The shifts that occurred within the learning and development (L&D) space this year have proved an excellent marker for what can be expected in 2024 and beyond.
The rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning resulted in significant cost reductions, making e-learning far more accessible to South Africans, while the focus moved to long-term and sustainable L&D solutions from the COVID-19 crisis mentality that gripped the industry previously.
South African learning solutions provider New Leaf Technologies has been at the coalface of these changes and has expressed great excitement for the country’s potential in this sector.
“South Africans have a lot to offer,” says New Leaf managing director, Michael Hanly. “The big markets like the US and Europe are currently serviced in India, but if you look at time zones and language barriers, SA can become a market leader. Our call centres and those types of industries have blossomed, and L&D has the potential to do same.”
His optimism is not unfounded. In June the company hosted Articulate, one of the biggest L&D authoring providers in the world, at its Learning Indaba. Articulate recently received Series B funding of $4 billion and services the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500. That a company of this magnitude was present in South Africa suggested it saw the country’s potential, Hanly says.
Companies like New Leaf have not shied away from embracing change within the sector – another reason that interest is being shown from players in other parts of the world. This year it introduced a text-speech platform that caters for all 11 South African languages, ticking all the right boxes in terms of accessibility, diversity and linguistic inclusivity.
AI is now also present in all aNewSpring software, for which New Leaf is the distributor in Africa. “AI has made a big impact. It mitigates the costs of development and reduces lead time in terms of narration,” Hanly explains.
Another shift in 2023 was greater proctoring across the Sector Education and Training Authorities landscape. Academia now has complete control over examinations where learners have the option to test from wherever they were.
Hanly says learning management systems still ensure the integrity and validity of examinations through their ability to monitor cheating and copy-and-pasting. Audio and facial recognition can also ascertain whether the person writing the exam is who they say they are.
A big advantage is that the spend that would have been used for classroom-based sessions can now be spent elsewhere.
Looking ahead to next year, Hanly expects there will be greater emphasis on learning for deskless workers through mobile platforms. This technology will allow them to access knowledge in moments of need at work.
“AI is enhancing personalisation and making recommendations based on data sets. You can shift focus from where you are to where you need to be.”
To this end, New Leaf has developed an AI–powered generative knowledge companion called Sprout. Hanly describes it as a “potent resource” for work teams to access information when they need it. And, as opposed to other knowledge systems, it gives organisations a lot more control over source material. “We are very excited about Sprout. Such innovations powered by machine learning and AI enable L&D teams to make a bigger impact.”
New Leaf founder Paul Hanly has welcomed the move away from the type of urgent thinking that defined the pandemic period. “It’s one of really noticeable differences. We are now looking at highly functional learning management systems that can make a long-term contribution to businesses.”