Education’s digital transformation

Read time 5min 10sec
Comments (0)
Barbara Mallinson, Obami.
Barbara Mallinson, Obami.

Covid-19 has created the greatest disruption to education systems in human history. The pandemic affected nearly 1.6 billion learners across over 190 countries. According to the United Nations, the closure of schools and other learning institutions impacted around 94% of the world’s student population and as much as 99% of learners in low and lower-middle income countries. Ensuring learning continuity amid global lockdowns and school closures has been a key priority for governments the world over, many of which turned to information and communication technologies to deliver lessons online.

We need to see technology as an enabler. Technology doesn’t dictate teaching methodologies.

Mmaki Jantjies, University of the Western Cape

“We need to see technology as an enabler. But technology doesn’t dictate teaching methodologies,” says Mmaki Jantjies, an associate professor of information systems at the University of the Western Cape. That being said, it can promote innovation and address the education industry’s resource gaps. “Open educational resources enable a child sitting anywhere in the world to access learning materials, at any time. This changes our understanding of what learning is – using technology, learning moves outside of the classroom.”

Barbara Mallinson, founder and CEO of Obami, a digital learning solutions company that creates cloud-based learning solutions for organisations and schools, acknowledges that technology is an education enabler, but believes that education systems have failed to recognise it as such in the past. “Traditionally, we’ve seen tech set to the side and only offered via stand-alone subjects like computer studies or IT.”

It seems ridiculous that organisations still expect their employees to attend face-to-face training workshops that take them out of the flow of work for an entire day, despite this being shown to be the least preferred, and least effective, method of learning.”

Barbara Mallinson, Obami

What is encouraging, however, is that we are starting to place far greater value on technology and recognising the significant role it can play in augmenting how we teach and learn.

Education meets business

When Obami first launched in 2010, its focus was on basic education. Obami offered a platform to connect teachers, learners and parents to one another. The technology platform supported the sharing of rich media content and facilitated digital assessment, allowing users to engage with digital learning material and with one another. “While we acquired decent traction in the early days – particularly with learners – we also encountered some pretty big challenges, specific to the basic education market. Hurdles included everything from teacher resistance and the cost of data to an unsustainable business model.”

Global education in crisis

Before the pandemic, the world was already facing a formidable challenge when it comes to fulfilling the promise of delivering education as a basic human right, a 2020 policy brief from the United Nations says. Despite enrolment in early grades being near universal in most countries, a massive number of children – more than 250 million – aren’t actually attending school and a staggering 800 million adults across the globe are illiterate.

Mallinson admits that the decision to open up Obami beyond schools in 2014 was a matter of survival. “We realised that the product we’d built was immensely powerful and could be used by any organisation to facilitate any sort of learning intervention. After all, learning experiences are not limited to basic education.” The Obami platform and its services are now available to schools, colleges, small businesses, corporates, franchises, NGOs and even government.

Twenty years ago, the average employee knew exactly what was required of them to do their job. But today’s landscape has shifted, she says. The nature of work is constantly changing, and around 85% of the jobs that will be available come 2030 don’t even exist yet. More often than not, employees turn to their smartphones when they’re looking for information that will help them to do their jobs better. To provide some perspective, while 23% of workers have completed a company course within the last two years, 70% have learned something from an online video within the past 24 hours. “So, it seems ridiculous that organisations still expect their employees to attend face-to-face training workshops that disrupt the flow of their work for an entire day, despite this being shown to be the least preferred, and least effective, method of learning.”

Distance learning

Nobody was ready for what hit us with Covid-19, says Jantjies. Talking to many of the teachers she works with, Jantjies has noticed that many of them lack the digital learning management systems needed to allow them to access teaching resources outside of the classroom. What has been encouraging, however, is witnessing under-resourced schools coming up with creative ways to make the best of a bad situation and using less advanced and less high-tech tools to keep teaching. For example, some teachers started using messaging services like WhatsApp to distribute learning materials to parents and students, she says. We’ve also seen how traditional media like radio and TV have aided distance learning. This doesn’t diminish the need for, or the value of, more high-tech solutions, it just illustrates the importance of matching the digital solution to the problem at hand.

Learning lessons from the pandemic

Every education system around the world took a hard knock with the pandemic. According to Obami’s Barbara Mallinson, organisations have responded to the disruption in one of three ways.

  1. Wait it out – These organisations/schools did nothing and are waiting for the return to ‘normality’ so that they can pick up where they left off and carry on with their old ways.
  2. Panic – These organisations/schools chucked a whole lot of money (and effort) at nothing. “By this, I mean that as the pandemic set in and organisations realised the immensity of the situation, some simply went with the first solution they came across and expected results to follow.”
  3. Strategic – These organisations/schools used the pandemic as an opportunity. They took time and exerted effort to understand what the future of learning looks like and developed long-term solutions, even if they only implemented these in a phased approach. 

Digital transformation is modern culture – it exists because of our curiosity to explore and test the boundaries of what we can do, notes Mallinson. On the whole, she believes that schools have been slow to innovate. When you look at more traditional educational institutions, there’s less transformation taking place when compared to the workplace, where digital transformation is a given. But this is because their drivers are so different. “Organisations have to attract customers, generate income and turn a profit so that they can continue to exist,” she says, adding that this motivates them to constantly look for new ways to be as efficient as possible. Technology is (almost) always used as a vehicle to achieving this.

“Schools should lean towards a more ‘business-minded’ approach. And businesses could benefit being more ‘learner- minded’,” she says.

When it comes to education, we have to appreciate what technology can do beyond the generic, adds Mallinson. From using powerful learning experience platforms to drive engagement and results, to leveraging data to signal what changes a learner – or teacher – can make to increase their chance of a successful outcome.

“Technology – and specifically how we use technology in learning – is what will drive the future of humanity.”

* This feature was first published in the June edition of ITWeb's Brainstorm magazine.

Login with
4 hours ago
Be the first to comment
See also