Late Departures from Paper-Based to Supported Networked Learning in South Africa: Lessons Learned

Late Departures from Paper-Based to Supported Networked Learning in South Africa: Lessons Learned

Illasha Kok (School for Education Studies, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa), Petra Bester (Africa Unit for Transdisciplinary Health Research (AUTHeR), North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa) and Hennie Esterhuizen (IT Department, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/IJDET.2018010104
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Fragmented connectivity in South Africa is the dominant barrier for digitising initiatives. New insights surfaced when a university-based nursing programme introduced tablets within a supportive network learning environment. A qualitative, explorative design investigated adult nurses' experiences of the realities when moving from paper-based learning towards using tablets within a blended learning environment. Purposive sampling was applied. 45 (N) participants were included, each receiving a preloaded tablet (15 running on iOS, 15 on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean and 15 on Windows® 8 operating systems), being WiFi-dependent, integrated into a supportive learning network. Participants completed eleven compulsory Internet-based activities. Three reflective focus groups with 18 (n) participants concluded the project. Through self-empowerment and supportive environment, students adopted seamlessly, overcame network and resource-related challenges. Valuable lessons were learned within the digital divide, integrate tablets into distance learning from a resilient and pragmatic approach.
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For large numbers of distance students from deep rural areas in Southern Africa limited Internet connectivity, low computer literacy, technological disadvantage and technophobia hinder learning technology adoption (Esterhuizen & Blignaut, 2011). If confidence to adopt technologies for learning is lacking, unilaterally focusing on technology provision and connectedness without all-inclusive consideration for technology adoption could increase the digital divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students, instead of promoting successful networked learning (Dutta & MIA, 2011; Mutula, 2008). After more than twenty-six thousand teacher training students, around two thousand nursing students represent the second largest group of approximately 30000 distance learning students at the Unit for Open Distance Learning (UODL) at a dual-mode university in South Africa. Regarding the teacher training group of UODL distance students, in 2009 “Web connectedness of [teacher training] students [was] in the region of 10%” (Kok & Blignaut, 2009). To consider phasing in compulsory use of the university learning management system (LMS) for transition from paper-based distance learning to collaborative online learning, nurturing user acceptance was crucial. Information that could be gathered from surveying students’ perceptions of mobile learning would not be useful while students have never experienced network technology enhanced learning first-hand. For these students, food, safety and shelter take precedence over acquiring education technologies for blended or distance learning. This study addresses the nexus between best-effort pedagogy, intensive technical and teaching presence support, network technology provision, mobile computing provision and technology acceptance.

Some of the envisaged interventions considered at the time included:

  • Remotely-managed network access through WiFi provision to students at more than fifty regional study centres across Southern Africa

  • Tailor-made interactive rich learning material study environments to be pre-loaded on a number of tablet computers used in a pilot study and made available for download and installation on other mobile devices and personal computers

  • Acquainting students with the tailor-made study environments also available on the LMS through instruction-based IWB lectures

  • Utilising the established interactive whiteboard (IWB) supported lecturing environment already implemented at these UODL regional study centres to introduce students to the LMS environment and demonstrate possibilities of networked mobile computing

  • Utilising IWB lectures including lecture-captured recordings available through the UODL web site to coach students through obtaining connectivity, logging-in online, password management, obtaining support from the UODL call centre, searching for information and obtaining information through the library, participating in online learning and submitting assignments

  • A pilot project involving small-scale provision of tablet computers to gauge user acceptance and discover first-hand if qualitative distinctions could be identified in practice between low-cost and higher-end tablets and implications regarding ongoing support if the university was to be involved in providing tablets to students as part of study resources

  • Possible implications for demands on academic and technical support based on experiences during a small-scale pilot

Consequently, when nurses within a distance learning programme in South Africa became self-empowered to use tablet technology within a network-limited environment, a valuable proposition could be shared to distance learning institutions with similar challenges. This study shares the experiences of a group of registered nurses regarding their adoption of networked technology learning through each being provided one of three different types of tablet computers. Apart from the first (large-scale WiFi provision at study centres), all of the aspects above were in some way involved in the intervention.

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