Power of e-learning for renewable energy sector – Study

At a time when distance education and e-learning are becoming increasingly popular and accessible, there remains insufficient awareness around the use of educational technologies in the field of renewable energy and its benefits in African higher education, according to a recent study.

Although there are a number of face-to-face and e-learning programmes and curricula for renewable energy in Africa and Europe, the combination of educational technology and renewable energy is offered only by a limited number of African universities or universities that are accessible to Africans, according to the report eLearning for Renewable Energy Higher Education in Africa: Role, potential and outlook.

The report is produced by the Africa-EU Renewable Energy Cooperation Programme, or RECP, and the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security.

The RECP programme aims at developing renewable energy markets in Africa and hopes to shape this market by training the next generation of energy professionals and promoting renewable energy innovation in Africa.

The latest study was a follow-up to 2015 RECP research which showed that renewable energy markets in Africa had undergone rapid changes, but to enter the job market, either as renewable energy entrepreneurs or policy-makers, graduates of renewable energy higher education programmes had to be highly flexible and innovative.

"Renewable energy programmes need to offer a broad curriculum, often straining the university's human and financial resources," it said.

While only a handful of masters programmes were found on the ground or in the planning phase by the current study, courses at the undergraduate level were not designed to address problems in renewable energy. Furthermore, there was a lack of qualified teaching staff and scarce financial resources to deliver effective and sustainable renewable energy higher education in Africa.

The study noted the relatively untapped potential of e-learning to enhance capacity in the sector.

"While several African universities do engage in e-learning and many universities in Africa offer study programmes in the field of renewable energy, only few offer e-learning courses or programmes in this field," it said.

However, institutions of higher education in Africa were at vastly different stages of development with regard to access and use of the internet due to economic and social inequality, the report said.

According to the report the e-learning community in Africa has grown in the past seven years, as shown by the increasing variety and numbers of participants attending African e-learning conferences each year, and a rise in e-learning programmes, research initiatives, partnerships and organisations in Africa.

"Despite this, there is a lack of awareness for the effectiveness of e-learning in the field of renewable energy and its benefits in higher education," the study noted.

The number of distance learning curricula in renewable energy implemented by African institutions of higher education could be still marginal, but many lecturers already make use of educational technologies to improve their courses.

The study made recommendations to tap this potential:
  • • A set of basic e-courses need to be integrated into e-learning curricula at African institutions of higher education. A blended learning – online learning supplemented by face-to-face sessions – reference curriculum for African universities that can be adapted to any region must be developed.

  • • A community of practice among lecturers to interact and share resources is required. A set of exercises and experiments, to be improved through e-learning technologies, to support practical teaching in renewable energy education would need to be identified.

  • • A set of experiments using low-cost hardware to support practical teaching through lab exercises in African institutions of higher education should be developed.

  • • A digital learning environment integrating an independent source of power, renewable energy module, to address the issue of power shortage or lack of power is required.

  • • Innovative technologies such as virtual and augmented reality could be used to address the issue of missing renewable energy labs in African universities.

  • • The use of mobile devices to support renewable energy education should be evaluated. Renewable energy programmes with existing online-based communities have to link up with North-South and South-South university and stakeholder cooperation.

  • • Renewable energy e-learning programmes must be linked to existing accreditation bodies such as Pan African organisations in order to standardise, harmonise, evaluate and regulate the e-learning programmes.

  • • Financial models to ensure the sustainability of e-learning programmes for renewable energy education have to be in place, as well as models to ensure ownership by local actors who are involved in e-learning programmes with external and international partners.