The large student-to-teacher ratio in university classrooms results in students receiving little individual attention from lecturers. They also risk falling behind in their coursework, which is a contributing factor to the skills gap in South Africa’s engineering industry, says online training provider The Training Room Online MD Kirsty Chadwick.
E-learning tackles this problem by offering school and university leavers a chance to fill the gaps in their subject knowledge by breaking down the information and making it more manageable, she states.
It also allows students to repeat assessments and exercises, which cannot be done at school or university level, where adherence to a timetable is crucial.
Chadwick states that e-learning can also assist engineering students at any level of their studies, provided the university supports the required model.
She says e-learning is beneficial to the consulting engineering industry, as the courseware is simple, cost effective and can be updated along with industry developments.
“An e-learning platform provides companies with a centralised and cost-effective way to share industry news, research and findings with students as well as employees through centralised messages and bulletins that can be accessed through a learning management system.
“E-learning can also be suited to any training requirement in the engineering profession,” Chadwick states.
The Training Room Online is working on a project to train operators in Australia to use highly-advanced mining vehicles through computer-based training that prepares them for the use of simulators, she notes.
In addition, the company is compiling a series of health and safety courses for the engineering industry, one of which is a standard operating procedures course.
“We are turning the standard operating procedures course into an easily accessible digital format and creating ways for engineering supervisors to assess how well operators understand the operating machinery through an online learning platform,” says Chadwick.
She notes that the use of a digital method to train operators in using plant machinery is gaining popularity in the engineering sector, as is the training of standard operating procedures in a digital format.
“Operators can work through digital manuals stored in a learning management system, which monitors and tracks the students’ progress in their own time, without supervisors showing them how to use the machinery,” Chadwick states.
Operators learn how machinery works virtually before they start to use a simulator.
Chadwick states that she sees many opportunities for e-learning in the mining sector.
“Computer-based training linked with simulators is creating new avenues in the mining and engineering sectors. The Training Room Online plans to expand further into the industrial sector to ensure more people have access to production, quality assur- ance, as well as occupational health and safety training,” she says.
Chadwick notes that e-learning can also help to tackle the shortage of qualified teachers in the more remote parts of the coun- try, which is a major challenge in South Africa.
“E-learning can reach almost anyone, anywhere and it enables people in remote locations to access world-class training that has traditionally only been available to students living close to universities and employees living close to corporate offices,” she states.
During a teacher strike in 2010, The Training Room Online was involved in an initiative that developed courses to deliver maths lessons to over 100 schools by streaming television classes over the Internet.
“We arranged for some of South Africa’s top school teachers to present the classes, in the form of tutorials that covered learning material in more detail and with an emphasis on the practical application of knowledge gained to demonstrate its relevance to learners.”
E-learning reaches the masses, owing to its ability to cross language and literacy barriers by offering visual learning and assessment, she points out.
It places users in a context they can relate to by filming in familiar settings and using animation, which makes a more powerful impression than a textbook.
The Training Room Online believes the challenges of Internet infrastructure in South Africa are being overcome and e-learning is widely explored as the preferred option for staff training, given the significant benefits it offers companies, such as the opportunity for employees to further and complete their studies.
However, Chadwick points out that e-learning is not entirely dependent on the Internet.
“Most people have DVD players which can relay lessons. Basics can also be taught on cellphones and assessments can be written online at central points.”
Further, she points out that the training company provided regulatory exam training to brokers in the financial services industry for their licence exam during 2011/2012, and ran over 1 500 national workshops for financial institutions Absa, First National Bank and Alexander Forbes.
The company is currently compiling new regulatory exams for the financial-services industry and is also involved in a project that would result in adult basic education and training being delivered digitally to make it more accessible.