Rapid Evidence Review: Messaging Apps, SMS, and Social Media

Key findings

  1. Messaging can be used in a range of learning activities, through a combination of sharing educational materials, with interaction between pupils, peers, caregivers and teachers. Use is more often focused on making use of the potential for the technology to foster interactions, rather than just as a way to deliver content alone. Interventions often combine multiple elements; likewise, messaging could be used as an interactive complement to broadcast media. To allow for flexibility and greater reach, materials should be designed in ways which are not platform-specific and can be adapted for different tools. Assessments and strategies can be adapted from face-to-face and telephone-based instruction. There is a trade-off in efficacy and cost here; for example, telephone-based interactions can be more effective but are more expensive, while messaging is lower cost and more readily scalable.
  2. Messaging can be an effective way of supporting teachers, both in terms of providing activities such as lesson plans, and motivation. Initiatives which deliver lesson plans and guidance have been shown to foster a wider range of classroom practices, and show good potential to be applied at scale. Messaging is relatively low cost and teaching materials could be tailored to the local context. In terms of supporting teachers’ professional development, messaging has been shown to be an effective way of maintaining contact and support in addition to in-person training. Materials adapted for messaging can also have a wider reach through being readily circulated among colleagues, and sharing of knowledge through informal communities of practice.
  3. Caregivers are key gatekeepers to mobile phone access. The role of parents and caregivers is particularly important in relation to supporting younger learners. Messaging is not only a way to send materials – using messages to send reminders and suggested activities can help to get parents and caregivers actively involved in using materials with children. Culturally-relevant design of materials and local languages can help promote this.
  4. The use of messaging to support refugees highlights its flexibility and resilience – which may be useful for ongoing disruption and uncertainty in the pandemic and beyond. Refugees’ education faces multiple disruptions; the flexibility of messaging has contributed to its use in these complex circumstances. As such, this flexibility could also be used to build resilience in terms of being able to switch between modes of teaching – from face-to-face to distance education – if incorporated into a plan for ongoing or emergency school closures. Planning ahead would be required, such as ensuring that schools hold up-to-date mobile numbers, and have educational materials in forms which would be readily deployed this way. 
  5. There is some evidence to suggest that messaging may promote equity. For example, the studies include examples which have been successful in remote and rural areas, supporting SEND students, refugees, and promoting girls’ education. However, the equity gains may not be universal – contextual factors will need to be considered carefully. Inequalities could be exacerbated if the technology is not accessible to all, either through general availability of the technology, or different ways in which access is mediated (for example, gatekeepers may hold stereotypical views in terms of gender and technology use). The success of many of the interventions is due in part to the familiarity of the technology, but the design of interventions should not assume that everyone has access and instead consider how to reach those who would be excluded.
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