digital education

Are we really closing the global skills gap with digital education?

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Mariken Jansen van Vuuren is an education and marketing specialist, and HyperionDev’s Head of Product and Brand Marketing. She draws on nearly a decade of marking strategy and branding expertise to help us in our mission to close the growing global tech skills gap.

In today’s era of web accessibility, it’s easy to assume that everybody has access to digital education, and with good reason. In Africa alone, internet users have grown from just 4.5 million in 2010 to over 100 million, and those are only the users that can be verified.

However, despite this sharp increase in internet access , there are still challenges to accessibility: in many cases,  learners are forced to share devices, have limited  access to often low-bandwidth connectivity, or are hindered by the unfamiliar challenges of virtual learning presenting new challenges.

There is no singular simple solution that will close the growing tech skills gap. What is needed is a deep and nuanced understanding of exactly what challenges and hurdles lie ahead. 

The biggest challenges in digital education

The past year of global lockdowns has shown the world the true power and flexibility of online learning. However, this method of learning still has many challenges that educators and course creators will need to overcome if online learning is to become the primary method of receiving a world-class education.

  1. Unregulated courses and quality concerns.

    Creating an online learning experience isn’t difficult in the age of ubiquitous online courses, democratised media, and drag-and-drop web builds. Anyone with sufficient internet access and some basic technical knowledge can now create a course online.

    While there are benefits such as allowing for niche learning and a variety of approaches, it can also mean that courses are not adequately regulated and don’t offer recognised certifications. As a result, learners  question the value and validity of courses, and job-seekers often lack the tools they need to step confidently into a new role.

  2. Minimised face-to-face interaction.

    While many online learning systems include  peer interaction and two-way learning, most online courses are delivered in siloes. We can’t underestimate the importance of access to lecturers and personalised support in this virtual environment, especially in highly technical subjects like computer programming.

  3. Online systems are often demanding.

    Most  online learning platforms inevitably require more effort from students compared to traditional learning. Whether a student is submitting an assignment, getting to grips with their new digital learning environment, or accessing and categorising learning materials online, can mean more work in the short term. Also, traditional or hybrid learning approaches, typically mean access to tutors or academic advisors, which is not always the case in a purely digital learning format. 

    In my experience at HyperionDev, we’re constantly iterating on our learning design, process and experience in order to combat this and to ensure that we can offer students a more hybrid and supported learning approach through initiatives such as our 1:1 mentorship model. 
  1. An increased need for self-discipline and direction.

    Without regular visits to class or campus, the pressure to drive learning and participate in the education system falls entirely onto the student. . e-Learning requires self-discipline. Submitting assignments, joining quorums, and attending class are important ways to adequately prepare and pass. 

The fact remains that skills gaps have, and will always be, a concern for jobseekers and a thorn in the side of entrepreneurs and  industries that require specialised competencies. Of course, that is without an accessible solution. Unsurprisingly, LinkedIn released research based on a survey of over 1,200 professionals, indicating that assessing and addressing skills gaps was the most important metric for “talent developers”. 

The power of online learning

The flexibility, adaptiveness, and accessibility of online learning solutions are what make it the best method of delivering a world-class skills education, while overcoming the many hurdles of traditional and in-person education. 

  1. Self-paced learning and flexibility.

    Today, even EMBAs are administered online, giving executives the opportunity to continue meeting the demands of their busy work schedules while upskilling. This reflects the reality of most post-secondary education: most adult students need to work while they learn. The flexibility and self-paced nature of virtual learning creates greater access for part-time students and indeed anyone with major commitments.

  2. Greater accessibility for the majority.

    While there are still areas where internet adoption is low, most countries in the world have some form of individual or shared access to connectivity in developed areas. This is critical in our present day context where transport barriers and social challenges like global virus outbreaks make it more difficult than ever to travel. Both of these factors demonstrate why accessible online learning remains the best way to close the global skills gap.

  3. Crucial tech skills and digital integration.

    As the world changes, learners must become familiar with digital interfaces. Online educational systems can pave the way for easy entry and advancement in online learning by taking advantage of cutting-edge User Interface and User Experience techniques.

  4. Cost effectiveness.

    Online learning experiences are typically less expensive to deliver and therefore consume. And while prices vary, there are many ways in which learners save on travel costs, housing, physical textbooks and stationery when their courses are run online. 

  5. Centralised learning materials and access.

    Accessibility of online learning also involves a student’s access to their learning environment and materials – and online courses easily beat physical classes. Instead of trying to keep copies of important documents in one place or trying to locate books or learning materials at short notice, students can virtually access everything they need from one place, where data and assets are securely stored. This simplicity streamlines learning like nothing else.

  6. Accreditations for guidance.

    Certificates are not always an incentive for learning. In some cases, the credibility of an experience manifests in the ability to complete tasks. However, in industries such as technology, analytics, communications and project management, certification can play a vital role in qualifying job applicants. The increased demand for digital skills in particular, has subsequently increased the demand for regulation and accredited learning experiences online. While the system as a whole isn’t perfect, it is improving.

  7. Greater investment in the e-learning space.

    As the benefits of learning online become increasingly apparent, governmental programmes and stalwart institutions are now investing more in creating effective platforms. With functionality like peer-to-peer interaction, Q&As, document uploads, calendar management, and personalised dashboards, students are reaping the rewards of this investment from reputable institutions. 

If we consider these benefits, and the ways in which we can address current challenges to access, there is still a viable argument for closing the skills gap using e-learning. Now, the question veers away from the efficacy of digital education to the real question: How are we making a viable contribution with online education?

How to secure the future of online learning

To truly revolutionise the future of learning will take a three-pronged approach. First, we need to create reputable learning platforms that students can trust; second, we need to futureproof this style of learning; and third, we need to create an education style that is more highly targeted towards societal impact. Here’s what we think that looks like:

  1. Addressing the challenges

Accessibility, accountability, time management and credibility are all key challenges in closing the gap. So, where does the most comprehensive answer lie? Immersive learning is the key to driving these changes, offering students the chance to focus on practical skills development and real problem-solving with frequent check-ins on their progress.  We’ve seen the positive effects of this in our immersive bootcamps, where frequent lessons, practicals, and mentoring form a big part of the overall demands.

  1. Future-proofing education

Education needs to have a technical element at every level to acclimatise students to the future of work. Numerous dot coms and businesses ultimately fail because they don’t have the tech skills to effectively run and market their businesses – and this is where code plays a significant role. Big Data, SAS, and advanced analytic analysis are here to stay, and if you can’t operate in basic virtual environments, you’re going to struggle as tech progresses. At HyperionDev, we’re committed to teaching these highly technical developer skills that enable students’ careers.

  1. Impacting society as a whole

As learners pick up critical skills they can begin to close the skills gap that persists across the world. With skill development comes greater employment, shared opportunities, and faster advancement in the world of tech, philanthropy and development. The benefits of alleviating poverty, democratising opportunity and creating room for new digital ideas can transform societies more effectively than offline pursuits.

In  a nutshell

Ultimately, immersive learning is the key to driving skills development on a global scale and should become standard practice for anyone operating in the e-learning space. As the coming era demands digital transformation and upskilling in this sector, educational bodies and conveners need to create the right environments for this learning to take place. Through key elements of user experience, support and regulation, we can begin to transform society as a whole and establish a new generation, equipped to crack the code of operating in a virtual world.