The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed how we live and work; education is no exception. With social distancing measures in place, educators and students worldwide were forced to shift to online learning platforms. While many were already used to it, the sudden shift to digital education has brought a host of challenges, particularly for those unfamiliar with online learning platforms.

This situation is even more challenging in developing countries like South Africa, with most students not adept at finding their way around the internet and many lecturers lacking the skills and knowledge to facilitate online classes effectively. To explore the impact of educators’ skills, knowledge, and experience in e-learning on student support, a recent study focusing on an open-distance e-learning institution in South Africa was conducted, putting the participants under a training program designed to boost their digital skills. The study also solicited feedback from students’ discussion forums to see how their learning experiences differed when their lecturers were technologically adept versus when they were not.

The study found that before completing the training program, most lecturers lacked the knowledge and digital skills necessary for open-distance e-learning, negatively impacting their attitudes toward using technology in their teaching and for student support. However, the skill-building program significantly improved their digital literacy and positively shifted their perspectives. This suggests that educational institutions should offer their staff continuous professional development in distance education and e-learning to improve the quality of students’ learning subsequently. Nowadays, some of the most common e-learning methods imparted in corporate training include web-based learning such as Learning Management Systems, virtual classrooms, video modules with human instructors, mobile learning, etc. In addition, the study recommends using surveys to assess academic staff’s readiness for online teaching and create a platform for them to share information and their training program experiences.

Moreover, Institutions must train their staff to adopt and adapt to new technologies effectively for better teaching and improved student learning outcomes. The study also highlights the importance of engaging students creatively through digital platforms, such as discussion forums, which is essential to foster a collaborative learning environment. Nevertheless, access to technology and the Internet is a significant challenge in developing countries like South Africa, hindering educational opportunities. Universities can help provide access to these resources. Still, more needs to be done to address the digital divide, such as investing in infrastructure, improving internet access in remote and rural areas, and exploring innovative solutions in schools like mobile learning. According to Ernst & Young, governments will play a key role in bridging the digital divide and boosting digital transformation. Some solutions to this challenge for the educational sector include affordable, robust broadband internet service, internet-enabled devices that meet user needs, and access to digital literacy training.

Overall, the study’s findings highlight the importance of investing in faculty development and skills-building programs to improve the quality of online education, particularly in developing countries where access to technology and the Internet may be limited, ensuring education becomes more accessible and inclusive.