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Offline Correspondence Schools
July 2020


What does the research say about offline/non-digital correspondence schools that can be used to support schools in providing distance learning to students with limited or no Internet access?

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Amaru, L., Rae, M., & Shadbolt, P. (1995). Tangata Whenua in distance education: An emerging model for isolated Maori secondary students in the Correspondence School. Journal of Open, Flexible, and Distance Learning, 1(1), 12–23. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This paper examines Canadian models developed for distance education delivery to indigenous peoples of Ontario and Alberta. It then reviews a similar New Zealand model, a partnership of Te Puni Kokiri and the Correspondence School. Analyses of the school's Charter and Strategic Plan are followed by descriptions and structural analysis of two Secondary Learning Centres, with comment on the changes in Maori student performance in 1993-1994. A theoretical perspective is developed. The emerging challenge is to modify curriculum through consultation with the Tangata Whenua to recognise more fully partnership for Maori with a central institution of the compulsory sector of the New Zealand education system."

Fresen, J. W., & Hendrikz, J. (2009). Designing to promote access, quality, and student support in an advanced certificate programme for rural teachers in South Africa. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 10(4), 1–20.

From the Abstract:
"This paper reports on the re-design of the Advanced Certificate in Education (ACE) programme, which is offered by the University of Pretoria through distance education (DE) to teachers in rural South Africa. In 2007, a team re-designed the programme with the goal of promoting access, quality, and student support. The team included an independent body, the South African Institute of Distance Education (SAIDE), and various education specialists. Training workshops for academics and a comprehensive internal and external review process contributed to the quality of the re-designed programme. Interactive web-based technologies were not included because of poor Internet connectivity; however, the authors note the use and potential of cell phone technology for DE programmes. Student support was enhanced by an additional short contact session, a capping assignment, a CD-ROM, and decentralised tutoring at contact venues. The programme was re-evaluated and approved in 2008, and the re-design methodology now guides similar projects."

Garrote Jurado, R., Petersson, T., Christie, M., Seoane, F., & Sigrén, P. (2010). Training teachers in e-learning without internet access. In Proceedings of EDULEARN10 Conference (pp. 6336–6341). Barcelona. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"In this paper the authors present a solution to the problem of giving practical training in handling information and communication technology (ICT) without depending on internet access. The proposed method is to use an USB-memory to emulate selected educational resources that are otherwise available on the internet or on a local network. How this method can influence pedagogical issues is discussed and, it is asserted that the method offers interesting learning advantages beyond the obvious independence of internet connections. The paper describes the planning and implementation of a course about the use of Learning Management Systems (LMS) in higher education and, in particular, how it was designed to meet the needs of educators in a developing country with slow or unreliable internet connections. The course was a part of the project USo+I: Universidad, Sociedad e Innovación. Mejora de la pertinencia de la educación en las ingenierías de Latinoamérica (University and Society: Improving of the relevance of the education in the engineering of Latinoamerica) this project financed by the European Union, within the ALFA III program. The University of Borås was assigned to design and teach a course about LMS to engineering educators in Latin-America."

Hancock, V. (2010). Essential, desirable or optional?: Making distance e-learning courses available to those without internet access. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-learning 2, 1–11.

From the Abstract:
"The Open University, an open distance learning institution, is increasingly using a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) that requires internet access. This paper investigates how the move to a VLE has affected one group of students who do not have internet access--offender learners studying in prison. Members of the armed forces and secure hospital patients also have restricted access to the internet. E-learning practitioners design courses on the assumption that students will have easy internet access and other appropriate technology. This is not always the case. This paper reports on an action research project that identified alternative approaches to learning activities that required internet access. Project initiatives enabled six offender learners to complete a course that had previously been classified as unsuitable for study in prison. The use of alternative approaches opens up the possibility of distance learning for students who would otherwise be excluded from distance e-learning courses. The author proposes an EDO framework, classifying activities as "Essential", "Desirable" or "Optional". The framework highlights activities needing alternative approaches if a student is to complete the course successfully. By applying the framework, practitioners can design and deliver a course that utilises technology appropriate to the student's environment."

Rader, H. B., Hanna, V., Spiers, K., & Kienenberger, D. (2014). Going the distance part 2: Five ways of teaching an extension course: Elive, Blackboard, teleconference, correspondence, and face-to-face. Journal of Extension, 52(6), 1–12.

From the Abstract:
"Remote and widely dispersed clientele in Alaska create a need for effective distance-delivery programs. Extension agents often travel via small airplane, snow machine, or boat to teach face-to-face classes in off-road communities. Effective and more cost-efficient delivery methods are needed. We taught a course for beginning farmers residing throughout Alaska using five delivery methods: Elluminate Live!, Blackboard, teleconference, correspondence, and face-to-face. We evaluated these delivery methods based on five areas: accessibility of delivery method, course completion, knowledge gain, plans to use skills, and student satisfaction. Our findings will help Extension professionals design distance-delivered programs suited to their target audience."

Other References

Burns, M. (2011). Distance education for teacher training: Modes, models and methods. Washington, DC: Education Development Center Inc. Retrieved from

From the Document:
"This publication is a guide to the type of technology modes, education models, and instructional methods used for teacher pre-service and in-service distance learning across the globe. Unlike most studies on distance education, it focuses less on the technical and administrative aspects of distance learning and much more on how various distance education technologies—both current and future—can support the actual teaching and learning process within distance education."

Education Development Center (EDC). (2020). Learning at home in times of crisis using radio: Interactive audio instruction repurposing toolkit . Waltham, MA: Author. Retrieved from

From the Web Site:
"Interactive Audio Instruction (IAI) is a distance learning approach that uses radio and other digital media formats to provide high-quality teaching and learning worldwide. During the COVID-19 pandemic, in resource-lean environments with low internet penetration, radio is an effective way to reach large numbers of learners whose school systems have been disrupted or halted. This resource is a summary of EDC's new toolkit, which responds to the emerging learning crisis posed by COVID-19 school closures. Designed to assist donors, governments, and other NGOs to repurpose and adapt existing audio learning programs for broadcast during crises, the toolkit summary highlights key considerations and solutions to common challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. This toolkit summary provides guidance for quickly and effectively adapting existing audio programs for use in home settings, with parents, caregivers, or older siblings as program facilitators."

Ngom, B., Guillermet, H., & Niang, I. (2012). Enhancing Moodle for offline learning in a degraded connectivity environment. In 2012 International Conference on Multimedia Computing and Systems (pp. 858-863). IEEE. Request full-text at

From the Abstract:
"In developing countries, higher education is an essential vehicle of the development process. Learning Management Systems (LMS) have emerged from an auxiliary role to a critical one in higher education. In short, ICT development, telecommunication infrastructures and Internet have a strong impact in the education sector especially with the advent of distance learning that is becoming more important. More and more academic institutions are moving to eLearning today and Moodle is one of the most popular LMS with several currently active sites. However, in Moodle, learners must be connected online all time they need to do eLearning activities. Moreover, the introduction of distance learning in developing countries is done with a set of constraints such as connection costs, power cuts and permanent Internet connectivity failure in some areas. This paper presents an enhanced solution for running Moodle in offline mode to improve asynchronous learning. This solution allows learners to continue eLearning activities in cases where Internet connection is highly disturbed or not existed. The presented solution uses transparent and automatic configuration for end user's PC or laptop. After the connection is restored, all offline activities will be synchronized to the principal Moodle platform."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: ("Correspondence schools" OR "correspondence education" OR "correspondence study" OR "correspondence courses" OR "correspondence education"), Paper-based, Packet-based, Printed, (Distance education or distance learning).

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.