CIES 2022: Spotlight on Distance Learning
An Explosion of New Tools and New Understandings
The 2022 Comparative & International Education Society Conference brought together researchers, analysts, practitioners, and students in the field of international education to explore a wide range of educational issues. After the past two years of global school closures and reopenings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, distance learning was a key topic of discussion at this year’s conference. Among the many presentations, panels, and papers were key findings and best practices about distance learning during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
1 – Access
It is critical to choose a modality for distance learning that aligns with the community’s technology infrastructure and access. Some communities can easily access the Internet and digital learning tools, while others cannot reliably access any technology, including radio. There are distance learning tools and lessons available that are compatible with nearly any level of technology access, from high-tech areas to no-tech areas.
Check out USAID’s literature review on Delivering Distance Learning in Emergencies!
That said, physical access to tools and technology does not guarantee use, and therefore, simply providing devices and materials does not ensure students will be able to access technology-based learning initiatives. Learners and caregivers must know how to use the tools and be comfortable doing so.
No matter how intentionally and carefully designed a distance learning program is, some learners are left out. After worldwide school closures, remedial and accelerated education programs are critical.
Check out USAID’s Strategies for Accelerating Learning Post-Crisis!
2 – Local Contexts
The same distance learning intervention will not work in all places. Those implementing or supporting distance learning need to consider the local context and how that should affect the design of a distance learning program. For example, CIES presenters noted the importance of considering:
- The local culture of parents reading to children and what extra support parents may need to participate in home-based reading interventions
- What access to technology a household has and who in the home controls the use of that technology
- The literacy level of people in the home and what communication methods will be most effective in reaching them
- The local curriculum and how tools or lessons may need to be adapted to fit it
3 – Stakeholder Involvement and Support
Successful distance learning requires the logistical and/or financial involvement of multiple stakeholders, including families and caregivers, schools, digital technology organizations, public and private institutions, local government, and more. Many of these stakeholders will require additional support to support distance learning efforts.
For example, because distance learning frequently occurs in the home, it may require parents and caregivers to be more involved in their children’s learning than they previously have been. To make distance learning successful, intentional caregiver engagement, support, and capacity building is needed.
Furthermore, teachers should be involved in distance learning. They may be directly leading instruction, regularly checking in with children about their learning, or supporting efforts to get learning materials to children and their families. Oftentimes, teachers will need additional training or capacity building to effectively support new distance learning processes.
4 – Beyond Academic Goals
Distance learning often happens in times of crisis, conflict, or emergency. Therefore, continuing to support children in developing their socio-emotional learning and life skills can be just as important as sustaining their academic education.
5 – Monitoring and Evaluation
Remotely monitoring and evaluating distance learning can be particularly challenging. While some assessments may be able to be adapted for remote use, this will often require adjustments to the measurement tool or may mean that not all beneficiaries can be reached. Careful thought must go into how to monitor and evaluate distance learning, what validity to place on the results of these efforts, and how to interpret findings.
Check out USAID’s Roadmap for Measuring Distance Learning!
6 – Beyond Crises
Innovative tools and modalities for learning that were utilized during the COVID-19 pandemic can provide benefits beyond the current crisis. For example, many tools are already being used in the classroom in reopened schools to enhance in-person learning. Some digital tools, such as personalized learning, may allow teachers to better track student progress in the classroom. Additionally, the widespread and in some cases, long-term use of distance learning has allowed many learners, caregivers, educators, and governments to become familiar with these new tools, technologies, and processes, making them better prepared should another emergency cause school closures or require distance learning
Check out USAID’s Toolkit for Designing a Comprehensive Distance Learning Strategy!