination, online courses and e-learning bypasses all forms of discrimination on grounds which are religious, cultural, sexual, and racial. All e-courses are designed to give fair and equal participation to all students, so the one who is the most outgoing is unable to monopolise any online course discussion. Students who tend to be introverted find that they are very well suited to online courses, as do individuals who find it easy to learn via visual cues, and as do those who need more time than they would be given at a regular college, so they can fully comprehend the material, and have extended time for assignments. This helps to alleviate stress, particularly on online MBA courses and other difficult e-courses.
Another advantage of distance education is synergy: this is the excellent level of engaging interaction between the learner and the professor, in addition to the dynamic interaction between online course learners. Resources, ideas and perspectives can be shared and discussed, and this is very beneficial to all concerned. There is also a perpetual synergy which is produced via the distance education process as every student plays his or her role in contributing to the m-learning discussions and remarking on other student’s work. Another pro of mobile learning is creative teaching: e-learning adult education courses normally offer an interactive learning environment. Therefore, distance education is likely to promote critical thinking and self-direction. This is particularly the case with the semi-autonomous virtual classrooms which m-learning provides. These makes a creative and innovative access to learning even more
Studying at a traditional college or university outside Africa can mean that there are potential visa and immigration problems. With e-learning, this is something that you never have to face.
The Cons of an Online College
If a student is not motivated, does not have an independent outlook, is badly organised and not self-disciplined, then they will not find this method of studying amenable to their approach. There are three main disadvantages to this form of e-learning: the financial costs of scheduling and technology, assessment effectiveness, and restricted social interaction.
Limited Social Interaction
Online courses offer very limited chances for e-students to physically meet with and have live interaction with other students or professors. This is particularly the case with e-courses which are self-paced, thereby making it hard to develop connections with other e-learners. As an online college attracts people from all over the world, living for example, in Sub-Sahara Africa would make it virtually impossible to meet up with someone in India. Furthermore, with mobile learning, networking opportunities are potentially limited due to the fact that there are no off-line meet-ups. Generally, m-learning communication is via discussion groups, a chat room, or email. To that end, distance education students, whether they are doing an online MBA program, an online Master program, an online undergraduate degree, or a MOOCS course, never receive personalised attention from the tutor regarding feedback or live interaction. In addition to this, with online courses, there is not the normal live socialising like there is at a traditional college campus where there are all kinds of activities and clubs to join.
Technology Scheduling and Cost
Another disadvantage of online courses and m-learning involve computer use. Firstly, learners doing an online MBA, online Master program, or online undergraduate degree, might have to become acquainted with complex new computer skills which are required for their program. They may have to learn how to troubleshoot, which can be quite difficult, and they may need to buy new computer programs which are suitable for their m-learning course. Another disadvantage is the time it takes to boot up your computer. Moreover, mobile learning involving an online undergraduate degree, an online Master program, or an online MBA, may require the student to have a high speed internet connection, and a high level of megabyte usage, and this can be quite expensive in certain regions of Sub-Sahara Africa.
Online Courses with a Different Time Zone
If you are undertaking one of the online courses such as an online MBA program which includes live seminars and lectures, it could coincide with the hours that you work, which would make it difficult for you. You may also have to adjust and arrange your study agenda around the professor's assignment due time and date. And this is very different in America compared to Sub-Sahara Africa.
The Effectiveness of Mobile Learning Assessments
In the case of m-learning, it is not easy to apply the tools which are used in a conventional classroom. Moreover, it is not easy to make a measurement of the m-learning program's results. To that end, there is a question mark as to whether students are successfully comprehending exactly what the professor is trying to get across, and that they are learning everything they should be. After all, m-learning assessments cannot test students on everything they have been taught. Also, in cases where m-learning students have previously studied at a traditional college, taking on the new software and no longer attending live seminars and receiving typed handouts could make such students feel uncomfortable.
Edtech Africa summary
In summary, some online courses can prove to be a magic key which can instantaneously unlock an unending spectrum of education in countless subjects to millions of young and mature African people. Whether an individual wants to take a short course, or build on qualifications they already have, by taking an online MBA, an online Master, or an online undergraduate degree, high quality online courses from reputable universities, colleges and other institutions, are the answer to giving many Africans a wonderful chance at improving their lives by finding employment. Moreover, collectively, the anticipated surge in online learning is very likely to make Africa far more prosperous, and to raise the standard of living both both men and women alike. The flexibility of online learning such as studying for an online MBA program, makes it easy for both male and female learners to work around their family commitments and work duties. The trade-off for this form of education is realistic, particularly as African students are generally restricted to a low budget, do not always have regular access to education, and have high hurdles to jump in order to better themselves via learning. Furthermore, there is a rapidly growing internet and mobile phone penetration, which will be of great benefit. Unlike many countries in the Western world, African communities and families are very close, and even if an individual who wants to study has the necessary funds, leaving their family and responsibilities would not be possible. So this is a win-win situation. Africa is endowed with many people who have brilliant minds, yet before this technical educational revolution, most did not have a chance to excel at subjects which they are interested in. Their time has finally
The first point of contact for e-learning and all categories of online courses including a MOOC, an online MBA, an online Master, or an online undergraduate degree, particularly for East Africa, is: apps-for-learning.com. If you have any questions you can simply send a message and you will be answered as soon as possible.
Also by Jens Ischebeck:
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