Blended learning 'becoming the norm'
One of the latest learning methods to emerge at the turn of the millennium - blended learning - is set to grow significantly this year.
This is according to online training solutions provider, iLearn, which defines blended learning as a model of education characterised by a combination of self-paced learning with shorter face-to-face instruction.
iLearn points out that experts in the field of online or digital education suggest that, this year, the model will begin to infiltrate school-level learning and tertiary institutions.
The company believes one of the main drivers behind this industry is the advancement of technology to provide learners with access to resources in order to overcome logistic issues such as travel and cost.
"As the need continues to grow for learning in your own time and space, so will the choice of online, self-paced learning evolve and become the preferred learning method," explains Richard Rayne, MD of iLearn.
Local ICT services company, Gijima also notes that, the world over, blended learning is fast becoming the norm, as developments in technology, combined with shifts in education models, are transforming the way academic institutions deliver education, as well as learners' preferred methods of learning.
"Shifts in education models and evolving technologies are driving the need for interactive, rich, media-based interaction between students and educators," says Gijima's interim CEO, Eileen Wilton.
Wilton adds that Gijima sees great potential for blended learning technologies in SA.
"Done correctly, blended learning helps to improve resource utilisation at educational institutions, complementing traditional class interactions, and enhancing skills such as online content development and online learning. In the South African context, it will help ready our learners for self-directed and continuous learning as they further their careers after formal study," says Wilton.
Rayne believes using the Internet to facilitate distance education and secure qualifications online will emerge as a top socio-economic trend in 2013.
"My view is that there is an abundance of very successful tertiary educational institutions in SA that are producing highly qualified and employable candidates. However, with regards to vocational training, I think there is a huge gap here - learning institutions need to produce far more candidates with more practical and working knowledge and not theory only," he says.
In his opinion, there is no reason, other than connectivity, why online training could not work for the South African market. "[Connectivity] is no longer really a barrier to accessing online course products, as Internet speeds are more than sufficient and have become widely available - even at Internet cafes."
The projected growth of the blended learning model could not take place at a more opportune time, given the challenges facing education in the country, Rayne continues. Current statistics put the South African unemployment rate at over 27%, and experts in education suggest there is still a huge lack of general administrative skills in lower-level employees, especially within government, as well as a lack of motivation among employees to advance their careers.
"The overall challenge for all training service providers is ensuring the quality of the training experience, and more importantly, subsequent impact to the delegates. Despite these, we forecast a huge increase in demand for more innovative learning solutions that challenge the traditional methodologies," he concludes.