BY LAJU ARENYEKA
Experts have said that online learning should take the centre stage in West African education as traditional learning structures will not be sufficient to cater for the bustling education needs in the region. This was the fulcrum of the Conference on Campus Automation, eLearning & Faculty Development held in Lagos recently.
In his lecture, An introduction to eLearning and teaching, the Registrar, Ghana Technology University College, Prof. Patrick Otoo Bobbie said: “It is imperative that we bring to our people in Ghana and Nigeria, ways to make education accessible to all. And the only way we can do that is through online learning. Education is the key, it is the equalizer for any society, and if we do not focus on it, we will not have a legacy to leave to generations unborn.
“The institutions and countries that do not follow the trend of online learning will be left behind, because we cannot build enough traditional structures that can take care of the entire educational system, this is why online learning is imperative. If we have our communication systems in place, our students will be able to learn a whole lot more. At GTUC, we are looking at having at least 50 per cent of all our students online very soon.”
Online learning can be practiced synchronously in real time, or asynchronously when it is recorded and can be played back anytime, anywhere. It is however, most effective when it is taught by experts in the various subject matter. For students, the advantages of online learning abound, they include but are not limited to: design content with individual learning styles in mind; collaborative learning that involves active participants and coherent thinking; easy access to global resources; experiential learning through multimedia presentation.
According to Prof. Bobbie, “there is also a wide array of advantages for teachers such as: convenience, inspired creativity, professional satisfaction which comes from teaching a variety of students worldwide, expansion of curriculum in a way that will appeal to different kinds of people.”
He also spoke on the challenges associated with online audience. “There is the challenge of time,” he said, “but this is an upfront payment that makes life easier in the long run. There is the issue of lack of familiarity with the online environment, lack of access to the internet, and then the fact that there is not always immediate feedback and teachers may not be able to provide quick response to students’ questions.
There are, however, ways of overcoming these challenges. We must teach students to be computer savvy, tell them where to go for what information, where to take tests and assignments, create small groups and buddy systems to facilitate student to student and faculty to student interaction.
Dr. Josephine Larbi-Apau is the Director of the Center for Online Learning and Teaching, (COLT), GTUC. While speaking on the imperative behind the COLT initiative, she said: “Only about 6 per cent of those who go through Senor Secondary School in Ghana have the opportunity of attending the public tertiary institutions. Let us assume that about 15 per cent go to private schools, what about the others?”
Larbi-Apau added that people who are skeptical about online education worry that the quality of online learning may not be as good as that of face to face learning. “These beliefs are unfounded,” she said, “because it is the same lecturers who are teaching face to face that are also in charge of online learning. In other words, the credibility of such an education should be based on the quality of the faculty in charge, and not on its online nature.”
“Online learning is the future of education; this is why COLT is seeking to provide institutional designs and technology, as well as develop educational technology programmes in the area at the diploma, graduate and post-graduate levels.”