Educational technology, or edtech for short, is defined by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology as “the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.” Edtech encompasses both the technological resources and educational theory used to improve learning outcomes.
The use of technology to facilitate learning has exploded worldwide in recent years. Educators can access tools such as electronic learning, online courses and multi-media lessons to provide students with access to information.
Edtech: What is e-learning?
Electronic learning (= e-learning) is just one component of Edtech but is a term most people are familiar with. The term has been used since the late 1990’s and refers to the use of electronic devices like computers in learning situations such as online courses, multimedia presentations or interactive classrooms. E-learning has evolved over the years and now includes terms such as mobile learning or m-learning which refers to learning via hand held mobile devices such as smart phones, tablets and electronic notebooks.
E-learning is increasingly being used to reach students who currently have little or no access to traditional bricks and mortar schools. This is of particular relevance in Africa where, according to Unesco, 30 million primary-age children are not attending school. A more recent trend has seen the emergence of massive open online courses (MOOCs) as they are more commonly known. A MOOC is an online course with open access and unlimited participation available via the web. Many MOOCs provide interactive user forums and encourage interaction between students and lecturers.
Who can benefit from e-learning?
E-learning is an incredible resource and its use extends far beyond the traditional teacher-student relationships. E-learning can be a mechanism for delivering educational material, including university level courses, as an aid in classrooms, or a way of delivering professional development courses to employees or sharing information via social media.
It allows students, teachers, employees and the general community to access high quality digital learning platforms.
Opportunities for edtech
Africa is perfectly situated to embrace the opportunities the e-learning revolution provides. Smart phone usage is skyrocketing, internet access has improved and the technology has become more affordable. According to the global organisation ‘We are Social’ in its Digital in 2016 Report, the number of South Africans actively accessing the internet grew by 1.9 million from 24.9 million in January 2015 to 26.8 million in January 2016. This equates to just under 50% of the total population considered an active internet user.
The majority of South Africa’s adult population owns a phone and smart phones make up the majority of these phones at 60%. Smart phones have captured the African market, the challenge now is embrace this technology and utilise it as an educational resource accessible to everyone. In addition, South Africa is experiencing growth in mobile app usage with a Mobile Marketing Association South Africa (MMAS) report showing that 17.7 million of the 37.2 million adult population make use of mobile apps or access the internet via their smartphones.
The country also leads in mobile application downloads in the Sub-Saharan African region. Mobile apps provide a great opportunity for tapping into the Edtech industry by providing mobile learning in an ‘easy to access anywhere’ format.
Navigating the maze
There are a number of m-learning providers in South Africa, including schools, universities, non-profit and business enterprises. Established universities such as the University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch University and Wits University deliver online courses through the MOOC platform. These courses are locally produced and provide an African context.
MOOC SA is an online college with many free courses. The college acts as a collection of free courses produced by professionals in the region and elsewhere. Its focus is on providing free education, not necessarily on achieving a qualification.
Government commitment to m-learning is evidenced by the Western Cape Education Department’s e-learning Game Changer Strategy. Part of this strategy is the development of an ePortal where learners and teachers can access information and digital assets including apps, videos, ebooks and online courses.
Another exciting m-learning initiative emerged in 2016 with the launch of THINK Digital College. This virtual school provides an alternative education system for children that is flexible, cost effective and only requires a smart phone or tablet plus internet access.
Edtech: A bright future?
Edtech has a promising future in Africa. There is a wealth of resources currently available, with more coming online all the time. Although there are many challenges facing education in Africa today (languages, cultures, costs), technology may prove to be part of the solution. It can provide quality educational resources that are accessible to students who cannot access traditional schools or universities, due to their location or financial status. If it succeeds, education for everyone will become a reality.
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. Check out our list of regional edtech providers.
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Online courses guide Africa: For your personal success with e-learning!