Learning software and services company New Leaf Technologies has seen a 270% increase in product and services sales from January to May 2020 compared to the same period last year. “Covid-19 triggered a higher demand, and we’re seeing existing customers wanting to really maximise their e-learning experiences now,” says founder and CEO Paul Hanly.
This is even more remarkable given that accessibility to affordable data and handsets in South Africa remains an issue, compounded by the possibility that unemployment could skyrocket to 50%. But it’s not all bad news: according to a Statista report published in January this year, South Africa’s digital population stands at 36,5 million active internet users, with almost 35 million active mobile internet users – that’s almost 62% and 59%, respectively, of the country’s population. And smartphone penetration has increased significantly: 72,7% year-on-year.
New Leaf Technologies, an established learning software and services company to corporations, training companies and educational institutions through Africa and the Middle East, has shown growth across a broad range of industries, irrespective of workforce income levels. Hanly says that traditionally resistant industries such as mining have cottoned on to e-learning, and industries already using it are realising how much more can be done with it. “It’s no longer a log-in-and-read type of offering. Now there are group activities, virtual-instructor-led training and peer-to-peer collaboration.” New Leaf’s client base reflects buy-in from top-notch brands like Bidvest, City Lodge Hotels, Redefine Properties, Allan Gray and Sony Music.
Uptake has been the largest in financial services (thanks largely to compliance issues), hospitality and retail (owing to time restrictions), mining (as a result mainly of demographics), and training companies (because of the value-add it offers to existing courseware). The company is able to integrate a variety of cloud-based learning management platforms into clients’ existing learning management systems (LMS) and offer tailor-made industry-specific courseware that forms part of an overall e-learning experience that may include video and audio, animation, puzzles and questions, and group activities.
Mandy Tebbit, managing director of Cranfield Aviation Training, says, “We’ve trained about 800 people from the aviation, oil and gas, and nuclear industries, using a blended approach of online learning with live stream learning.” New Leaf’s cloud-based aNewSpring LMS has formed the bedrock of how their course content is shared. “The benefits are endless: our clients and instructors don’t have to travel to training facilities, there are no accommodation expenses, learners are able to study at their own pace, there’s improved tracking of student progress, and a good level of conformity to how the content is taught is upheld,” says Tebbit.
WWISE, a training and systems development company aimed at, amongst others, the ISO and engineering sectors, points out that e-learning elicits a greater degree of interaction from introverts, who might be too shy to ask questions in a classroom setting. And for the extroverts, the global scale of the platform WWISE has created using New Leaf’s infographic content has enabled discussion with peers from around the world. “It has also allowed us and our clients to save on travel, books, catering and traffic,” says WWISE managing director Muhammad Ali.
Naturally, there are challenges, and most of them are around shifting a mindset attuned to the tried-and-tested formula of classroom teaching. “Clients may question the quality of the courseware based on negative previous experiences,” says Ali. “And then there’s how to adapt to technology, issues of connectivity, and what the return on investment will be.”
WWISE has addressed this by attaining nationally and internationally accredited standards on all its courseware, providing laptops and access to mobile apps for disadvantaged students in and around Gauteng and Cape Town, and getting current learners to allay prospective learners’ fears through sharing their learning experiences on social media.
For learners to have a really fulfilling e-learning experience, Hanly believes that course inspiration and guidance are vital. This is provided through virtual facilitators, peer-to-peer engagement, and multimedia forms – the company provides a turnkey production service offering scripting, instructional design, audio recording, editing, voiceover, animation, virtual-reality programming, photography and filming, story-boarding, and music composition and recording.
Equally, for corporates to get the most out of their e-learning investment, solid planning and very detailed analytics must be developed to measure effectiveness. Ali adds that corporates should be in it for the long haul to realise the overall benefit of a changed, skills-heavy workforce. “We’re still recouping investments made on our e-learning platform,” he says. “But we’re starting to see a return on our investment, and now with Covid-19 and lingering concerns around classroom teaching, demand has increased significantly.”
But for the industry to continue to grow and thrive, it needs innovation, Hanly says. “Old server-based LMS systems have become outdated and don’t offer the functionality of new cloud-based systems.” Nonetheless, he believes that the pandemic has shifted the goalposts for the e-learning industry. “Bandwidth increases and dropping data costs will really help the industry flourish – there’s a genuine hunger for knowledge in Africa, and I believe as a continent we’re on the edge of a renaissance that will be driven by how much we know and what skills we can offer.”