Putting the ‘learning’ back in remote learning

Issue brief | Policies to uphold effective continuity of learning through COVID-19

A girl doing school work at home in Kibera, Kenya.


Fifty-three percent of 10-year-olds in developing countries cannot read and understand a simple story. School closures during COVID-19 hence risk further exacerbating this learning crisis. To ensure continuity of learning, most countries have deployed remote learning programmes, using a mix of technologies.

However, expanding remote learning opportunities is not the same as learning, defined as the development of relevant knowledge, skills and values. Reviews of the use of edtech, particularly in the context of emergencies, suggest that the 'supply' of hardware or educational content, while necessary, are not sufficient on their own to produce learning outcomes. Instead, learning occurs when access to technology is combined with relevant and engaging content, a well-articulated instructional model, effective teaching presence and learner support, and an enabling learning environment.

This issue brief unpacks the following questions:

  • Why effective continuity of learning matters?
  • How is effective continuity of learning defined?
  • What are the dimensions of effective continuity of learning?
  • How successful are current remote learning programmes in delivering on effective continuity of learning dimensions? In particular, what are the emerging practices and gaps we observe?
  • What are the key priorities to uphold effective continuity of learning through COVID-19?

Implementing quality remote learning programmes quickly and at scale is hard, and it is understandable why countries, especially those with weak systems readiness, have focused more on content delivery than on user engagement and quality outcomes. However, the supply of content on its own is not enough to produce learning, and based on the current implementation context, remote learning is unlikely to compensate for lost learning, except for specific groups of learners or in specific contexts. To ensure that remote learning strategies during and after school closures deliver learning for all, we call on policymakers to pursue four priorities:   

  1. Bridge gaps in access to remote learning opportunities, especially for marginalized learners.
  2. Ensure remote learning programmes center around learning as a goal. This includes:
    • articulating clear, relevant and realistic continuity of learning objectives;
    • reinforcing structured pedagogy, formative assessments and learner support;
    • purposefully integrating non-academic learning and transferable skills development in remote learning curricula;
    • encouraging user engagement;
    • addressing issues of equity across all components of effective learning not just access to technology and content.
  3. Forward plan for recovery of lost learning after school re-opening — in particular, incorporating the dimensions of effective learning in programme design; being cognizant of opportunities to improve, not just smooth, learning trajectories ('opening up better schools'), and undertaking scenario planning and financing analysis to inform decision-making in a resource-constrained environment.
  4. Monitor learning behaviours and outcomes.
Andaleeb Alam and Priyamvada Tiwari, UNICEF
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