Clicking our way through life

Marc Vlietstra from the Training Room Online

Technology has changed every aspect of our lives, how we live, how we play, and especially how we work. As careers have evolved, we also have to change the way train and coach people to ensure successful and sustainable business.

Technology impacts much of our lives from the moment we open our eyes, till we lay or heads down to rest at night. Much of the modern person’s working day has technology as the main feature and this of course also extends to the jobs we do and how we train for them.

One of the innovative ways technology has impacted on careers relates to the very foundation it is based on, training. Marc Vlietstra, senior specialist at the Training Room Online (an interactive, digital platform that trains students in a variety of sectors), and Jil Hrdliczka, MD of Knowledge Network (an intellectual property company servicing private, public and special needs schools, educators and learners), share their experiences about how technology impacts on careers and training in today’s day and age, with Achiever magazine.

When looking at new kinds of careers based on advances in technology, Vlietstra, who is originally from Holland and moved to South Africa four years ago after working in Holland in education, says the IT industry is an example of a whole new field that has had a tremendous boom. Generally in business even, he says, it has impacted every kind of job, affecting everyone from educated workers to entry level employees.

“Looking at the educated workforce, and even your so-called blue-collar workforce, they all have to interact with computers a lot more than they used to. Everything now happens on the computer; writing, admin work, time registration, etc. If you look at industry, e-learning itself is also growing tremendously. Corporates are now discovering the benefits of e-learning, which is doing a lot in terms of how training is conducted in business. This is important for the education system. On the one hand it creates a certain amount of new jobs, but it also has implications for the general public. Everybody is working on computers now and that is the biggest shift from 20 years ago,” says Vlietstra, who studied educational science and businesses science in Holland and started at the Training Room Online developing learning material.

Vlietstra says today, both schools as well as colleges and universities are engaging a lot more with technology. A common challenge often faced by training institutions, especially schools, is according to him, not so much related to competency, but rather to a lack of proper infrastructure. “The interesting things is that a certain portion, quite a big portion, of schools really struggle with the implementation of e-learning because they do not actually have the technology in place to deal with e-learning on a confident level.

“You cannot present a nice interactive module if you do not have the computers and the network in place, or if you do not have the landline or the wireless connections. So that is something that we are seeing. Another interesting observation is the difference in skills levels in technology between lecturers and students, with student being a lot more tech savvy. A lack of proper skills on the lecturers or teachers’ side can also be a barrier in some instances,” he says.

Vlietstra says that when it comes to creating a learning environment that truly facilitates digital learning solutions properly, they have a philosophy which focuses on innovation in e-learning. To this end, he stresses the importance of an interactive, bidirectional learning process that involved both the students entering data into learning systems so as to guide them according their input, and active learning that moves away from what he calls “chalk and talk” style schooling – a brief commentary on how teaching as a career itself is changed by technology.

“Even in IT there is still a lot of what we call chalk and talk, which is quite a traditional way of teaching. It clashes when you have this fantastic, almost new-age, resource that has to fit into a traditional teaching style and traditional school environment, that is something that we see a lot in the market, but you have to work with that and develop a solution around that,” he says.

Vlietstra says as far as career trends in South Africa goes, the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry is rapidly expanding, especially in Cape Town, and the finance sector has undergone massive growth. The use of IT to automate processes has made a lot of modernisation possible.

He further explains that in South Africa we also find a distinct difference in the way public and private schools are preparing young people for the careers of the future. At a recent state of education seminar Vlietstra attended, findings corroborated this statement.

“It is in essence like there are two education systems in South Africa so to speak. There is a big (80%) which are the poor schools that are sub-par on an international level, and then there are 15 to 20% of students in South Africa - I think it is actually less – that are like an elite. Those are the private schools which have excellent infrastructure, and obviously tuition fees are very different from government schools,” he says.

On a government level, Vlietstra says they have done projects for the National Department of Basic Education and he praises their efforts to get resources on a national level to lecturers. “I know that there is also a lot of attention around creating public Wi-Fi areas, and that is great. I think one of the challenges we find in South Africa however, is that there is a lot of partnering with regard to small initiatives and I think the challenge is to get everyone on the same page. But we realise there are a lot of factors that implicate on that. On the one hand you can say let us install Wi-Fi, but that does not particularly solve the problem, it might solve a part of the problem. I therefore think the focus should be on the holistic sustainable solution; that is what we need to aim for in South Africa,” Vlietstra concludes.

Hrdliczka, who started the Damelin Computer School and serve as its principal when she was in her twenties, says all careers have changed. “All careers require the use of technology at some point – whether it is a digital signature on a handheld device, electronic receipt of funds for work done onsite or digital communication. Many job interviews are being conducted via Skype or similar online products. Workers arriving from other parts of Africa and from overseas know they can find jobs via the Internet. Careers in the design of the latest devices and programming for the various devices are clearly some of the newer careers."

She says technology has penetrated the schooling environment in the sense that in almost every classroom one would find some form of technology, be it a smart phone, phablet, tablet, computer, TV linked to educational channels, a Windows-based system, Android or Apple Mac, an interactive whiteboard, data projector or in some schools, a satellite link for conferencing to view and participate in lessons and educational events being run at schools, universities or organisations around the world.

“Technology is not being introduced at the same time by all schools or being used in the same way. Schools that have a clearly communicated vision, understanding of the role of technology in the school and educators willing to learn new learning methodologies generally achieve the best results with the technology they have at any given point. Knowledge, experience and skill gained over time by both the educators and learners enable the school to move forward in the use of technology. Schools that follow a planned introduction of technology programme combined with ongoing educator and learner upskilling are generally more equipped to embrace technological innovations in teaching and learning. Technology roll-outs in these schools are generally successful, the highest possible level of effectiveness achieved and the investment in the technology maximised.

“In some schools smart phones are being used innovatively in classrooms – learners “google it” during the lesson, access information on-the-go during tours and field trips, look up words, play word games during language classes, use note taking apps, take photos for school projects, use the maps apps to find places, schedule sporting events and set reminders for class assignments and tests, take movies, use Skype, use weather apps and planet finders, use Google Earth, Dropboxes, emails and texts, read articles, complete crossword puzzles and math games, and of course, use productivity tools,” she says.

Regarding the ‘Bring Your Own Device’ concept in teaching and learning, Hrdliczka says it works very well, even though, it is also a bit daunting for educators who are not fully familiar with smart phones. “Learners generally have no problem. Learners are using their smart phones, tablets or computers outside of the classroom anyway – bringing the smart phone or other device into the classroom means educators also cover the problems (cyberbulling, posting inappropriate material on social networking sites or sending messages that could be misinterpreted or abused) related to the use of these types of devices. Learners can also learn how to become discerning Internet users – how to separate fact from fantasy and select trustworthy websites that meet journalistic standards, how to avoid copyright infringement, plagiarism and to properly reference sources and create bibliography databases. Good research skills are needed at school, varsity and the workplace.”

Learners can also learn that they need to keep a good, positive online image for now and later in life as potential employers find information on candidates on social networking sites. Skills, experience, knowledge, relevant qualifications, talent, a good work ethic, integrity, stability, good digital and in-person communication skills, as well as a positive online image are now “must-haves” for most employers.

“In some schools Windows-based computers, Linux-based devices, iPads, Apple Macs, Android tablets and interactive boards are being used together with other communication technologies available via the Internet to form part of the mix of teaching and learning tools. This combined with outdoor learning provides balance in teaching and learning.

“In some schools the integration of technology in teaching and learning is almost seamless. Learners walk into the lesson, connect to the school WI-FI, open whichever productivity tools and apps are required, do the work, look up info, start researching topics for the lesson, start creating their bibliography database and print, where required, to any one of the print devices located in their area, save to the cloud or other storage facility and move onto their next lesson. All while possibly sending a text to their friends, checking their social and school calendars and emailing or uploading yesterday’s homework for their educators to review, or even chatting to their educators about homework problems, solutions and opinions all via the Internet.”

For schools to prepare learners for education and occupation after school – all of the above needs to be covered, including the use of the productivity tools for school work, varsity work and for the workplace. Learners also need to be e-learning ready so they can develop themselves further. Some of the schools are equipping learners with a high level of skill in the most popular office productivity tools while at the same time ensuring that the learners are also exposed to newer technologies – thus providing learners with a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Nilo Abrahams

Early Computer Cloud computing concept Modern Laptop and old Typewriter
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This edition

Issue 58