The world of education is constantly evolving. One advancement in particular, which has transformed how education is delivered and received, is digital technology. Two of the most powerful developments which are driving education forward are virtual learning environments and eLibraries. Here’s a closer look at these two powerful resources for today’s teachers and students.

Changing the face of education

Virtual learning environments, AKA VLEs, are systems which deliver learning materials via the internet. Oxford University Press says, “These systems include assessment, student tracking, collaboration and communication tools. They can be accessed both on and off-campus, meaning that they can support students' learning outside the lecture hall 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This enables institutions to teach not only traditional full-time students but also those who cannot regularly visit the campus due to geographic or time restrictions, e.g. those on distance learning courses, doing evening classes, or workers studying part-time.”

Electronic libraries, AKA eLibraries, allow people to access published materials from wherever they are via the web. In other words, eLibraries means users no longer need to visit a physical library to read or refer to published items.

The benefits of VLEs and eLibraries

These two concepts may be different, but they share several exciting benefits. For starters, they offer access to information anywhere and at anytime. Whether used to deliver education or to supplement it, they increase access and accelerate learning in many ways and to many different kinds of students all working at their own pace.

And while in-person learning was once regarded as the “gold standard” of teaching and learning, many argue that online learning -- facilitated by VLEs and eLibraries -- can not only equal in-person delivery methods but actually surpass them. Hannes Klopper explains in iversity, “Given all the innovation we are seeing in information and communication technology as well as the many advantages flexible online learning has to offer, I would like to argue it is simply implausible to assume that this age old format cannot be eclipsed. We are only beginning to glimpse the power of flexible online learning that makes use of new opportunities, blending them with established formats where appropriate.”

Pearson managing director of global product management and design Curtiss Barness echoes this sentiment. “The space we are now in is moving away from efficiency to engagement and efficacy. It’s about a range of technologies to support the whole of the education experience,” he told The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Meanwhile, US News & World Report has proposed four ways online learning can specifically benefit working adults, including course flexibility, learning new skills while building on existing ones, instant relevance to jobs, and new career opportunities. The report concludes, “Online courses can provide real value to working adults because they are flexible and can help build the knowledge needed to get ahead while networking with others in similar positions.”

While VLEs, eLibraries, and other forms of information and communication technology (ICT) have potential for the world at large, the implications are especially significant in Africa. As the continent continues its digital revolution, both access and quality are expected to improve, with m-learning (educational services delivered through connected mobile devices) anticipated to play a pivotal role. “Since 2010 the large-scale diffusion of mobile communications technology has transformed practices with easier access to educational resources in and outside school. The arrival of low-cost, low-consumption smartphones and tablets allows ICT in education to gradually move out of the school environment, Quartz Africa says. This shift has also switched the focus from the tools to the content itself.

Lastly, it is important to know eLibraries don’t only make reference materials more accessible, but they also make searching, finding and managing content easier.

The Unicaf experience

Speaking of Africa and online learning in higher education, one platform is at the forefront of the movement: Unicaf. Offering affordable and high-quality education to underserved markets through collaborations with universities throughout the US, UK, Europe, and Africa, Unicaf offers all of the online learning advantages of VLEs and eLibraries, including cost savings, up-to-date information, and friendliness to many formats, ranging from videos to ebooks.

“Education at Unicaf is a very pleasant and fruitful experience for all students,” says Dr Maria Stylianidou, deputy programme leader of the Department of Education and Online Tutor at Unicaf. “Among its most important features is the fact that Unicaf provides quality education. All the courses offered are developed by scholars who are specialised in the field and all modules are peer-reviewed based on high academic evaluation criteria.

“Also, Unicaf offers the opportunity to online as well as on-campus learning. [...] Through the VLE online platform of Unicaf, students have access to e-books and online material that involves peer-reviewed journals, highly academic books and scholarly sources on various subjects. In addition to this, all courses include videos and presentations that make the teaching and learning process more interactive and interesting. Having the study material based online enables it to be more up-to-date and gives more options about the format the information is presented.”  

In addition to trimming the cost of higher education by its very nature, Unicaf is even more affordable when you factor in its abundant scholarship opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. Unicaf has provided more than $90 million in scholarship funding for students through the Unicaf Scholarship Program. Also, a staggering 90 percent of these students report that their Unicaf experience bettered not only their careers, but also their lives.

Stylianidou adds, “There are many stories of disadvantaged people in Africa that did not have access to education and though Unicaf they had the chance to study, get a degree, advance their career and build the life they have been dreaming of. In addition to this, Unicaf graduates were able to make a significant contribution to their home countries at the highest level. This reflects one of the most important aims of Unicaf that is to give the opportunity and access to tertiary education for disadvantaged students offering high-quality teaching and learning and recognised qualifications.

One example of a Unicaf program that’s making a difference in the lives of Africans is its MA in Education. This master’s degree program is offered in both online and supported open learning formats, and is aimed at helping students understand the relationship between education, society and students while furthering their own knowledge of the fields of teaching and learning. Additionally, Unicaf offers a breadth and depth of online study programs in other disciplines across degrees including bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral.

If you are looking to further your education without the limitations of conventional classroom learning, resources like VLEs and eLibraries open exciting new doors to improving your education, your career prospects and your life. And Unicaf can help you reap all of these benefits of online learning while achieving your goal of acquiring a prestigious international education

Article written in association with Unicaf.