The crucial shifting role of online learning

If you consider how all our lives have changed since March 2020, the shift to online learning was, and still is, an inevitable piece of the virtual puzzle falling into place.

As we drift further away from 2020, it is abundantly clear that the transition from traditional classroom learning to agile online learning or E-learning is here to stay. In the Financial Services space, this calls for what I describe as “a humanised multi-disciplinary experience” i.e., a combination of technology, smart education and personalised engagement.

Five key factors have catalysed this change in mindset and practice.

The global health crisis 

COVID-19 with its lockdowns and social distancing, accelerated the world into a remote-first reality. This has, on many levels, given rise to a social recession i.e., a growing number of people who feel isolated and disconnected for lack of authentic human interaction. Online learning skillfully tackles the challenge with interactive virtual learning spaces, discussion forums and digital makerspaces, providing strength and connectivity for communities.


Online learning slashes the costs of traditional learning, making knowledge-exchange affordable for individuals and corporates alike. IBM famously saved $200 million after switching to tech-based learning platforms, which accounted for 30% of its previous year’s training budget, because of reduce costs related to travel, hotel rentals, equipment, and instructors. IBM managers learnt five times more content at just a third of the price of traditional contact learning! As a result, IBM streamlined its workplace education process and focused more employee time on day-to-day tasks, leading to long-term financial gains.

Time saving

Echoing a recent KPMG report that highlighted lack of time as the foremost challenge hindering talent development today, industry analyst and HR maverick, Josh Bersin, in his 2020 report, revealed that on average, employees only have 24 minutes a week to spend on learning. Factoring in traditional classroom learning methodology, it is easy to see why, with only 24 minutes a week, in-class learning is rendered redundant. In contrast, online learning, with its flexible schedules and on-hand resources, has proven to take up to 60% less time than traditional learning.

Learning is evolving  

The proliferation of interactive digital spaces and the increase in fake news and misinformation have produced an attention economy where, at any given time, information-consumers need to sift through huge volumes of information to create meaning. This has drastically changed how we consume information. Today, we absorb info faster and in short, snackable quantities. Lengthy lecture hall and in-class sessions have given way to quick, dynamic online learning environments where content has been sifted for relevancy and presented with an attention economy in mind.

Enhanced accessibility

Analysts believe that this decade will usher in a steady decline in traditional college enrolment, primarily because of rising costs of “traditional” education and because higher education degrees are increasingly being viewed as less impactful.

As a result, we have seen a significant increase in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that offer affordability and global accessibility. No longer geographically constrained, learners can sign up with any educational institution, anywhere in the world. As a result, online learning is changing lives worldwide, though sadly, 73% of the global student population has not yet heard about MOOCS.

There is, however, a significant amount of work to be done to achieve a state of digital education nirvana. Accessibility remains a primary concern here in Africa with just 39% of our continent’s people having access to the internet compared to 62% worldwide**. Data costs and patchy networks contribute to the challenge.

Education providers must consistently invest in latest technology to ensure on-trend, interactive learning practices and understand the intrinsic need to customize learning experiences for corporates and individuals alike.  Online offerings must be agile enough to meet the changing demands of employers. Learners need tuition in time management to make the most of online learning experiences, while employers need to commit to transformation through digital education.

Dr. Kershen Pillay is CEO of the Graduate Institute of Financial Sciences (GIFS) in South Africa. He is regarded as a foremost educational visionary and thought leader in the higher education space in Africa.

* 100 Essential E-Learning Statistics for 2021 | E-Student (

**Internet World Stats, March 2020 (

03 March 2021