by Gillian Jones

A digital learning curve

Online education revolutionises tertiary education

A digital learning curve
Online education revolutionises tertiary education

Fast-changing technology is leading to the creation of jobs that did not exist until recently. Social media managers, professional bloggers and app developers, for example, were unheard of as career choices a few years ago.

Online education is making it easier than ever before to get a booster shot of mid-career training to ensure an employee’s skills remain relevant. Or to try out a new occupation through completing a short course online, or even to make a drastic change in professional direction. Online education has given birth to new concepts such as Moocs, Flipped classrooms or Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).

The Moocs — massive open online courses — movement began in 2011 when Stanford University signed up around 356 000 people from 190 countries to three free online classes on artificial intelligence. Forty-three thousand people completed at least one course. Coursera, the main Moocs platform, has since worked with over 60 university partners, offering more than 200 free online courses to over three million users. Though students on Moocs follow a programme, have their work assessed and are issued with certificates on completion, few of the courses have been accredited.

“People want recognised certification of the skills acquired online.” says Sam paddock, founder of GetSmarter, an online education company based in Cape Town. GetSmarter is the first SA online education company to be accredited by the sector education & training authority as a training provider. They have partnered with the University of Cape Town to offer credit-bearing online courses and will soon offer postgraduate diplomas.

The most popular courses, ranging from eight to 10 weeks, are in social media, Internet marketing and project management. The average age of a student is 38. Last year, 5 000 students signed up for GetSmarter courses. Though not cheap, at between R7 000 and R11 000, the courses generally cost less than traditional offerings.

Paddock says the primary reason students take a course is to advance their existing careers or to realise a dream by studying something like creative writing or photography. Few are looking for a radical career change. “It’s more about mid-career advancement and career maintenance than changing careers,” he says.

Online courses also cater for another buzzword — the 'slashers'. This refers to what is more formally known as the portfolio career. So someone who makes a living through various channels might refer to themselves as a reporter/ photographer/web editor.

Paddock, who has a business science degree with honours in information systems from UCT, first delved into online business when he cofounded Paddocks, a property law education website, with his father Graham in 2005. The 29-year-old went on to set up Getwine, an online sales company, before starting GetSmarter in 2008.

As more South Africans pass through the school system and seek higher education, demand for tertiary education will increase, putting strain on existing structures. Added to this is the need for continuous professional training to keep skills current. Digital and online education could be key in meeting this increased demand.

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