Towards an E-Learning Support Strategy for the Retail Sector in South Africa

Towards an E-Learning Support Strategy for the Retail Sector in South Africa

Jonathan M. Aspeling (Cape Peninsula University of Technology, South Africa) and Roger B. Mason (Cape Peninsula University of Technology, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/IJWLTT.2020070101
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E-learning is of increasing importance in delivering flexible and distributed programmes for workforce skill development such as induction, product knowledge, systems compliance, and customer service. This research consists of a desktop exploratory review of e-learning concepts, policies, surveys, and a set of proposals and recommendations from research into e-learning in the retail sector. The article presents international and local experience, relevant post-school education and training policies and key variables and themes that impact on e-learning. Institutional approaches in supporting e-learning within different countries are also contrasted. The outcomes are general recommendations regarding the focus, alignment and integration of e-learning for the retail sector, with activities proposed to support e-learning.
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The wholesale and retail industry are the fourth largest contributor to South Africa´s Gross Domestic Product while employing approximately 21% of the total workforce (W&RSETA, 2014). All companies in South Africa contribute via a levy to fund sector education and training authorities (SETAs) which facilitate training in their specific industries. The Wholesale and Retail Sector Education and Training Authority (W&RSETA) facilitates skills development through the implementation of learning programmes, disbursement of grants and monitoring of education and training (W&RSETA, 2016). One of the W&RSETA strategic objectives is the development of a comprehensive e-learning system to support the wholesale and retail sector. Research conducted for the W&RSETA set out to obtain e-learning perspectives and information from the retail industry regarding access and attitudes of companies to e-learning and also to evaluate companies’ readiness for e-learning. Findings from the surveys showed that a comprehensive and systematic approach to formulation of an e-learning strategy for the wholesale and retail industry is needed (Training Room online, 2014).

A change is taking place in the provision of post school education, with a shift in approach with regard to post school education and training. With some exceptions such as Australia, most policies focus on formal academic tertiary institutions as opposed to vocational training and non-formal e-learning experiences. A number of private training organisations and large corporations are using e-learning (Ettinger, Holton, & Blass, 2005). This change is also happening in South Africa so an e-learning system and support for the wholesale and retail sector e-learning is needed. As a result, a strategy and an e-learning approach is required to enable the W&RSETA to create an e-learning system to facilitate skills development within the wholesale and retail industry and to give guidance to the industry.

In the retail workplace learning refers to the ongoing process of improving employee competence and performance through training, socialization, and development within an organizational context. The benefits of e-learning from a workplace perspective can be grouped into three broad categories: in the first instance, e-learning improves access to training and allows training to be delivered flexibly in terms of time and place in order to meet the needs of the employer and employee; secondly, e-learning is seen as means of ensuring consistent and scalable training, while ensuring compliance with standards and best practice; and thirdly e-learning is seen as sustainable and cost effective and results in minimal stoppages and time-off-task. E-learning also helps improve and increase the basic skills of employees, providing the organisation with a competitive advantage (Clayton & Elliott, 2008). These benefits are confirmed internationally and within a South Africa retail context where e-learning is stated to have decreased the costs of up-skilling a workforce by reducing travel and employee time away from work (Callahan, 2010; Shoprite, 2015) and is useful for a geographically dispersed workforce because it can deliver a consistent training experience (Becker, Fleming, & Keijsers, 2012; Brown & Charlier, 2013).

The objective of this research project was therefore to provide a background for the development and implementation of an e-learning strategy for the wholesale and retail industry in South Africa, a developing country that is leading the way in retailing on the African continent. Specific outcomes from the study are:

  • A common understanding of the e-learning concept in a retail context;

  • Specific activities for e-learning in the retail sector;

  • Provide guidelines for the implementation of e-learning.

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