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4 Benefits of Text Messaging Applications for Education Programs

By Guest Writer on August 3, 2022

The Rapid Evidence Review of Messaging Apps, SMS & Social Media from the EdTech Hub provides an overview of existing research on the use of mobile phone-based messaging (including SMS, and messaging through apps such as WhatsApp) to support education in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

This topic was chosen as the focus for a RER in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and school closures, as this form of technology has been adopted as part of some countries’ methods of providing continuing education during closures and disruption. As such, the overall purpose of this document is to summarise the existing research literature around messaging, so that the existing evidence can be used to inform ongoing responses to the pandemic.

The findings are intended to be of use to educational decision makers, including donors and those in government and NGOs, to inform responses to the current pandemic.

Furthermore, the review findings suggest that this is a growing research topic in LMICs, which has received increasing attention in recent years. Given the practical examples which the RER draws upon, the findings and recommendations are also anticipated to be of interest to other education stakeholders (e.g. researchers and school leaders). This review will also be useful for advancing the field more generally, beyond the immediate response to the pandemic and building resilience for the future.

Benefits of Messaging Applications for Education Programs

The RER was undertaken using a transparent, systematic approach to conducting a literature review, and guided by the following research question:

What is known about how social media and messaging apps can be used to effectively support education in LMICs?

Although the topic at hand has not been extensively explored in the academic literature at present, there is some evidence to suggest that messaging can be a cost-effective mechanism to enhance learning outcomes. Structured according to three themes, the findings of the analysis reveal the following insights:

  • Supporting student learning​: How messaging can be used to directly support students’ learning. Particular clusters emerged around two sub-themes: interacting with peers and other students, peer tutoring and collaborative learning;​ ​and interacting with teachers, through content delivery, teaching and assessment.
  • Teacher professional development: ​How messaging can be used to support teachers’ professional development, both pre-service and in-service. The studies discussed in this section include structured support and prompts, and informal communities of practice.
  • Supporting refugees’ education: Messaging has been particularly useful in this context, both in terms of providing continuity of educational experience, and building new educational networks.

The key findings and recommendations from this review are:

1. Messaging can be useful for student learning

Text 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. U​se 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 useful for teacher training

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. Messaging can support refugee learning

The use of text 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.

4. Messaging can increase learning equity

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.

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.

A lightly edited synopsis of Rapid Evidence Review of Messaging Apps, SMS & Social Media from the EdTech Hub

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2 Comments to “4 Benefits of Text Messaging Applications for Education Programs”

  1. Philip Nzuma says:

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