Delivering Distance Learning in Emergencies: A Literature Review

The purpose of this review, produced by USAID's Data and Evidence in Education Programs (DEEP) activity, is to provide evidence on four effective distance learning modalities that can be implemented in USAID-recipient countries during and beyond emergencies. These four distance learning modalities—radio/audio, video/television, mobile phone programming, and online learning—are examined alongside the technologies used to access distance learning (radios, mobile phones, televisions, tablets, and, to a lesser extent, computers). While these modalities can be implemented in conflict settings and during crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic when learning institutions are closed, their utility also extends beyond these extreme circumstances in order to promote inclusion and to increase access to quality teaching and learning.

Distance learning has a rich history around the world providing teaching and learning opportunities for communities that have been historically excluded from formal learning, such as ethnic, indigenous, and linguistic minority groups; women; people with disabilities; rural residents; families and individuals living in poverty: and communities in crisis and conflict areas. Likewise, distance learning offers new methods and modes of learning to nontraditional learners, such as working adults, educators, or homeschooled children and youth.

This review responds to three primary questions:

  1. What distance learning modalities are shown to be most effective in the Global South for providing continuity in learning amid temporary or permanent school closures?
  2. What distance learning modalities are promising but lack evidence?
  3. What are the required considerations when planning for and implementing distance learning?

To the extent possible, evaluations, academic research, and implementing partners’ experiences (“gray” literature) are used to show which aspects of the different modalities have been effective and how they have been effective, whether increasing literacy and numeracy acquisition, addressing learners’ wellbeing, or in meeting other curricular and non-curricular goals.

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US Agency for International Development (USAID)


Distance Education