Being client-centric takes on a new meaning when the client is a tech-savvy millennial student who expects technology and devices to enable the delivery of realistic, immediate and digital material on flexible platforms that offer students the choice to learn in their preferred mode.

However, universities in South Africa need to accommodate tech rich and tech poor students.

According to Prof Wendy Kilfoil, Director of Education Innovation at University of Pretoria, a proportion of their students owns multiple, high end devices, the likes of which no university could provide for the majority of students.

“Tech-rich students want mobile access to resources. Those who come from resource-rich schools have been working with technology to create knowledge in a way seldom matched in universities. But the majority of students, even in well-resourced urban universities nowadays, come from deprived communities,” she said.

Most students at universities and colleges have one device that links them to the internet, but have very little data; thus, they rely on the institutions’ computers and WiFi systems for their education requirements.

“Students often arrive on campus with minimal digital literacy so they need basic training before learning the use of the LMS,” said Kilfoil, adding that many students are social-media savvy but are not able to use internet-based information for educational purposes.  “Many are not much good with Word and have never used Excel or Powerpoint.”

Dolf Jordaan, Deputy Director E-Learning & Media Development at the University of Pretoria said it is very difficult to isolate the many variables that impact student success. “In trying to proof a possible correlation between student success and the use of technology, I have always been confronted with the risk of trying to isolate technology as a single factor which may contribute to success irrespective of the fact that our data indicates that our successful students are more engaged in learning activities in the LMS,” he said.

The NMC Horizon Report study outlined the key trends in accelerating higher education technology adoption.  Blended learning designs and collaborative learning were seen as short term trends, followed by growing focus on measuring learning and redesigning learning spaces in the medium term.

Higher education institutions in South Africa have the challenge of ensuring their content, engagement and interaction with students is for this context, within limited budgets and serves present and future needs.

At Transfrom Education: The Eiffel Corp Innovation Summit, hosted in Johannesburg recently, academics and administrators alike were challenged by the fast-changing digital world and the impact on their institutions.

Technology has rewired the digital-age brain and attention spans are at an all-time low. The 21st century brain is fast-moving and intimately connected to digital technology. Traditional training is neither and most higher education institutions are pouring resources and expertise to ensure students are ready for the 21st century.

Stefan du Plessis, Commercial Director at Eiffel Corp, outlined how students expect learning to be consumerised and how technology enables institutions to support their students from their academic studies to career counseling to job placement.

“Mobile boosts the overall education experience.  Offering continued engagement, nudges the student along the path to student success.”

“Students are fluent in the language of digital and to ensure successful student throughput, we need to speak their language,” said du Plessis.

In South Africa, access is a key inhibitor. Universities all have a strategic focus on providing various types of access (computer laboratories and WiFi on campus) because technology opens up media-rich opportunities in formats with which most students are familiar.

Virtual classrooms that facilitate thousands of students, voice-recordings, chat rooms, video clips, online assessment, integrated workflow for instructor and student, tools that entrench academic integrity, all create a true virtual learning experience, with embedded analytics in real time.

Many technology providers offer a seamless user experience across all devices and learning material. “Students change devices, locations, form of education constantly, and they want materials and resources to be available 24/7, in formats they are familiar with and that promote community” added du Plessis. One such solution, Blackboard, is the most experienced education technology company globally with more than 100 million users worldwide. The learner’s journey is complex, so hybrid, blended and online learning all play a role in enabling individual student’s and institution’s requirements.

Du Plessis warned technology alone is not enough.  “Faculty and student adoption tool kits exist, but internal marketing and change management is essential to ensure effective adoption.”

Research from Blackboard World 2017 shows South Africa is leading the change in promoting the development of off-line digital learning solutions owing to the high cost of data in many developing countries.  “Students download their learning material while connected to the internet in WiFi areas and are able to view and interact with it later without connectivity required,” said du Plessis.

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