But while this increase is positive news in terms of providing greater access to education, it also comes with a cost for students who didn’t do their due diligence to check for quality and accreditation before signing up.
“Investing in your own or your child’s education is one of the most important decisions you will ever make, with the greatest impact and dividends in future. Unfortunately, with the growth in the industry, it is no surprise that there are institutions who seek to capitalise on this growth, without the ability to deliver the goods,” says Siyavuya Makubalo, Marketing Manager at Oxbridge Academy, a brand of ADvTECH, Africa’s leading private education provider.
According to Statista, the number of users of online learning platforms in South Africa is projected to be 9.9 million by 2027, with the market expected to show an annual growth rate of 15.51% between now and then, resulting in a projected market volume of US$ 188 million.
“The vast improvement in the quality and user experience for students opting for distance or online learning over the past few years is a significant development, and a welcome one. However prospective students are urged to ensure they do their checks on both institution and qualification before signing up, just like they would have done for a university or full-time study, because making the wrong choice is very likely to mean you lose precious time and money, without anything to show for it,” says Makubalo.
She says an institution MUST be able to provide evidence of the following:
ACCREDITATION OF INSTITUTION
Accreditation is a “stamp of approval” which proves that a training provider measures up to certain standards set by an accrediting body. This means that, when you study with an accredited training provider, you can be sure that you are receiving an education that meets the standards and requirements set by the relevant quality assuring body.
Accreditation is important for the following reasons:
- It helps students to determine whether colleges and other training providers comply with certain standards,
- It helps employers determine the validity of qualifications earned from colleges and other training providers,
- It helps colleges and other training providers determine whether credits can be transferred from another institution, and
- It helps colleges and other training providers implement self-assessment programmes to make sure they maintain their standards and retain their accreditation.
OUTSTANDING STUDENT SUPPORT
Unfortunately it is too often the case that the only good service and support a prospective student enjoys from a distance or online learning institution, is at the enquiry and signup stage, says Makubalo.
“We are all aware of scenarios where a student committed to a course and paid their deposit and fees, only to enter into a quagmire of struggle thereafter – not receiving materials, not receiving the necessary information, and not being able to make contact with a real human at their institution.”
A trustworthy institution should have a good reputation, with proof of support given to students, she says.
“A major part of online and distance learning success depends on the extent of support provided to students, as feelings of isolation and working in a vacuum are not uncommon among those who do not receive this support.
“So when investigating an institution, ask about their tutors, the extent of assistance provided, and their availability. The job of a tutor is to make sure you are given all the help and support you need to pass your course, and to be responsive and supportive if you get stuck with your studies.
Should you for instance need help with an assignment, or understanding a particular concept, you need to know whether you will be able to contact a tutor, who will respond promptly. Know what kind of support you can expect before you commit.”
Makubalo says online and distance learning have been a lifeline and a gamechanger for those who seek to study further, particularly in the last few years with dramatic advancement in technology.
“If you are considering this mode of study, you should be confident that your institution will support your success and isn’t only out to cash in on a growth market. By making sure all the fundamentals are in place before embarking on your studies, the likelihood that you will enjoy your studies and progress to a satisfying career will be greatly improved.”