The challenges faced by the educational sector are countless, but the pandemic has also incited the adoption of digital learning techniques that are helping to maintain a semblance of normalcy. From virtual classrooms, online exams and performance of assessments to monitoring mental well-being of adult learners. It›s on record that digital revolution is having a dual impact on adult learning systems and requires redesigning the way learning takes place and anticipating for removal of traditional blended forms of teaching and learning. The international community is recognising that the application of digital technology within adult learning has potential to increase the access, quality, equitable and the relevance of learning involvements within adults’ education and to respond positively to industrial revolution, provided that some conditions are met.
In addition, digital inclusion will strike the balance by perusing the potential impact of technological trends on formal and informal education, it’s confirmed that digital technologies, together with their much-studied potential for innovation, can also introduce new exclusion dynamics and exacerbate the problems of marginalised groups, especially in the present situation of social distancing and online learning brought by the Covid-19 pandemic. This article is focused on digitally inclusivity of adult learning, that can manage to include specific groups that are at risk of exclusion, such as women, unemployed, offenders or prison inmates, displaced persons and migrants after Covid-19. Digitally-enabled interventions in the field of adult education are highly demanded by the current users to obtain optimistic results and mitigate Covid-19 pandemic.
Covid-19 pandemic revealed great disparities in digital access. It has clearly demonstrated that lack of access to high-speed internet connections, internet-enabled devices, and digital skills training disproportionately affect low-income adults and members of less privileged communities to provide and gain access to digital learning platforms.
Covid-19 has highlighted not only the need for a national role in expanding broadband access to all regions of the country, but also the need for investment in educational technology. Adult educators can clearly see the value in having a digital linked classroom as a complement to face-to-face as much anticipated.
An online presence allows them to mitigate their personal, social responsibilities while attaining education. A fully integrated digital adult education structure would provide clear, well-articulated paths and benchmarks for development of skills and knowledge needed to obtain and retain quality learning and teaching and it would make these services available to all adult learners who need them.
Digital platforms have often been the first to be rolled out to enable adult learners to continue learning from home; indeed, they are generally the most effective learning modality in getting some forms of learning up and running. However, they have the lowest reach. In some regions, digital platforms reach less than 10% of the population. This is because they require electricity, reliable internet connectivity, as well as sufficient devices for adult learners in the household, particularly devices with good functionality and capabilities, and large enough screen sizes. Moreover, another element of the digital divide concerns the digital literacy gap, a barrier that can be even harder to address during this pandemic.
The role of digital technology could possibly serve as the oxygen which has permeated all aspects of our lives with the advent of Covid-19. As noted earlier, several organisations have moved almost entirely to distributed remote and virtual work which has no exception to informal or formal education. Social gatherings are using conferencing tools to include video at times and this could be assimilated to adult learning, digital technologies assumes an even more important role in social lives and entertainment. Furthermore, understanding the role of it in learning, ranging from workplace and social conferencing and social media to streaming service provision in general. Online platforms could change work for adult education promoters and learners impacted by the pandemic. New norms may evolve regarding what is acceptable and what is excessive in terms of the use of various technologies or technology-based services, for instance streaming services. More broadly, all the relevant stakeholders in adult education need to deepen the digital platforms to learn and simultaneously mitigate Covid-19.
*Eliphas Shilongo is a specialist in education and business management, currently doing PhD with a focus on digitalisation of adult education at the University of Namibia. Views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org