How do we roll out a national distance learning platform?

The evidence-backed advice below is one in a series of topics from the EdTech Hub Helpdesk. Here we summarise recommendations from our work with governments, World Bank, FCDO, UNICEF and other education decision-makers.

In light of Covid-19, several education decision-makers have considered setting up a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to mitigate learning loss. A VLE is a virtual space designed to support teaching and learning and can resemble anything from a curated content repository to a synchronous video-enabled learning space. 

We first recommend that education planners zoom out and consider whether a VLE is the best way to address learning loss due to the pandemic. Many students in LMICs may not benefit from VLEs due to poor connectivity and / or a lack of technological hardware. Recent data from Senegal (Le Nestour et al., 2020), for instance, indicates that less than 1% of learners have used online courses to pursue education since the beginning of the Covid crisis. Programme implementers will need to consider how marginalised children will access VLEs, how content relates to the curriculum and how to support student engagement.

After addressing these considerations, education planners can then enter the discovery phase of rolling out a VLE, which consists of five focus areas:

  1. Investigating the problem and defining the possible role of a VLE (e.g., who are the users? Should you build your own VLE or use a pre-existing platform?)
  2. Investigating infrastructure readiness (e.g., what percentage of the population has access to the internet and electricity?)
  3. Investigating educator readiness (e.g., how will the Ministry of Education support teachers in carrying out lessons using the VLE?)
  4. Investigating student readiness (e.g., what percentage of students have access to the listed devices?)
  5. Investigating content readiness (e.g., what digitised content is already available?)

Note that detailed questionnaires for each of these focus areas are included in EdTech Hub’s brief on rolling out a national VLE.

An agile approach and iterative development are suggested. Small prototypes testing different VLEs can first be implemented in the alpha phase. After reflection, one VLE platform should be selected for the beta phase. In this phase, the VLE can be piloted in up to 100 schools / community spaces and tested with a wide range of curated content. Importantly, a teacher professional development plan should be rolled out in parallel with the VLE. Once the beta version is tested and working without glitches, the VLE can be rolled out nationally. 

For more information, check out EdTech Hub’s brief on the use of virtual learning environments and learning management systems during the Covid-19 pandemic.

We also have resources adapted from technical assistance provided to the Zanzibar Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (MoEVT) on deploying an e-learning environment: 

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