Why “offline” digital learning is critical to impact children worldwide

As thousands of educators, entrepreneurs, and investors gathered at the recent ASU+GSV Summit, a growing number recognized both the need and opportunity for educational innovation in developing countries, particularly for the over 250 million children who lack access to schools.

But many of the solutions proffered still focus on internet-based solutions. Glaringly missing from the landscape are adaptive, digital learning solutions that are offline.

While we work to increase universal access to the internet, the edtech ecosystem cannot ignore the hundreds of millions of children currently without connectivity but who are eager to learn.

The offline opportunity

To illustrate this need and opportunity, consider the case of Africa.

The continent’s share of the global population is projected to grow from 17% in 2020 to 26% in 2050, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Dynamics. The need for scalable, effective, and tech-enabled learning will grow significantly as well, as there will be 450 million children born in Africa in the 2020s and more than 550 million in the 2040s.


The International Finance Corporation reports, however, that only 22% of Africans have access to the internet, and likely less than 5% of the most underserved children.

Even if these children could get access to the internet, most would find it cost-prohibitive to learn how to use it. That’s because the cost of data wouldn’t allow them to learn on these platforms, much less learn well—similar to how individuals in upper-income countries had internet access 15 years ago but weren’t using it to stream movies.

As a result, these children need an offline digital solution that adapts to the learning needs of the child.

“Access to world-class learning that is not dependent on internet connectivity, or the power grid, is key to serving hundreds of millions of children right now,” said Joe Wolf, CEO of the nonprofit Imagine Worldwide (where I am a board member).

Imagine Worldwide, which I’ve written about here before, partners currently with local organizations in seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa to provide child-directed, tech-enabled learning that is accessible, effective, and affordable.

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