The Great Digitization of Learning

By Ayan Kishore, Director, Digital Development

October 26, 2021   |   0 comments

A growing community of education technologists have tried to bring the promise of technology for teachers, students, and caregivers to fruition for decades.

Digitizing learning materials and making them available to beneficiaries can dramatically improve at scale student learning time, parental engagement, teacher training and reading outcomes for students. Yet, these interventions have been on the fringes of international education, particularly in development programming.

All this changed in 2020.

The pandemic shuttered schools globally, and digital was perhaps the only way education could continue. Governments scrambled but adapted quickly, with ministries putting out blended learning policies and setting up and growing their EdTech staffing.

We have seen an epoch of massive digitization of school learning content. In addition to doubling down on existing TV and radio distance learning initiatives, governments also set up new digital learning channels such as learning management systems and virtual meeting communications.

Every Creative education program pivoted, and project staff and teachers upskilled to fill gaps. Learning and training content was digitized and distributed via WhatsApp in Mozambique, eLearning courses and video in Morocco, SMS and radio in Nigeria, and IVR in Ethiopia for example.

There was crucial behavior change beyond the tangibles. The persistent resistance to technology in education was rapidly overcome with forced digitization. Teachers learned how to use distance learning, communication and administrative technologies for reaching and supporting their students. They also gained first-hand experience in learning with technology by receiving professional development virtually.

There is still much to be done.

Some of the rapid changes have missed the EdTech field’s learnings on best practices. What makes for good accessible digital learning content? How does one effectively deliver blended learning across multiple channels? How can learning be assessed remotely?

Much of the digital content is currently inaccessible to the marginalized: people with disabilities, people in remote areas without connectivity, those who cannot afford devices, and so on. The digital divide has become a significant barrier to education equity.

The question on many minds is whether the digital changes brought about by the pandemic will stick. I think so, and so do most country governments.

They are clear about a permanent future of hybrid or blended learning that complements in-person with digital channels, creating for a more resilient education system. Structural capacity is being built, and human spirit has been instigated to find a way.

This is the start of the global era of the Great Digitization of Learning.

We, along with international education colleagues affiliated with the Basic Education Coalition conducted a survey at the turn of this year with 12 developing country governments to understand how they have used education technology to adapt during the pandemic, and their concerns and hopes for the future. You can read the brief report here.


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