• 31 Mar 2020
  • SBS-ED
  • 5Min

Training and development: does online learning work?

Training and development: does online learning work?


#DataPricesMustFall! Finally, they are doing so. The Competition Commission has announced that customers will enjoy reduced data prices from 1 April 2019, with cut costs set to save South African consumers R2.4 billion.

Reduced data prices will have a big impact on many people’s day-to-day lives; additionally, they’ll make online learning more accessible than ever before. This could help cement South Africa as a knowledge economy, facilitating more training and development in cognitive skills.

Online education plays a crucial role in ushering in knowledge economies by helping countries and corporates accrue the requisite skills to close capability gaps and pursue diversified economic activities.

As the market becomes increasingly saturated with education providers, options become more affordable, making ongoing online learning a likelihood for more and more people. That makes it easier than ever for employers to look for consistent ways to meaningfully upskill a team. In order to remain relevant in the digital ecosystem, helping team members hone new future-fit capabilities is key.

Here’s a little more about the knowledge economy and where online learning fits in:

What is the knowledge economy?
A knowledge economy prioritises upskilling workers with specialised skills. It’s an economy in which ‘growth depends on the quantity, quality and accessibility of information, rather than the means of production’, according to the Oxford Dictionary.

Professor André Roux, economist, USB-ED faculty member and the head of USB-ED’s post-graduate programme in Future Studies, has previously said he believes that countries will need to transform their economies to become less dependent on mining and agriculture (in Africa especially). This means taking what they’re already good at and elevating this – so instead of exporting raw minerals like diamonds, it’s about cutting and setting them in-country so none of that value is lost.

The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) calls for cognitive skills. To move in the direction of a diversified knowledge economy, it’s imperative countries – and corporates – start to focus on instilling the capabilities that are most needed – like technological, scientific and managerial skills. Online training can play a big part in this.

How does online learning help foster a knowledge economy?

The knowledge economy depends on quality information being accessible. Online learning is helping to bridge core capability gaps by providing affordable, targeted content that can be consumed in any place, at any time. Going forward, Harvard Business Review suggests employers will set up personal learning clouds for employees. These provide a selection of relevant course material for employees to continuously dip into in
byte-sized bits. Each employee will see a different learning dashboard, that’ll update with materials as they progress and require new skills. Importantly, hard and soft capabilities will be covered, with an array of future-fit skills like creativity and problem-solving.

Why do employees need to be upskilled in the digital age?

McKinsey predicts that 4IR could displace 800 million workers – a third of the global workforce. It suggests that up to 30% of the hours worked globally may be automated by 2030. This will differ greatly between countries.

Importantly, new jobs will be available, but up to 375 million individuals might need to switch occupational categories and learn new skills. McKinsey believes people will take on more roles that machines are not capable of – like managerial and communication positions.

Additionally, it believes skillsets will move to more ‘social, emotional and advanced cognitive capabilities’.

Purposefully slowing down adoption of automation is not the way forward. As labour demand declines, protectionism can be a natural response. But McKinsey suggests that this won’t set countries, corporates or individuals up for sustained long-term success. Rather, it believes workforce transitions must be closely managed, with ‘sustained investment, new training models, programmes to ease transitions, income support and public-private collaborations’ key to progress.

Job retraining will be crucial. People must have every opportunity to keep refreshing their skillsets with marketable capabilities that meet current and future needs. With all the rapid changes of the digital age, on-the-job training will be key.

But businesses also need to predict the critical roles of the future and start staff training now to fill these positions down-the-line. That’s where strategic succession planning is imperative.

What’s the next step for employers?

Employers need to scenario plan across all levels of the business, with key stakeholders and decisions-makers to identify what the crucial roles of tomorrow will be. They then need to work with HR to develop strategic talent management plans that make online learning and training accessible to each individual, aligned with the person’s growth and development plan. It’s imperative that leaders are equipped with the skills to successfully navigate change and make the move to a transformational leadership style that’s equally focused on soft skills.


Enrol established and emerging leaders in the Management Development Programme in order to assist them to manage the demands of 4IR in terms of leadership, personal mastery and intra and inter-personal relationships. Companies need to embrace change as the new norm, not shy away from it. While the shift to knowledge economies and cognitive skills can be daunting, it also poses a massive opportunity.


written by


- Latest Insights

  • 04 Jul 2024
  • Sarah Babb
  • 4 Min
EDTalks Resilience
  • 10 Jul 2024
  • Vanessa Thurlwell
  • 4 Min
EDTalks Resilience