Iain Macdonald, M.Sc. (2007)

Thesis Title: E-Learning as a Training Tool in the South African Furniture Industry: Pedagogical Techniques and Learner Support

Abstract: Since the birth of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s, web-based e-learning has experienced tremendous growth in schools, the higher education sector, and the corporate world. Although a large body of research and literature has been generated on the subject, discussion has tended to focus more on the technologies themselves than the underlying pedagogical frameworks upon which e-learning courses are built. This study was designed to investigate appropriate pedagogical techniques for workplace e-learning in the South African wood products sector, while also examining the kinds of learner support required from within the corporation. A qualitative research project was conducted, in which eighteen learners at eight factories in three provinces of South Africa participated in a three-month pilot e-learning training course. The study found that learners responded favourably to constructivist teaching approaches, such as online discussions, open-ended task-based activities, and assignments incorporating authentic, real-world aspects. Learners viewed constructivist activities to be more useful than quizzes and traditional essay-based assignments, as they allowed new concepts to be learned in context and were perceived to promote deeper understanding of the subject matter. Respondents nevertheless valued the inclusion of a blend of pedagogical approaches in the course design, as this enabled them to approach and analyse new concepts in an assortment of ways.

The study results highlighted that it is of critical importance for the employer to provide adequate support for learners. Such support should include: timely provision of adequate Internet and computing facilities and IT support; creation of a formal study plan with the involvement of HR staff and learners’ superiors; monitoring of learners’ progress by HR managers; and the provision of financial or career advancement incentives for web-based training. The study concludes that web-based e-learning is a viable means of delivering training in the workplace for South Africa’s wood products sector provided learner support requirements are fully addressed

Current Position: Managing Director, UBC Centre for Advanced Wood Processing, Vancouver, BC, Canada