The e-learning revolution14 June 2019
Ivan Král, industrial development officer at UNIDO, discusses e-learning and blended training in professional leather education.
Industrial development increasingly requires knowledge that is generated by R&D and experience, and, subsequently, passed on to those working in the leather-related sub-sector. Globalisation, rapid changes in market conditions and technology, and the need to cater for environmental and social aspects of the manufacturing processes call for higher efficiency and effectiveness of acquiring necessary knowledge at all levels of leather-related business.
Both conventional and asynchronous approaches to learning are not without challenges, but using today’s information and communications technology (ICT) – with special references to multimedia applications and networking (in its broadest sense) – provides a strong basis for e-learning by ensuring measurable interactivity and the full involvement of learners.
In the e-learning environment, content is organised according to the needs and the profile of the learner, and progress and results are recorded. Plus, learners have the opportunity to consult (with teachers and with other fellow learners) without moving from their location. The two major components and drivers of e-learning are the learning content development (LCD) and the learning management systems (LMS), though the latter is not an inevitable service.
Existing knowledge available in any electronic format may be used for composing e-learning content. To demonstrate the potential of this new technology, UNIDO has developed complete e-learning courses regarding sustainable leather processing, tannery effluent treatment, footwear pattern engineering and footwear technology, as well as individual training.
Constraints of classroom learning
Human resources are crucial for the sector’s competitiveness, and UNIDO understands the importance of training. For competing in the market on quality, product consistency and performance, fashion, and service to customers, skilled personnel are essential. The combination of experience and youth represents the key asset on which the competitiveness of the sector is based. This can be enhanced at sector level by developing continuing vocational training and lifelong learning. But primary restrictions of traditional classroom training for the learner include the fact that it:
- inherently prioritises standards, curriculum and tests, resulting in limited focus on the big picture of the learner’s progress
- lacks emphasis on larger concepts or structures as it focuses on basic skills and gradually builds to a whole
- lacks interactivity as learners receive few opportunities to practice group dynamics/teamwork
- pulls results around averages as it cannot devote sufficient time and effort to those advancing slower and/or provide better learners with more and higherlevel resources to develop their specific capacities
- is timely and geographically limited, and requires synchronisation of physical presence
- provides limited potential for developing competencies that would enable learners to further enhance their abilities.
All of these restrictions in UNIDO’s experience lead to high costs, and low efficiency and effectiveness. Moreover, reverting to the knowledge base – especially in the case of using static (document-oriented) media – involves additional expenses.
The range of these conventional styles and media are now being substantially expanded by rapidly developing ICT.
Schools, colleges, institutions and organisations – including those inside manufacturing and trading companies – engaged with education and training adapt ICT in their operations. The material base, and the processing and manufacturing technology has come a long way in recent years. Related training contents (the knowledge base and range of skills) have also changed – though at a far slower pace than the technology – but their structures and related training systems seem to be more rigid.
Medium-level educational and training institutions imparting knowledge and providing certificates to those successfully completing their courses try to cope with technical development. Quite naturally, they are always somewhat behind in incorporating the most advanced and newest (especially technical) developments as innovative solutions are coming from suppliers and R&D organisations, or are developed within the manufacturing environment.
The other challenge is globalisation, when the leather-based industry, at least its manufacturing base, is disappearing from industrialised countries. Massive production capacities are emerging in countries with no or little tradition in this trade. At the same time, utilisation of the extensive knowledge base and experience accumulated in professional education and training is not only seriously handicapped, it is also going to take a long time to develop similar intellectual support services in new regions.
Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) is one of the most promising innovations to improve teaching and learning with the help of modern ICT. Most recent developments in CSCL have been called e-learning 2.0, but the concept of collaborative or group learning, whereby instructional methods are designed to encourage or require students to work together on learning tasks, has existed for much longer.
The e-learning environment
Most of the knowledge-providers typically take existing educational materials, add various media, sequence them and use the “transferred” product in an online environment. Thereafter, new or specifically tuned for e-learning content is developed that gradually utilises the capabilities of this technology.
The complexity of e-learning operation requires an entirely new structure stretching between experts, teachers and the accumulated or archived knowledge base – learning content on one side and learners on the other. This mechanism is composed of two major parts: first, the LCD engaged with production of the actual learning material; and second, the learning management system (LMS), organising and recording all activities (of both learners and teachers), administrating the learning process, storing learning contents, and facilitating interactions and feedbacks.
The amount made by online courses in 2018.
Although starting e-learning services may be launched by using the existing knowledge base but converted into electronic formats, this does not suit current requirements for efficiency.
Forecasted revenue from e-learning by 2025, three times that of 2015.
Research and Markets
Learning content development within the leather value chain is an ongoing challenge, as it requires multidisciplinary teams and resources. Due to the size of the leather sector, there are only a few examples of e-learning content development. Based on the expert group meeting focusing on e-learning in June 2016 in Mwanza, Tanzania, e-learning is not used widely within the leather sector and institutions involved in the training have only little knowledge with use of online training.
UNIDO training courses
One of the core competencies of UNIDO is technology transfer. Although not an educational institution in of itself, UNIDO recognises and fully embraces education and its multiple formats as a necessary and significant means to build the technical capacity of it counterparts.
Lack of available learning content and training courses resulted in the development of online training courses and learning content, which can be used by training institutions – including industrial companies – to train students in face-to-face training with the use of developed learning tools, in selflearning or blended training.
UNIDO has started to build a range of courses and LCD for the leather value chain:
- Introduction to treatment of tannery effluents
- How to deal with hydrogen sulphide gas
- First aid
- Sustainable leather processing
- Footwear pattern engineering.
In the Introduction to treatment of tannery effluents course, the animated presentation includes the following modules:
- The aim of effluent treatment; pollution load and the main waste water quality parameters; typical discharge norms; general overview of the treatment of tannery effluents, segregation of streams, treatment of spent liming floats and treatment of chrome-bearing floats.
- Pre-treatment for discharge into CETP collection network, physical-mechanical (primary) treatment for discharge into municipal sewage.
- Sludge thickeners, sludge pumps, filter press, centrifuge, belt filter press, flow chart of physical chemical treatment, sludge drying beds.
- Activated sludge, aeration devices, oxidation ditch, flow chart of the biological treatment.
- Monitoring, occupational safety and health (OSH) at work, CETP collection, CETP costing, flow chart of fully fledged treatment.
The visual learning/training tool serves as a practical tool for UNIDO workshops in developing countries, mainly targeting leather technologists and tannery managers, plus decision-makers of different profiles. It is also expected to help the staff of EPAs and members of NGOs to better understand key issues and principles of the treatment of tannery waste waters.
UNIDO has developed innovative e-learning training materials that can be used in different regions around the world. UNIDO’s e-learning course, How to deal with hydrogen sulphide gas, is self-study, easy to use, and contains an animated visual training tool. The course complements UNIDO’s Safety Handbook on how to deal with hydrogen sulphide gas in tanneries and effluent treatment plants, which is also available to download after enrolling in the course:
- This online course offers proper training related to dangers associated with H2S.
- It has been specifically designed to help tanners, tannery and effluent treatment managers, and operators understand the basic principles of how to deal with hydrogen sulphide gas.
This is an example of self-learning material/content for wide use within the leather value chain. A similar course is also used by the oil industry on commercial bases. Due to the size of the leather sector, it is unlikely that such an approach will be widely used for leather processing; however, results and feedback from participants is very encouraging.
E-learning courses developed by UNIDO have been used either for classroom trainings, self-learning, or for the blended training courses in various countries. As only a few online courses are available for the leather value chain, the above-mentioned courses are among the first practically tested and used courses within the leather value chain.
One of the core competencies of UNIDO is technology transfer. Conventional training, teaching, learning methods, and routinely suggested course durations, forms and arrangements, don’t suit today’s soon-to-be employees and industrial operations – especially as manufacturing units are shifting from one region to another very fast. Similarly, training and retraining of workers and staff needs to be fast and efficient. The main concept of the new training is to use available technology to improve and increase learning efficiency by using and adopting e-learning and appropriate tools. Though no in-depth computer programming experience is required for building e-learning content, all related software needs some time to learn/practice utilising their features and tools.
Features of modern training/learning systems include rapid development, especially ICT during recent years, and also more and more for development of training/learning material. With further development and especially new software, various new training material, concepts and trainers’ aids have been developed, starting with knowledge bank up to more sophisticated animated and interactive training/ learning courses and e-learning courses.
In short, e-learning is necessary for the future of leather production expertise, and UNIDO is playing a key role by starting to build a range of courses and LCD for the leather value chain.
The main objectives of learning content development are to provide:
- access to up-to-date training programmes for training institutions, especially in developing countries with limited resources
- access to all students and trainees, as access to education and training should be accessible to all – and consequently it should lead to the development of the leather sector
- the same access to some regions is not possible due to security issues and UNIDO is also providing assistance to such countries – online training and assistance is an opportunity to assist such regions
- reduced cost of training.
Blended and online e-learning courses are accessible on the leatherpanel.org portal or UNIDO Institute for Capacity Development, and it is already used and tested in Tanzania by Dar as Salaam Institute of Technology (DIT) on its Mwanza campus. To date, participants from more than 170 countries use these training materials.
Coordination among various organisations and institutions in the development of training programmes is one option, and how to maintain the required level of training reflecting requirements from industry for more effective and flexible training programmes. Cooperation and joint preparation of training material will lead to an efficient use of resources.