/ 28 July 2023

E-learning: A transformative force in modern education

E Learning
Dr Sandra Roberts says that e-learning is an opportunity for quality education for all South Africans.

Opportunities, obstacles and a way forward

As the digital revolution reshapes education worldwide, e-learning has emerged as a transformative force in South Africa. The Covid-19 pandemic further accelerated its popularity among students and parents, making it a promising avenue for advancing education and bridging the learning gap. 

A need to bridge the gap 

One of the most pressing challenges in implementing e-learning in South Africa is the digital divide. Many rural and underserved areas lack access to reliable internet connections and computing devices, so learners in these areas have their participation in e-learning hindered. The cost of data is also a significant barrier to accessing online resources. 

Even in areas with internet access, a significant portion of the population, both young and old, lack the necessary skills to fully engage with e-learning platforms. Teachers must also be trained to navigate the digital landscape and effectively deliver online instruction, and to do so they require ongoing support and professional development. 

Dr Sandra Roberts is a Learning and Research Consultant who has worked extensively across the African continent. She says these factors must be taken into account when developing e-learning solutions: “People design online education with assumptions about the language that people can use and recognise. This is especially true in adult education, but can be seen at different levels of learning. It is important that curricula consider that people come from different backgrounds when the context crosses borders — and even within borders. Unless there are entrance tests, don’t assume knowledge.” 

Language is another important consideration. “When designing course materials, it is best not to assume that people are very familiar with English,” she explains. “Even in South Africa, we are a multilingual country with 11 official languages.” This adds an additional barrier for students who want to learn in their mother tongue or who may not be proficient in the international language.

The silver lining when it comes to equal education 

One of the most significant advantages of e-learning in South Africa is increased access to quality education, regardless of location. If the challenges surrounding the digital divide and digital literacy can be addressed, the learners in remote and underserved areas have the opportunity to access quality education on par with children attending school in upper-market urban areas, and additional educational content that might not be available at their local schools. 

E-Learning also allows students to study at their own pace and in their preferred environment, with a tailored learning journey that caters to their individual needs. This flexibility accommodates individuals with different learning styles and time commitments, which is particularly valuable to learners who have significant family commitments. 

Traditional education, while less personalised, is also often more costly. By eliminating burdensome expenses such as transport, accommodation and physical learning materials, as well as costs relating to the upkeep and maintenance of physical classrooms, e-learning reduces many of the costs that drive up the price of education. It is important to remember that while it may be cheaper in the long run, there may be significant start-up costs in terms of buying the necessary hardware and ensuring that issues like load-shedding and network down time will not interrupt learning. 

A way forward 

By increasing access to quality education, providing flexibility, and fostering global collaboration, e-learning can empower individuals and contribute to South Africa’s economic and social development. However, addressing the above challenges is essential to ensure that e-learning’s benefits reach all corners of the nation. With thoughtful planning, investment and collaboration between government, the private sector and educational institutions, South Africa can harness the full potential of e-learning and pave the way for a brighter future.


Fostering social interactions in an online learning environment

The rapid growth of online schools has brought about numerous benefits in terms of flexibility and personalised learning, but many parents are concerned that the lack of real-world social interaction could have a negative impact on their children. Learning and Research Consultant Dr Sandra Roberts says that regardless of age, meaningful social interactions are a critical component of a successful learning experience. 

The Covid-19 pandemic saw educators worldwide embrace video and chat tools, enabling real-time communication among teachers and students sitting at home. Since then video conferencing and chat platforms have been further developed with education in mind, facilitating discussions that develop critical skills like active listening, articulation and respectful communication.

Interaction is important

Even when learning alone, learning is always social. “Video and audio help to lay a foundation for a para-social relationship,” she explains. “If a friend doesn’t stay in touch, you lose interest, and the same is true of online learning. Automated courses are getting better with large language models, but people want to feel connected with others.”

It can be valuable for parents and educators to encourage students to turn on their cameras and microphones during virtual sessions. When children can see their educator and each other and be seen by both, it creates a sense of presence, fostering connection and inclusion. 

Group work and assignments with peers using online collaborative tools are also one way to encourage teamwork, cooperation and problem-solving, as well as develop interpersonal skills such as negotiation, compromise and empathetic understanding.

Engagement beyond academics 

According to the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP) Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) lessons should be integrated into the curriculum to help children understand and manage their emotions, practice empathy, and build positive relationships. “SEL is an innovative approach which allows South African learners an education that develops academic, social and emotional competence,” the college website explains. “When we equip teachers with the tools to build strong and trusting bi-directional relationships via a SEL approach, it ultimately transforms classrooms into positive learning environments where learners feel safe.”

This also enables children and adults to apply a set of skills or competencies to navigate through life, ensuring success initially in school, later in the workplace, and ultimately, as constructive and responsible members of society. 

These activities also provide a sense of belonging, identity and purpose. “Learners want to know that someone cares and that someone is walking the learning journey with them,” says Dr Roberts. “It’s the social relationships that keep people truly engaged until the lessons are learnt.” — Kofi Zwana


Unlock your child’s potential with Optimi

The educational landscape is changing fast, and Optimi Home is leading the charge through their flagship offerings — Impaq Homeschooling and the Impaq Online School. 

Impaq Homeschooling and the Impaq Online School are at the forefront of this transformation with innovative e-learning solutions tailored to the unique needs of modern learners, leveraging over two decades of experience in distance learning to provide students from Grades R to 12 with an educational journey that truly unleashes their potential. 

Louise Schoonwinkel, Optimi Home MD, says their company’s model provides the necessary support for learners to reach their full potential.

By embracing technological advancements and responding to increased demands for flexible learning options, Optimi Home provides personalised, engaging and accessible learning opportunities tailored to meet the needs of every child. “We recognise that education will lead to a better future, and this inspired us to create more accessible learning options, especially for learners who may not thrive in traditional public or private school settings,” says Louise Schoonwinkel, Optimi Home MD. “This model also allows us to provide the necessary guidance and support for learners to reach their full potential and be successful in their studies.”

Leveraging over 20 years of experience in distance learning, Optimi Home’s offerings are designed specifically for home and online delivery. The wide variety of elective subjects available allows learners to truly pursue their passions. “Our elective subjects like Visual Arts, Hospitality Studies and Engineering Graphics and Design are not always available at their closest public or independent school,” notes Schoonwinkel. “We also encourage our learners to expand their horizons and offer isiZulu as a First Additional Language option for all grades.” 

Impaq Homeschooling and the Impaq Online School offer learners access to distinct educational pathways that cater to diverse learning styles and schedules, available in both English and Afrikaans. Schoonwinkel says that Impaq Homeschooling caters to those seeking a more flexible and self-paced learning environment, while the Impaq Online School delivers live, interactive classes for a more structured educational experience.

No one-size-fits-all approach to education 

With Impaq Homeschooling, the country’s largest home education curriculum provider, learners from Grades R to 12 can unlock their passions while enjoying the freedom and flexibility of learning at their own pace. “Here, parents are in control of their child’s learning journey,” she explains, adding that parents are provided with CAPS-aligned lesson material and detailed facilitator’s guides to help them facilitate learning at home.

Parents can also enlist the services of a tutor for additional academic support. “Our education specialists are also always at hand to help with academic queries,” Schoonwinkel says. “And we regularly host online subject guidance sessions to help learners grasp the more difficult concepts.” 

For a more structured approach, the Impaq Online School offers live, interactive classes for Grade 4 to 12 learners. With this option, students log in for over 20 hours of online lessons per week. “Learners who opt to enrol at the Impaq Online School will take part in live, daily classes presented by our qualified teachers, according to a set timetable. Our teachers are available in real-time to answer learners’ academic questions, and learners can interact and collaborate with their peers online,” says Schoonwinkel. 

Teachers at the Impaq Online School also provide support through subject-specific extra classes offered outside of the regular timetable for learners who need additional academic assistance. 

The Impaq Online School further expands its focus beyond academics to include overall wellbeing. Weekly fitness classes led by certified coaches are incorporated into the timetable, and learners can also access emotional and mental health resources through the It’sOK app. “This supportive tool allows them to check in and nurture their emotional wellbeing throughout their learning experience, and our dedicated and experienced counsellor is always available to provide additional support whenever needed,” explains Schoonwinkel. 

While personalised paths are available based on each learner’s needs and interests, Impaq’s lesson material aligns with national CAPS standards, ensuring students are well-prepared for further studies and work opportunities after matric.

Impaq leverages online tools and tailored materials designed specifically for impactful home and virtual learning. All students have access to the Optimi Learning Portal (OLP), which provides crafted digital resources such as explanatory videos, quizzes, games and more to enrich the learning experience.

Since 2002, over 150 000 learners have been empowered to take ownership of their education through Impaq’s innovative offerings. Schoonwinkel notes that Impaq matriculants are top achievers almost every year, demonstrating the success of these models in meeting diverse learner needs. 

As e-learning and online education continue to gain momentum worldwide, Optimi Home’s pioneering initiatives are a testament to the transformative power of technology in the realm of education. For South African families seeking alternatives, Impaq Homeschooling and the Impaq Online School are reshaping the educational landscape and paving the way to accessible, world-class learning that unlocks every child’s potential.  — Jamaine Krige


AI-driven educational innovation

In recent years, the intersection of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and education has given rise to transformative advancements in e-learning, reshaping traditional teaching and learning methods in South Africa and across the world. As e-learning continues to gain popularity among parents and learners alike, AI is one way to enhance access, quality and inclusivity in online education.

Personalisation for diverse learning needs

One of the key advantages of AI in e-learning is its ability to tailor educational content to meet the specific needs of individual learners. By analysing data on student performance, preferences and learning styles, AI algorithms can adapt and personalise the curriculum, ensuring that each student receives a tailored learning experience.

In South Africa, where diverse learning needs and backgrounds are prevalent, AI-powered e-learning can make a significant impact. Students stand to benefit from lessons tailored to their varying proficiency levels, language preferences and academic strengths, enabling them to progress at their own pace, which will unlock their full potential.

Overcoming the digital divide with AIR-powered access

The digital divide has been a persistent challenge in South Africa, hindering access to quality education for students in remote and underserved areas. However, AI has the potential to bridge this gap by enabling innovative e-learning solutions that can function on low-bandwidth internet connections and basic computing devices. AI-driven adaptive learning platforms can reduce reliance on high-speed internet, making educational content more accessible to learners in regions with limited connectivity. As AI technology continues to advance, it can also facilitate offline learning experiences, empowering students in even the most remote corners of the country.

Enhancing teacher support and professional development

AI is not meant to replace teachers, but rather to support and empower them in their roles as educators. AI-powered tools can assist teachers by automating administrative tasks, providing data-driven insights into student performance, and offering recommendations for personalised interventions. It can also facilitate teachers’ professional development by providing specialised training programs that cater to their individual needs and weaknesses. By harnessing AI-driven analytics, teachers can refine their instructional strategies, leading to more effective teaching and improved student outcomes.

Enhancing access for all 

South Africa’s linguistic diversity presents a unique challenge in education, with learners often more comfortable studying in their mother tongue. AI-powered language translation tools can play a pivotal role in addressing this issue, as they enable learners to access educational content in various languages, including those they are more proficient in. AI language translation services are continuously improving, making it easier for learners to engage with content in their preferred language. Live captioning and text-to-speech capabilities also mean that learning is more accessible for students with disabilities. This fosters a more inclusive and welcoming learning environment, where language barriers are minimised and educational opportunities are expanded. — Jamaine Krige