Challenges of Elearning in Zimbabwe

Over the past few months, no skill had been in sore demand as the one to carry out E-learning. This supposedly involves using electronic platforms to deliver education, and to get it on the part of the student.

For this to succeed, some assumptions have to hold true:

This post is just a reflection on these challenges, and what policy-makers should consider if ever education has to survive beyond the Covid-19 lock downs.

Computer literacy

The first challenge has to do with the computer literacy of both players–the teacher and the pupil, the lecturer and the student, the instructor and the trainee. Both may be motivated to take the education forward, and may have the required gadgets, but then lack the skill to use them.

Thus, it is not adequate for one to claim that they have this and that gadget. For example, I may have the latest and the powerful tablet on the market, but lacking the skill for conducting the e-learning, it will be helpless.

The literacy I am referring to here has to do with not only knowing how to browse the internet, open files and so on. This has to do with setting up your environment to receive or deliver lessons.

A computer as a tool can only take you that far: but you need specialised skills to engage in a fruitful education. Knowing how to research, submit assignments, follow remote courses and safely manage your sessions are some of these skills for making e-learning a success.

Having the requisite tools

Okay, I should have started with this one, but I guess the order does not matter here. The idea was to start with computer literacy because when we talk of e-learning, this is the major assumption that should hold true anyway. However, let us talk of gadgets.

An e-learning platform is only possible because of the appropriate tools. In this case, we are talking of computers, tablets, phones etc. Let us just say mobile and desktop platforms.

In many institutions of higher learning, the question of computer literacy is out of question: almost all students know how to use a computer, such that we cannot worry about their literacy. In fact, information literacy skills (ILS) programmes have come to equip students at the University of Zimbabwe with this skill in recent years.

The problem has to do with both the teacher and the pupil having gadgets. A fruitful e-learning programme has to take into account recreating the classroom experience. Love it or hate it, the traditional classroom in my opinion is maximised for both learner and teacher productivity. Other than timetables, the setting is just tuned to concentration.

So with gadgets, the teacher should be able to prepare engaging multimedia content, handouts, guides and notes for use by the learner. On the other hand, the learner has to have the gadget to receive these.

While I understand that the Whatsapp platform had been used for this purpose (as a number of people possess smartphones these days), it remains to be seen whether a classroom setting can be made.

This brings me to that aspect of network connectivity: communication must take place in real-time for some activities. For example, submission of assignments, group activities and discussions. With our perennial troubles of data charges, the learning process is compromised.

Motivation

The reason why traditional classroom setting is great has to do with motivation. Learning is not an enjoyable process for a subject you may not be familiar with. Online education as stated in this post, requires a lot of commitment.

The key to getting this is through motivation: both the learner and the teacher have to be motivated. This is often the case if both have a clear objective. I think any lesson or lecture–whether delivered face-to-face or online–must begin with objectives. These objectives are a clear indicator of whether at the end of the lesson the concepts were taught and understood.

Objectives also serve to motivate the learner and the teacher: having been introduced to a topic through its set objectives, one has to be eager to master the content. This way, motivation must not be built for the entire course alone, but for each lecture or lesson.

Other issues to be addressed should include rewards and penalties. This way, the learner and the teacher will avoid penalties, attracting rewards, by completing tasks on deadlines. So,

  • Any e-learning programme must have set objectives;
  • Any lesson must be followed by tasks such as exercises, assignments or an exam to measure understanding;
  • Tasks must be completed within set time-frames. It is not helpful just to deliver lessons and leave it at that: when should assignments be handed in?
  • Sticking to deadlines can be seen in the setting of hard and soft deadlines.

Without deadlines, an e-learning programme is stripped of its value as a medium of education.

An Orientation to E-Learning Platform

Finally, even if we have the gadgets, are computer literate, and motivated, there is an issue of orientation to e-learning platforms. Ever since the dawn of the Internet, classes had been delivered online. In fact, the concept of Mass Open Online Courses (MOOC) had been made possible through the availability of the web. It was simply part of an evolution from what was known as distance learning or correspondence education.

However, the unfortunate thing locally had been that its value had to be appreciated only because of Covid-19. Yet sites like the Hadley Institute had been key to helping blind and visually impaired people succeed.

Even if you are attending a regular classroom, it is beneficial to supplement your education using these online platforms. They often come in handy when you need to pursue education while you are working.

Anyway, I think the time is ripe that schools, colleges and universities in Zimbabwe consider orienting students on online learning. This has to be an integral part of their learning process. A course may be split to be done offline and online, especially where syllabi are lengthy. Oftentimes, lecturers have hard time fitting in the whole course outline within 10 to 14 weeks.

Conclusion

E-learning offers a lot of opportunities for both educators and learners. Its adoption by an institution or a nation is a clear testament of how committed the policy-makers are to the digitisation process.

The school is the first place to introduce any technology. So may the challenges of today speak to the needs of the society. May these be research ideas on how best future generations get the benefits of our knowledge.

thank you for reading this post, may you succeed in your e-learning project whether as a teacher or learner.

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