5 Digital Education Strategies for Reaching Students Online and Offline
When the COVID-19 pandemic swept around the world in March 2020, education moved online. Approximately 1.6 billion children in 160 countries went from learning in a classroom to learning in a virtual space. Implementing successful digital education strategies became paramount.
In early April 2020, the U.S. Agency for International Development and Arizona State University, through USAID’s contract with the Research Technical Assistance Center (managed by NORC, at the University of Chicago) hosted a webinar about various education programs harnessing or strengthening existing digital ecosystems to improve development outcomes in education. Though not specifically designed with the pandemic in mind, the webinar, “Digital Strategies in Education: Evidence from the Field,” highlighted five digital education technologies and programs currently being used by educators during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Presenters pointed out that digital solutions working in one situation may not be relevant in other situations. Customized and localized solutions are necessary.
Additionally, it’s common for digital education to be delivered through hybrid solutions. For example, educators may use a combination of offline and online tools or both digital and analog technology. They might also integrate unconventional platforms (like social media) into conventional online learning scenarios.
Nonetheless, these technology solutions may offer ideas for educators using digital education strategies in the future.
Technology: SolarSPELL (solar-powered educational learning library)
The SolarSPELL, an offline digital library, offers access to education to students without an online connection. The product consists of a small, low-cost computer, called raspberry pi, and battery where a personally curated chip of relevant, localized, educational content is inserted. It is solar-powered and encased in a hard plastic container.
The product mimics the online experience. Devices located close to the SolarSPELL connect like a wifi hotspot even though it’s offline.
This offline learning library is currently being used in five countries in the South Pacific and three countries in Africa. U.S. Peace Corps volunteers use the SolarSPELL to train teachers, and teachers use the product to teach students. Creating content for the chips takes time because of customization, but it has made material more accessible in places where internet connection is poor or non-existent.
DreamBuilder is an online, free tutorial for small-scale entrepreneurs. It is available in English and Spanish. Students answer a series of questions about all aspects of their small business, and the program designs a blueprint tailored to their situation.
This is an example of an informal education program. Though DreamBuilder is available online, it is often made available to students without a consistent online connection when they take basic computer skills classes. It’s primarily used in Latin America, and approximately 60,000 students from 94 countries have enrolled in DreamBuilder.
Technology: JAAGO Foundation
In resource-challenged parts of Bangladesh, children traditionally didn’t have access to a good education because of a lack of resources and properly trained teachers. JAAGO Foundation, a non-governmental organization, built a network of digital schools to address this problem. Its connected technology system delivers education for underserved students.
This education approach has helped address both problems related to resources and teacher training.
Technology: Artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR)
Several programs, particularly in Asia, have started integrating aspects of AI, AR, and VR into their digital learning strategies. These tools are integrated into the digital interface. AI, in particular, works in the background to monitor student performance and facilitate better learning.
AI, AR, and VR can be used to “gamify” education. These technologies increase students’ ability to gain knowledge due to higher levels of peer interaction and hands-on-learning.
They can also stand in as educators in some settings. In Beijing National Day School, for example, students choose from more than 400 classes. There are no headteachers or set classrooms. Rather, AI acts as a tutor, answering students’ questions.
Technology: Online education
Schools and universities have been using online learning for several years. Some exclusively offer online-only classes while others offer a combination of in-person and online courses.
Online education has expanded beyond traditional institutions and traditional students. Through platforms like edX, Udemy, and Khan Academy, students can choose individual classes or full certification programs from any location with an internet connection.
Advancements in online education have made it more accessible to more people, such as those with hearing challenges. Further, curriculum designers for online education have found a student-centered approach is necessary for this kind of learning environment. Instructors become facilitators, and students are empowered to engage with the content.