Expert Group Papers

Lim, C. P., & Tinio, V. L. (Eds.). (2018). Learning at scale for the global south. Quezon City, Philippines: Foundation for Information Technology Education and Development

Learning at Scale for the Global South is a compilation of papers commissioned for the Digital Learning for Development (DL4D) project. DL4D is part of the Information Networks in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa (INASSA) program funded jointly by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada and the Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom, and administered by the Foundation for Information Technology Education and Development (FIT-ED) of the Philippines. DL4D aims to examine how digital learning could be used to address issues of equity, quality, and efficiency at all educational levels in developing countries.

Over the past two years, DL4D has brought together leading international and regional scholars and practitioners to critically assess the potentials, prospects, challenges, and future directions for the Global South in key areas of interest around digital learning. It commissioned discussion papers for each of these areas from leading experts in the field: Diana Laurillard of the University College London Institute of Education, for learning at scale, the subject of this compilation; Dragan Gašević of the University of Edinburgh Moray House School of Education and School of Informatics, for learning analytics; Chris Dede of Harvard University, for digital game-based learning; and Charalambos Vrasidas of the Centre for the Advancement of Research and Development in Educational Technology, for cost-effective digital learning innovations. Each discussion paper is complemented by responses from a developing country-perspective by regional experts in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.

Learning at Scale for the Global South considers how and to what extent the unique affordances of digital technologies may be leveraged by developing countries to achieve quality learning on a large scale. How Could Digital Learning at Scale Address the Issue of Equity in Education? by Diana Laurillard, Eileen Kennedy (University College London Institute of Education), and Tianchong Wang (The Education University of Hong Kong) focuses on online methods for formal learning via open universities, distance learning courses, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and courses from private providers as a type of learning at scale; considers the extent to which online learning at scale achieves equity, the issues this raises, and the policy actions needed; and clarifies how greater quality at low cost through greater efficiency might be achieved, given the characteristics of online learning. Mary Hooker of the Global e-Schools and Communities Initiative in Kenya and German Escorcia of Knoware in Mexico consider the proposals of Laurillard, et al. from the particular context of their regions, including (mis)conceptions about online learning; barriers to quality online learning; available digital learning infrastructure; the status of the teacher and teacher professional development; and quality assurance and institutional accreditation.


Lim, C. P., & Tinio, V. L. (Eds.). (2018). Learning analytics for the global south. Quezon City, Philippines: Foundation for Information Technology Education and Development.

Learning Analytics for the Global South considers how the collection, analysis, and use of data about learners and their contexts have the potential to broaden access to quality education and improve the efficiency of educational processes and systems in developing countries around the world. In his discussion paper, Prof. Gašević articulates these potentials and suggests how learning analytics could support critical digital learning and education imperatives such as quality learning at scale and the acquisition of 21st century skills. Experts from Africa (Paul Prinsloo of the University of South Africa), Mainland China (Bodong Chen of the University of Minnesota, USA and Yizhou Fan of Peking University, People’s Republic of China), Southeast Asia (Ma. Mercedes T. Rodrigo of the Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines), and Latin America (Cristóbal Cobo and Cecilia Aguerrebere, both of the Ceibal Foundation, Uruguay) situate Prof. Gašević’s proposals in their respective regional contexts, framing their responses around six key questions:

  • What are the main trends and challenges in education in your region?
  • How can learning analytics address these challenges?
  • What models of learning analytics adoption would be most effective in your region?
  • What are the barriers in adoption of learning analytics in your region and how could these be mitigated?
  • How do you envision ethical use and privacy protection in connection with learning analytics being addressed in your region?
  • How can the operationalization of learning analytics be futureproofed in your region?



Lim, K. Y. T., Comings, J., Lee, R., Yuen, M. D., Hilmy, A., Chua, D., & Song, B. H. (2018). Guide to developing digital games for early grade literacy for developing countries. Quezon City, Philippines: Foundation for Information Technology Education and Development and World Vision.

This Guide presents information to be considered when designing games for literacy learning, uses game examples that demonstrate how game developers and literacy educators have worked together, and features 12 case studies of good practice games. It is intended to assist game developers, literacy experts, and the staff of agencies interested in funding the development of digital games for early grade literacy learning.


Impact Evaluation

Comings, J. (2018). Assessing the impact of literacy learning games for Syrian refugee children: An executive overview of Antura and the Letters and Feed the Monster impact evaluations. Washington, DC: World Vision and Foundation for Information Technology Education and Development.

This report provides an executive overview of the impact evaluations of two winning literacy apps, Antura and the Letters and Feed the Monster, in the EduApp4Syria competition. The impact evaluations had three goals:

  1. Assess the impact of each game on players’ literacy skills;
  2. Assess the impact of each game on players’ psychosocial wellbeing;
  3. Assess each game’s ease of use and ability to engage children.

To answer these questions, the evaluations employed a quasi-experimental design that used both quantitative and qualitative methods. The findings for the impact on the first two research goals provide weak but encouraging evidence that smartphone learning games can build basic Arabic literacy skills and improve the psychosocial wellbeing of Syrian refugee children. The positive findings for both literacy and psychosocial wellbeing serves as a proof of concept for using smartphone apps for teaching literacy to refugee children and other children who do not have access to effective instruction. Findings for the third goal show that older children scored higher on the oral reading fluency subtest, but younger children showed higher rates of change on all subtests. Boys made larger gains on all subtests except for oral reading fluency, while girls scored the same with Antura and the Letters and higher with Feed the Monster. In addition, parents supported use of the apps, saying their children were learning and that playing the apps made their children happy. Children reported that they enjoyed playing the games and that the games made them happy.

More information about these games and their full impact evaluation reports can be found at The games in their updated versions can be downloaded by searching for “EduApp4Syria” on Google Play or the Apple App Store


Koval-Saifi, N., & Plass, J. (2018). Antura and the Letters: Impact and technical evaluation. Washington, DC: World Vision and Foundation for Information Technology Education and Development.

Koval-Saifi, N., & Plass, J. (2018). Feed the Monster: Impact and technical evaluation. Washington, DC: World Vision and Foundation for Information Technology Education and Development.

An estimated 2.3 million Syrian children are out of school because of violent conflict in their country. These children are primarily displaced within Syria; living as refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq; or in transit camps in countries like Greece and Italy. Many Syrian children have endured multiple traumas and high levels of stress, affecting their ability to learn. Moreover, some Syrian refugee children, who are attending school in a new country, are often being taught in a language they do not speak or understand. These complexities and others stress the urgency for finding innovative, scalable solutions to this education crisis.

Motivated to ensure Syrian children have an opportunity to learn to read Arabic and continue their lifelong learning process, the Norwegian government funded the EduApp4Syria competition. The competition sought to develop an open source smartphone application that could build foundational literacy skills in Arabic and improve psychosocial well-being for Syrian refugee children. The competition was coordinated by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) in cooperation with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU); All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD)—a partnership including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), World Vision, and the Australian Government; mobile operator Orange; and the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE). Two games were shortlisted as winners through the two-phased competition: Antura and the Letters and Feed the Monster (FTM).

ACR GCD, Digital Learning for Development (DL4D), and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Office of Innovation, supported an evaluation of the two apps that sought to assess the effects on literacy learning and psychosocial outcomes. The evaluation also assessed the technical and gaming aspects of the two apps and compared these against commonly accepted measures of quality and evidence-based practice.

Integrated Services, Indigenous Solutions (INTEGRATED), in partnership with Consortium for Research and Evaluation of Advanced Technologies in Education (CREATE) of New York University, conducted an impact evaluation using a longitudinal quasi-experimental design to estimate the impacts of the EduApp4Syria games (apps) on children’s literacy and psychosocial outcomes over time. In this design, we compared growth in literacy outcomes for two groups of children (each using one of the apps) to a group of children in matched environments who did not have access to the apps. All children in the study had little or no schooling and lived in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. This design relies on comparing two groups that experience the same historical trends and events over time. Simultaneously, INTEGRATED and CREATE conducted a technical evaluation, working closely with ACR and DL4D to refine key app evaluation questions to identify usability improvements for the next release of the games, provide feedback on the open beta versions built in Phase 2 of the competition, and inform improvements to be applied in Phase 3. The qualitative evaluation was conducted in collaboration with CREATE researchers who are among the foremost experts in their specialization: assessing game use and engagement among children playing digital learning games. The contributions of CREATE ensured depth in qualitative gaming use data used while triangulating conclusions.


Oakley, G., Pegrum, M., Kheang, T., & Seng, K. (2018). An evaluation of the integration of m-learning in Total Reading Approach for Children Plus (TRAC+): Enhancing literacy of early grade students in Cambodia. Washington, DC: World Vision and Foundation for Information Technology Education and Development.

This study was conducted to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of the mobile learning (m-learning) component of the World Education-implemented TRAC+ project. It focused on the value of Aan Khmer (“Read Khmer”), a game-based app developed with funding from All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development to teach Khmer alphabetical principles, vocabulary, and fluency in low resource environments.


Routledge International Handbook of Schools and Schooling in Asia

Kennedy, K., & Chi-Kin Lee, J. (Eds.). (2018). Routledge international handbook of schools and schooling in Asia. Retrieved from

The Routledge International Handbook of Schools and Schooling in Asia is a compilation of multidimensional overviews of all aspects of education in Asia. Experts provide authoritative views on curriculum, learning and assessment, private supplementary tutoring, special education, gender, and other issues faced by Asian schools. Edited by Kerry J. Kennedy and John Chi-Kin Lee of The Education University of Hong Kong. DL4D Network Lead Professor Cher Ping Lim edits the section on information and communications technologyThe chapters in this section include:

Introduction: Digital learning for development of Asian Schools (Cher Ping Lim)

Chapter 35. Digital learning for developing Asian countries: Achieving equity, quality, and efficiency in education (Cher Ping Lim, Victoria L. Tinio, Matthew Smith, and Miron Kumar Bhowmik)

Chapter 36. Current status, challenges and opportunities of Intelligent Tutoring System (ITS) in developing countries in Asia (Kaushal Kumar Bhagat, Ma. Mercedes T. Rodrigo, and Chun-Yen Chang)

Chapter 37. A systematic literature review of game-based learning and gamification research in Asia: The synthesized findings and research gap (Hyo-Jeong So and Minhwi Seo)

Chapter 38. Learning analytics: Approaches and cases from Asia (Bodong Chen, Chen Chi-Ming Chen, Huang-Yao Hong, and Ching Sing Chai)


Sub-Project Research Reports

Wang, Q., Chen, B., Fan, Y., & Zhang, G. (2018). MOOCs as an alternative for teacher professional development: Examining learner persistence in one Chinese MOOC. Beijing, China: Peking University.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have developed into a significant international movement, showing great promise in addressing equity, quality, and efficiency issues in global education. To date, many MOOCs have been developed specifically for teacher professional development (TPD). In this regard, an important empirical question remains to be addressed: How and to what extent can MOOCs support equity, quality, and efficiency in teacher professional development? To help fill this knowledge gap, this study, conducted from 2014 to 2016, focused on persistent teacher-learners in a TPD MOOC that was offered for seven consecutive rounds by the X-Learning Center of Peking University. The study found that more than 15% of the 105,383 teachers who enrolled in this MOOC were persistent teacher learners, defined as learners who enrolled in multiple rounds. Data analysis showed that these persistent teacher-learners had diverse motivations for re-enrollment, including refreshing conceptual understanding, achieving higher scores, earning course certification, and discussing practical problems. The study also found that the persistent teacher-learners developed self-regulated learning skills in the course of multiple rounds of the MOOC and showed significantly higher learning achievement than one-time enrollees. Qualitative and quantitative analysis of both clicklog data and interview data revealed additional insights into the persistent teacher-learners’ learning within the MOOC and their real-world teaching practice beyond the MOOC. Overall, this study contributes to an improved understanding of the potential of MOOCs as an alternative TPD delivery mode in developing countries and sheds light on the future design of effective TPD through MOOCs.