Internet Access and related Challenges for Mobile Learning in South Africa
Many of these challenges should not be seen as problems, but opportunities for business development that serve as important avenues of enriching South African society.
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Internet access and challenges to mobile learning in South Africa are not unique. Geographically, South Africa ranks as the 25th biggest country in the world with population centres scattered throughout the country in cities that are more spread out than their European counterparts. In addition to this, there is a large rural population.
These facts are important when considering the logistics of mobile learning. While the internet mitigates problems caused by distance, there are the logistics of internet coverage to consider, and as South Africa is still considered to be very much a country with a developing economy and infrastructure, there are many who do not benefit from internet coverage. In many areas’ bandwidth is slow or simply nonexistent.
For providers, costs versus profit have to be considered when rolling out services and for customers and potential customers, there are also significant expenditures which need to be considered. The latter is a specific obstacle especially since the consensus is that data prices in South Africa are unusually high.
Establishing internet coverage, however, brings with it a new challenge. How does one use the service? One cannot disregard the fact that there are many South Africans, especially in the rural areas who do not have the means to afford smartphones and data contracts that are capable of bringing the mobile learning experience to them. This is not a challenge that is being ignored. As of October 2019 smartphones are being produced in South Africa with the intent of being affordable for and easily accessible to lower-income groups. In this regard, it can be seen that businesses are showing significant interest in this market. Additionally, as we have seen recently, data prices have been reduced in response to legal requirements.
Of course, many other challenges also need to be taken into consideration. On the part of the provider, there is the need to factor in what kind of software to use for the mobile learning platform, and this needs to consider various things such as user-friendliness, content security and information privacy, desired learning experience, and compatibility with the user's device of choice for receiving instruction. Fortunately, there is software already developed that is free to use and can be easily accessed and downloaded. In this regard, programmers are not needed to create software from scratch. Experts are, however, required to install the software correctly and to adjust it to all the requirements. In addition to software considerations, it is also important to attend to technical support for students as well as teachers.
Many of these challenges should not be seen as problems, but opportunities for business development that serve as important avenues of enriching South African society. As the need for digital transformation grows, these services will become more necessary and more in demand. Envisioning and acting on these opportunities will no doubt be a benefit to the South African entrepreneurial market. Indeed, it can even be viewed that the current national lockdown is forcing people to explore digital options that they were reticent in investigating beforehand. In this way, the lockdown is shaping a dynamic that will end up having positive effects in this regard. Learning should continue, even during a crisis as it provides the opportunity for development during challenging times.
In a previously released opinion piece, titled: e-Learning in a new era we noted that learning in an e-Learning fashion is flexible and bypasses physical and financial barriers; e-Learning provides access – which many, under “normal” circumstances, could not afford.
Irrespective of the chosen device (mobile, desktop, tablet) a user opts for, one thing is evident – providing a learner (end-user) with options to educational avenues best suited to their circumstances and skills development needs places the learner in the centre of driving how, where and when they want to learn. We do not subscribe that learning is one-dimensional, but rather that it is complex and there we have developed OmniStack, our e-Learning platform, with blended learning models that allow for customized application.
Contributor: Greg Beyer
Researcher at Omni Academy for Education, Training and Development
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