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Thanks to improving access to broadband and the rise of entry-level smartphones and tablets, e-learning is no longer a desktop-only experience. Students of all ages can learn on the move, needing nothing more than an internet connection and a power outlet to charge their mobile devices. The industry buzzword for this is 'm-learning'.

Let’s look at some of the global trends in e-learning in 2016, as well as what South African schools, universities and corporate learning institutions can expect in this fast-evolving space.

Global trend 1: Universities in the cloud get their papers

You’re probably familiar with Coursera, the free learning portal that offers courses from Stanford, Yale, Princeton and more. Along with those offered by edX and Udacity, Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are changing the playing field, giving average Joe access to the level of tertiary education once considered exclusive. The catch? The lack of certification. Expect that to start changing in 2016, with more and more 'nanodegrees' being accredited and recognised by international qualifications agencies.

Global trend 2: The gamification of e-learning

From fitness bands to rewards programmes, gamification is changing the way we challenge ourselves, and the e-learning industry is a perfect fit. You can expect online courses to become more fun, as elements of gameplay infiltrate the educational experience. Next step: virtual and augmented reality, with the likes of Google Glass and Samsung’s Gear VR headset that is powered by Oculus.

Global trend 3: Big data crunches the numbers

E-learning is as much about education as it is about the technology and platforms it is built on. Smart learning systems will collect an increasing amount of data on its users. Big data equals better analytics. On a practical level, this means that course developers can measure how effective their course material is, identify learning patterns and translate student feedback into meaningful changes.

Global trend 4: e-learning gets personal

The e-learning platforms that have already set the gears of gamification and big data in motion will start to deliver a more personalised learning experience for students. At first, it will be as simple as recommending new learning material based on your learning history, but as the technology becomes smarter, you’ll eventually be able to custom-build your e-learning course to suit your outcomes and interests.

In South Africa, the classroom of the future is fast becoming a reality as BYOD (bring your own device) is being introduced, and pricey textbooks are being booted in favour of e-versions of curriculum materials.

Corporate sponsors are partnering with the public sector to speed up the process.

These are just a few examples of the progress of e-learning and m-learning in South Africa:

  • Programmes like Vodacom’s e-learning are now available to public schools as well as ISASA-registered private schools, putting tablets into the hands of every learner, at every level of the schooling system.
  • Vodacom’s Digital Classroom portal is zero-rated, meaning that if you’re on the Vodacom network, you won’t be charged for data usage while you’re browsing the materials.
  • The Department of Basic Education has also launched an online portal where students, teachers and parents have access to the curriculum.
  • Locally, the iSchoolAfrica programme and partner site www.zabooks.co.za (a website that offers over 2 500 school textbooks online) are pioneering the use of iPads in under-resourced schools. They are currently supporting 169 schools in all nine provinces.

Both at a local and global level, e-learning is transforming at an astonishing pace. It’s clear that 2016 will be another small step for technology, and a great leap forward for students who are furthering their education online.  

Want to take advantage of e-learning using South Africa's best and most reliable network? Buy data bundles, sign up to the network, upgrade your device, and more on Vodacom Online »

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