Digitizing and adapting learning environments

As a result of the closure of training institutions and social distancing measures, many initiatives have emerged in the TVET sector in response to the pandemic context. A difficult balancing act is at stake: guaranteeing continuity of learning and maintaining a connection between learners, trainers and companies. Some countries and stakeholders with more advanced TVET systems had anticipated this trend and started diversifying TVET learning modes before the pandemic, through digital content and solutions.

A transition to hybrid modes, combining in-person and distance learning, has long-term benefits:

  • Hybrid systems help promote lifelong learning opportunities, in line with United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4).
  • They help strengthen the resilience of TVET systems to cope with future external shocks.

However, the digitization of skills development faces a number of obstacles. The first related to the nature of TVET itself, whose "hands-on" approach makes it challenging to implement effective distance learning. Across Africa, the digital divide also limits access to high-tech solutions.

IIEP-UNESCO Dakar has identified several digital tools and initiatives that can help address the challenges of digitizing TVET in Africa.  

Facilitating access to online training content and programmes

In response to the closure of training institutions and the downturn in economic activity, many online training platforms have emerged or experienced a resurgence of interest. They are being developed by stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds, including private businesses, international organizations and civil society. By means of example, here are three interesting and complementary initiatives reflecting this trend.

 

Launched by UNESCO in 2020 as part of the Global Coalition for Education, the Global Skills Academy offers a series of training courses developed by public and private stakeholders. The platform provides free access to programmes selected for their quality. Beneficiaries are identified with the help of the global network UNEVOC. The goal is to equip one million young people with the digital, entrepreneurial and leadership skills needed to build employability and resilience in the context of the pandemic.

 

In the same spirit as the UNESCO-led initiative, the intergovernmental organization Commonwealth of Learning (COL) also launched its collaborative platform in 2020. It brings together more than 60 institutions and organizations around the world, committed to supporting learning in this time of crisis through digital solutions. The platform contains a large and varied directory of pooled resources, online training courses and shared expertise, accessible free of charge.

  • The platform Atingi, to simplify access to digital learning  

 

In Africa, this platform, developed as part of an initiative of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), has been extremely successful in recent months. It offers free online training content which covers a wide range of topics tailored to local needs and markets, targeting especially digital skills. The platform aims to improve the employability of young people and promote lifelong learning using novel methods, accessible in particular on smartphones. To meet the needs of its diverse target groups, Atingi also offers low-tech and offline solutions to overcome the barriers of Internet connectivity.

Combining practice and theory for technical distance learning

While e-learning platforms provide educational continuity by making a wide variety of training content available to learners, they often struggle to meet the needs for practical skills.

There are a number of solutions to this critical problem for TVET, including:

  • The distance learning solutions of Lucas Nülle, focusing on hands-on skills

 

This German company has developed learning systems for complex technologies such as electrical engineering, electronics and automation technology. Their software incorporates practical exercises into the theoretical learning modules. This private-sector initiative offers an innovative educational alternative in the context of the crisis. It thus promotes flexible learning through the development of practical modules accessible outside training institutions and businesses.

 

In order to bridge the gap between theory and practice, another German company is leading a similar initiative. FESTO, which designs and markets industrial control and automation systems, has developed its own online training portal, with automation-related content and a customizable training environment. It targets industrial customers, but also technical education institutions, with class management features. The portal, free of charge in some of its components, emphasizes hybrid learning. It is already quite successful in several African countries, including Nigeria and South Africa.

Consolidating skill acquisition with virtual reality tools

The Covid-19 crisis also highlighted the importance of simulation environments, generally based on virtual reality (VR), to teach learners specific procedures and technical skills. While simulations cannot replace real learning in the workplace, they can fill certain gaps, particularly where social distancing is necessary. VR can also be used to develop the non-technical skills of learners.

  • The experiment of PwC to teach soft skills

 

In the United States, the consulting firm PwC uses VR to help companies optimize the effectiveness of training in non-technical skills, or soft-skills. The behavioural skills targeted include leadership, resilience and change management.

Making national TVET systems more agile using digital technologies

Beyond the initiatives taken by institutional or private actors, rapid changes in learning modes have also been observed in national TVET systems, in particular in Senegal.

  • The platform Ejàng headed by the Senegalese government

 

This collaborative platform was set up by the Ministry of Employment, Vocational Training, Apprenticeship and Integration after schools were closed in Senegal. It makes training content available to students enrolled in TVET courses, with the aim of ensuring learning continuity. Students have online access to the basic guides and manuals, which are usually used for practical training in schools or in the workplace. A library of digital resources and audiovisual content is also available.

Ejàng also enables trainers to schedule and run virtual classes and assess learning outcomes.

This initiative demonstrates the agility of the Senegalese system and represents a model for any state actor wishing to support the digital transition of vocational training.

Learn more

Do you want to learn more about the digitization of TVET learning environments? IIEP-UNESCO Dakar has selected some additional resources on the subject.