II: Universities reshaping teaching and learning through ICT use in different national contexts

Is digital distance education a strategy for development?: Exploring the digitization of distance education in Ghana

Isaac Kofi Biney

Introduction

Golovic (2018) observes that when it comes to global changes and adult education, it is important to mention the process of digitization that is present in almost all areas of society, Zawacki-Richter et al. (2019) assert that since the mid-1990s, the digital transformation has changed the face of open and distance education as we had known it, and to Xiao (2018), during the last 20 years distance education has moved from the fringes into the center of mainstream education provision. OECD (2016) notes that the “digital divide” has become a skills gap between the haves and have-nots. It adds that digital skills generate a significant return in terms of employment, income and other social outcomes for those who have them, but set up barriers to better life opportunities for those without. Tait (1999) observes that “the secret garden of open and distance learning has become public, and many institutions are moving from single conventional mode activity to dual mode activity” (p. 141), and Kearsley (1998) further claimed that “distance education has become mainstream” (p. 1).

Developments in technology' have meant a push forward for distance education (Carlsen et al., 2016). Digital learning, to Thone (2015), can significantly contribute to sustainable development and improvement of living conditions. Although digital technologies cannot transform education by themselves, they do have huge potential to transform teaching and learning practices in schools and open up new horizons (OECD, 2016; Bates, 2016; Bates & Poole, 2003).

Thone (2015) opines that “in the course of life, people change, so does the world around people, and so does learning” (p. 5). Two relationships are noticed as far as digitization is considered. First is the application of digitization in the practice of the learning process, and second, the education for digitization. Adult learners may have to be successful in both to progress seamlessly in a distance education mode of learning. The reason is that digitization is having a significant impact on the rapid development of distance education which provides opportunities for improvement of adult life situations. It is perhaps for this reason that today’s adult learners are encouraged to learn by blended approaches at University of Ghana Learning Centers.

Allen and Seaman (2017) note that the proportion of the higher education student body taking advantage of distance education courses in the U.S. has increased in each of the last three years. It stood at 25.9% in 2012, at 27.1% in 2013, and at 28.3% in 2014. Anamuah-Mensah (2015) posits that some dual mode universities in Ghana were able to attract large numbers of students into distance education programs, including University' of Education, Winneba (UEW) at over 45,000. The University of Cape Coast (UCC) followed with 42,000 students on its distance education program, and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) is third with a distance education student population of 10,000. The University of Ghana comes next with over 8,000 adult learners enrolled on its distance education program.

Moodle and SAKAI Learning Management System (LMS) are two main learning softwares used by universities in Ghana to power the distance education programs. The University of Ghana distance education program which started in 2007 went blended in 2013 on the SAKAI (LMS) platform. It has been five years since the introduction of the SAKAI (LMS) platform for adult learning in distance education mode at University of Ghana Learning Centers. This chapter explores digitization of distance education in Ghana. It establishes that digital distance education could serve as a strategy for development, but also envisages challenges in rolling out digital distance learning in Ghana., Finally, it discusses ways in which digitization of the distance education mode of learning could be strengthened in Ghana.

Pedagogical theories in relation to distance education

This chapter is informed by pedagogical theories relating to distance education discussed extensively by Carlsen et al. (2016). Teaching and learning processes in early distance education solutions were managed with books and letters. Through printed means, students gained access to the subject matter, and letters supported interaction between tutors and students. It was a time-consuming yet necessary dialogue for learning. Holmberg (1989; 1995) perceives teaching and learning in distance education as a conversation-like interaction between the students and the tutor of the supporting organization administering the study. From the 1970s onwards, new concepts grew, including Interactive Telecommunication Systems (ITS) and Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCI). The terms interactive and collaborative demonstrate that a growing interest in sociological and pedagogical theories had gained momentum in distance education. But the trends in distance education shifted in pedagogical perspectives, and theoretical frameworks with student interaction at the forefront became the beating heart of learner-centered strategies and environment (Carlsen et al., 2016).

Moore (1989) discussed three types of interaction, namely learner-content, learner-instructor and learner-learner. Researchers later added the interaction that occurs between the learner and the technologies used to deliver instruction. Moore (1993) developed a theory on transactional distance, meaning, the more dialogue and interaction taking place in a distance education course, the less distant the learner experience. Thus, distance education has changed enormously over the last 50 years. Technology' has opened up opportunities to implement theories with high relevance for quality distance education.

Hence, many single mode campus-based institutions, including the University of Ghana, which advocated and started with the transmission model of learning by distance mode of adult learners enrolled on their degree and diploma programs, have now bought into the dual mode approach, using ICT teaching and learning tools to aid learning at a distance. The methods used in distance education and the focus on the students as learners, on flexibility and on global reach, stimulate interest across the entire field of education. It is, therefore, not surprising that the University of Ghana has adopted the SAKAI (LMS) with its numerous interactive tools, to help adult learners in their learning endeavors at the eleven learning centers in Ghana.

Digitization of distance education in Ghana

According to Bates (2016), there are key knowledge and skills that adult learners need in a digital age, and technology is changing everything, including the context in which we teach and learn. There has been incredible expansion in the area of information and communication technology (Radford, 2011), and the growth of technology' is changing the nature of higher education (Lambert et al., 2014).

The emergence of computers has fueled the advancement of technology', and altered the way we learn, especially' in higher education institutions. Greater and smarter use of technology in teaching is widely' seen as a promising way of controlling costs while reducing achievement gaps, and improving access (Chingos et al., 2013). The exploding growth in online learning, especially in higher education institutions, according to Chingos et al. (2013), is often cited as evidence that, at last, technology' may offer pathways to progress.

In Ghana, nearly all the distance education providing higher education institutions (HEIs) are employing mainly the Moodle and SAKAI (LMS) teaching and learning softwares to roll out distance education programs. While the University of Education, Winneba, the University of Cape Coast, and Ghana Technology University College employ Moodle in delivering distance education, the University of Ghana, employs the SAKAI (LMS) to roll out distance education to adult learners.

The University of Ghana has eleven learning centers providing continuing professional development programs to individuals, corporate organizations and institutions. The distance education is the main program currently' run at all eleven learning centers of the University of Ghana. The Accra Learning Center (ALC) is the biggest of the eleven regional learning centers of the School of Continuing and Distance Education (SCDE), hosting over 80% of all adult learners enrolled on the distance education program. The state-of-the art computer laboratories, video-conferencing rooms, smart classrooms, discussion rooms and presentation practicing rooms help adult learners learn. Adult learners receive tutorials face to face over the weekends, and also spend some time learning online on the SAKAI

(LMS) platform. PowerPoint slides and video-recordings of the content of courses taught by lecturers are uploaded on the SAKAI (LMS) platform for adult learners to download. Adult learners undertake interim assessments online on the SAKAI (LMS) platform and, thus, build up their digital literacy skills. After all, Flores (2017) notes that as training for teachers increases, academic and technology' based supports for the adult learner must in turn increase in order to maintain the learning dynamic at a distance. It is not surprising that, today, adult learners attend tutorials less with books and pens, but more with learning tools like laptops and smartphones (Parkay, 2013).

UNESCO (2015) states that mobile technologies “hold the key to turning today’s digital divide into digital dividends, bringing equitable and quality education for all” (p. 50). This, therefore, signifies that learning today has become more informal, personal and ubiquitous. For instance, today’s young adult learners whose ages range from 18 to 30, are skilled multi-taskers, and always engaged in parallel processes (Oduro-Mensah & Biney, 2013). They learn on the go, as a result of the emergence and advancements of new technologies (Parkay, 2013). A growing percentage of younger students are now seeking out access to convenient online academic programs (Kasworm, 2018). Digital skills, to the Government Office for Science (2017), are increasingly required for citizens to engage effectively in modern societies. It is therefore not strange that young adult learners are engaging in online or blended learning. After all, today’s young adult learners are, among others, referred to as digital natives and ¿Generation people. They eat, dine and wine anything Internet; so therefore, Parkay (2013) describes them as ‘media diet’people.

Realizing the central role of technology in engendering development, the Government of Ghana has, as a matter of policy, been implementing the ‘Community Information Center’ model of developing and building digital skills in the citizenry'. It has built computer laboratories in the communities, equipped with digital devices and tools for the citizenry' to use. This is important because The Economist (2017) indicates that if the 21st-century' economies are not to create a massive underclass, policy makers urgently' need to work out how to help all the citizens learn while they earn. The ‘Community Information Centers’ are further equipped with Internet facilities, and other communication accessories to support community members to use, learn and become digitally inclusive and relevant. Community members are encouraged to use the digital tools in communication, transacting businesses and linking up with relations and loved ones. This approach of building digital skills has the potential of making community members become digitally' literate in Ghana.

Digitization of distance education as a strategy for development

DFID (2018) notes that digital technologies have the potential to revolutionize the lives of the poor, unlock development and prosperity', and accelerate progress toward development. It adds that we can only achieve development by making best use of the latest digital technology'. To get the most out of digital technologies, we need to ensure that the benefits are accessible to all. Small businesses, rural communities, women and minority groups - all stand to benefit from the growth and job creation that innovation and technology brings (DFID, 2018).

Communication technologies, including smartphones and other advancements in hardware and software, the world-wide-web, the Internet and applications such as chat, blogs, wikis and podcasts, as well as SMS, MMS and communication interactive platforms such as the SAKAI (LMS) and Moodle, have opened up opportunities for excellent presentations of subject matter, for easy access to dictionaries and encyclopedia (Carlsen et al., 2016). Such technologies, it is believed, create opportunities to implement pedagogical theories with high relevance for quality' distance education, a component part of adult education. The University' of Ghana has already deployed the SAKAI (LMS) in training adult learners to become digitally' skilled and literate, and become useful and relevant in today’s world of work.

The usage of technological software and tools create nearness, and also promote learning, dialogue, interaction and conversation between adult learners and their tutors, lecturers and course examiners. This approach to learning has led to deepening and strengthening cross-fertilization of ideas between examiners and adult learners as they' continue to engage and interact online. Again, as teaching and learning continues to change in such a fast and rapid succession, and as adult learners get exposed to such dynamic changes, they' may' eventually become digitally' skillful workers, impacting upon performance in workplaces. The digital skills they are acquiring would enable them to adapt quickly to the changing trends in the digital space, to impact productivity' in workplaces, for example the improvement in revenue generation as a result of implementing digitization at Ghana’s sea ports.

This achievement at the sea ports, to Ghana Revenue Authority', has seen Ghana’s business ranking improve to 156 in the latest ‘World Bank Ease of Doing Business Report’, with trading across borders scoring 54.84 points in 2018, up from 52.32 (Ghana Revenue Authority', cited in Daily Graphic, 2018a). This development has directly and indirectly' compelled the key stakeholders, and players involved in import and export business, including freight forwarders, importers and exporters, to plunge themselves into learning informally, to quickly' become adapted to the changes taking place at the sea ports.

As Canning (2002) observes, while formal, structured learning courses are still a major focus for education and business, the explosion of the world-wide-web has made opportunities for informal learning, especially procedural or how-to knowledge. This is important because informal learning, to Canning (2002), is highly personalized, and is becoming more and more computer based. Selwyn and Gorard (2004) assert that some research has started to investigate how these informal learning spaces are created and utilized by' adult learners. The findings show that once adult learners are comfortable with the technology' use, namely' hardware and the ability' to search and filter through information on the Internet effectively, informal learning can explode.

To Allen and Seaman (2017), adult learning has become one of the fastest growing sub-sectors of the education sector. The exponential times we find ourselves in actually require that we engage in lifelong learning - that is, we learn throughout our lifespan, to be relevant in our own world. If this trend of adult learning continues in Ghana, the so-called digital divide will not become a “learning divide,” because effort is being made by adult learners to acquire knowledge and skills through improved ICT learning tools such as the SAKAI (LMS).

Huang (2017) asserts that the growth of the Internet and, more recently, the Web, have made it conceivable that education can take place in a learning environment that is based on instant communication, and the ability to search a vast array of resources. As adult learners access such huge learning resources, and based on their experience, they will be able to use relevant information to aid their growth and development in the digital space they find themselves in.

The Government of Ghana attaches importance to the digitization of the economy of Ghana so much that the seven Nation Builders Corps models established by the government, as a means of addressing graduate unemployment, has Digitize Ghana as one of the models. This innovative approach to addressing the graduate unemployment challenge in Ghana has created 100,000 jobs for young university graduates (Daily Graphic, 2018b). The Digitize Ghana model staff are working with information technology' organizations, to help as many people as possible acquire knowledge and become digitally skillful, and usefill in their workplaces. This development should be expected because digital skills provide benefits for employment and social mobility (Government Office for Science, 2017). This opportunity goes to demonstrate that the potential of modern technologies, including the SAKAI (LMS), in fostering lifelong learning cannot be disputed. After all, one important skill for every’ citizen today is to be a self-directed learner. When adult learners take the initiative, and also decide to use ICT learning tools, they' may gain the freedom to explore in their learning endeavors. To Rogers (1969), “the sense of discovery', of reaching out, of grasping and comprehending comes from within the learners” (cited in Bear, 2012, p. 28).

Providing digital support in the learning centers, and our communities, to aid learning is more critical today than ever before because, gradually, all sectors of the economy of Ghana are becoming digitalized. For instance, the banking, insurance, health, education and finance sectors in Ghana are all being digitalized. This development will help speed up work in those sectors of the economy, and also help operators acquire experience, as they use the tools in their work.

As adult learners who combine work with learning infuse knowledge and digital skills acquired into the work they do, their performance in workplaces might be enhanced, and that will reflect on their productivity and remuneration. Thus, Ghana, as a country', might be developing appropriate human capital to foster its development. This is significant because Becker (1975; 1994) notes that the quality of human capital is a fundamental component of productivity and sustainable growth.

Cilasum et al. (2018) observe that an educated and skilled labor force is an important factor to increase the quality of human capital and hence economic growth. They add that the speed of technological change requires continuous skill updating in the labor market. This observation speaks to the fact that the acquisition of digital literacy skills is a necessary pre-requisite for any successful worker, in today’s workplace. It constitutes a necessary condition of improving performance and productivity of workers. This increased productivity of workers as they engage in lifelong learning, through on-the-job and off-the-job training programs, will to a large extent have a positive impact on Ghana’s development. However, the positive developments will only fully be realized, if the digitization drive which has started in almost all sectors of the economy of Ghana, including educational institutions, is deepened and strengthened.

Perceived challenges facing digitization of distance education in Ghana

Using information communication technology (ICT) teaching and learning tools in distance education offers potential learning opportunities for those previously excluded. The opportunities in learning settings, be it educational, community or workplace settings notwithstanding, there are a number of perceived challenges that emanate from adult learners’ use of ICT learning tools, especially in the learning centers. Selwyn and Gorard (2004) found in their study on informal learning that computer-based learning was detrimental to some learners as they become too reliant on a single tool for information gathering.

Hawkridge (2003) argues that e-learning’s capacity is limited by electronic, digitized communication: cognition from screens is not the same as from linear text in books. Nor is distance learning cognitively the same as face-to-face. ICT learning tools cannot serve varying national social objectives: nowhere are the poor able to benefit from services they cannot pay for. More so, to Selwyn and Gorard (2004), the computer tended to become the only conduit of information gathering for some individuals, when it was not viewed as the best tool to gather the required information.

Salehi and Salehi (2012) contend that the process of using ICT teaching and learning tools in everyday education is very complicated. They assert that the opportunities provided by ICT to support teaching and learning are not problem-free. The virtually limitless opportunities of accessing information in an educational context can pose a real danger of information overload if teachers do not have the skills in filtering information for relevance, or are unable to establish a coherent organizing principle. Adult learners and tutors may also lack the requisite skills to access, process and use information. Although ICT teaching and learning tools are like a synergy connecting thousands of great minds, the issues of lack of access, shortage of time, lack of confidence, support services, resources, resistance to change and lack of training in using ICT learning tools could constitute a challenge in optimizing their use in the learning centers in Ghana.

Salehi and Salehi (2012) assert that in a study in the UK, Jones reported that lack of personal confidence and insufficient access to the ICT resources were the key barriers for a majority of the sun-eyed adult learners. Some other factors which were more internal to the learners, such as resistance to change and lack of awareness of the benefits of the ICTs for learning were reported in Jones’ (2004) study.

Lambert et al. (2014) cited Keengwe, Onchwari & Wachira (2008) as having said that teaching with technology' is a complex process that involves matching content, delivery and device with the oversight of the instructor. There is also a lack of understanding and consensus on how to combine different technology' tools with other learning tools (Woodridge, 2004).

Technology' integration is sporadic; according to Woodridge (2004), such that when it is implemented successfully, it involves adult learners constructing their own learning using both hardware and software tools and allows for centered approaches for both teacher and adult learner. As Croso (2016) reveals, the use of digital tools provides an opportunity for educational justice, but can also deepen the unequal access to education and create social gaps.

In spite of the perceived challenges involved in accessing and using ICT teaching and learning tools, there are a number of strategies proposed by' researchers and experts in distance learning, and ICT instructional technologists to surmount some of the difficulties fraught with using ICT teaching and learning tools in learning centers in Ghana.

Strengthening digitization of distance education in Ghana

It is hoped that the effective collaboration by the Government of Ghana, higher education institutions and adult learners themselves could aid in strengthening digitization of adult learning in Ghana. For it has been observed by the Government Office for Science (2017) that the need to update digital skills will be ongoing as new technologies continue to arrive. Hence, the Government of Ghana’s development, and promulgation of a resilient technology policy, could build the foundations for lifelong learning, especially among the young adults learning by' distance education mode in Ghana.

There is also a complete mismatch of the number of computers available in the computer laboratories, and the number of adult learners enrolled on distance education programs at the learning centers. The number of adult learners almost always outstrips the available computers they' can access for learning. The Government of Ghana should take steps to effectively' collaborate with higher education institutions engaged in distance education programs, and industry' players involved in producing digital technologies, including laptops, to provide adult learners with laptops at subsidized prices. When such a laudable idea is translated into reality, it may' largely equip adult learners to learn to cope with the lightning pace and changes taking place in the digital space, and the workplace as well.

Higher education institutions offering distance education programs to prospective adult learners should retool and refurbish the state-of-the art computer laboratories incorporated with Moodle and SAKAI (LMS) teaching and learning tools. That is, new computers and accessories have to be procured, so as to improve enormously access and availability of the learning tools for the adult learners to learn, and improve upon their digital literacy skills.

Knowles (1973; 1990) has outlined that andragogy, a field of research on adult learning, essentially focuses on learner-centered teaching method. While originally this research was defined by the age of the learner, it has now come to be viewed as a dynamic, self-driven method of learning that is more commonplace among mature learners (Halx, 2010; Taylor & Kroth, 2009a; Taylor & Kroth, 2009b). Thus distance education has a connection with adult education, and Archer and Garrison (2010) support this observation. They indicate that distance education has a long and strong connection to adult education, and developed primarily as a way to address the geographic barriers that hinder some adults’ access to learning opportunities. From Knowles’ studies, andragogy' involves using the years of experience that the learner brings to table to provide a context for formal and informal processing of newly acquired knowledge (Halx, 2010). Adult learners in Ghana have to be supported financially, to learn by distance education mode, so as to realize their goals in life.

In Ghana, some tutors on distance education programs are not trained to use tutorials as a point of engagement with adult learners. Many' of the adult learners on our distance education program are young adults, and want to be lectured, instead of being tutored. This difficulty is part of the larger challenges which compelled the University of Ghana to settle on the blended approach of adult learning by distance education mode at the Learning Centers. It is hoped that the distance education mode of learning engaged in by' the young adult learners improves their interaction, dialogue and conversation with tutors and course examiners. This, in a way, would largely help strengthen their digital literacy skills. In any event, today’s young adult learners are perceived as social-media-sawy learners (Parkay, 2013).

Tutorials, as a method of facilitation in distance education, call for interaction, dialogue and conversational approaches to learning. Thus, questioning and answering, supervision and practical activities are also encouraged. It means, therefore, that adult learners first must be ready and prepared for tutorials, so as to be successful in a distance education mode of learning. That also means that adult learners come to a Learning Center prepared, and seek clarifications on gray' areas in their readings, which they could not comprehend. This is what adult learning is all about, and adult learners in our part of the world should endeavor to exploit it for their benefit at learning centers.

Unfortunately, however, today’s students who should have been interested in a social constructivism approach to learning rather want to be taught through lectures. So therefore, when an andragogical approach is sufficiently adopted in the computer laboratories and face-to-face in lecture halls, and when properly designed and supported, it could provide the learner with an exploratory learning environment in which self-driven learning can thrive (Kooi, 2008). After all, today’s workplaces require people who have developed for themselves self-directed learning skills, to be successful. However, self-directed learning takes time to manifest itself. Therefore, the learning centers of the University of Ghana should be encouraging, engaging and motivating adult learners to cultivate for themselves this important critical learning skill.

Implications for adult education

The discussion so far has implications for adult education as far as strengthening distance education in Ghana is concerned. In the first place, change is fast paced due essentially to the digital age that we find ourselves in. That, in itself, indicates that adult learners in our part of the world need to be amply supported in terms of learning tools, including laptops, to become relevant not only in the learning settings, but the communities and workplaces that they find themselves in.

Another important observation is that technologies could be promoting passive consumers, as revealed by Groso (2016), but could also be promoting debate, critical thinking, fostering people to take an active role in technological development itself as well as in social mobility, political action and citizenship (Groso, 2016). What the University of Ghana learning centers should be doing is to continue to encourage, engage and motivate adult learners to manage their time so well that they can maximize the use of the SAKAI (LMS) teaching and learning tools in their learning endeavors. It is hoped that when the learning centers are supported with the requisite resources, adult learners will be cushioned enough to learn and become critical thinkers, useful, and relevant in the digital space that they find themselves in.

Conclusions

The chapter explored digitization of distance education mode of learning in Ghana, and how digital distance education could serve as a strategy' for development. It points out challenges in distance education, and discussed ways in which digitization of distance education could be strengthened in Ghana. As many single mode higher education institutions ventured into dual mode learning approach, the Moodle and SAKAI Learning Management System (LMS) has been the main software employed in delivering online learning to adult learners in Ghana.

There are, however, challenges in accessing computers by adult learners in some of the learning centers. The state-of-the art computer laboratories need expansion, retooling and refurbishment. Computer accessories have to be procured to maintain the malfunctioning computers. The availability of Internet and improved connectivity are to be instituted to keep the computer laboratories available, and running 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

It also means that the initiative of one laptop for every adult learner at a subsidized price occupies the attention of policy makers, governments, industrial players and higher education institutions in Ghana. When this idea is implemented, many adult learners will learn through the strengthened distance education mode to become digitally literate, skillful and savvy in the digital space they find themselves in. In a nutshell, relevant human capital could be built and fostered not only in the learning centers, but also have a positive impact on the wider development of Ghana.

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