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The 10 Most Significant Education Studies of 2021

From reframing our notion of “good” schools to mining the magic of expert teachers, here’s a curated list of must-read research from 2021.

It was a year of unprecedented hardship for teachers and school leaders. We pored through hundreds of studies to see if we could follow the trail of exactly what happened: The research revealed a complex portrait of a grueling year during which persistent issues of burnout and mental and physical health impacted millions of educators. Meanwhile, many of the old debates continued: Does paper beat digital? Is project-based learning as effective as direct instruction? How do you define what a “good” school is?

Other studies grabbed our attention, and in a few cases, made headlines. Researchers from the University of Chicago and Columbia University turned artificial intelligence loose on some 1,130 award-winning children’s books in search of invisible patterns of bias. (Spoiler alert: They found some.) Another study revealed why many parents are reluctant to support social and emotional learning in schools—and provided hints about how educators can flip the script.

1. What Parents Fear About SEL (and How to Change Their Minds)

When researchers at the Fordham Institute asked parents to rank phrases associated with social and emotional learning , nothing seemed to add up. The term “social-emotional learning” was very unpopular; parents wanted to steer their kids clear of it. But when the researchers added a simple clause, forming a new phrase—”social-emotional & academic learning”—the program shot all the way up to No. 2 in the rankings.

What gives?

Parents were picking up subtle cues in the list of SEL-related terms that irked or worried them, the researchers suggest. Phrases like “soft skills” and “growth mindset” felt “nebulous” and devoid of academic content. For some, the language felt suspiciously like “code for liberal indoctrination.”

But the study suggests that parents might need the simplest of reassurances to break through the political noise. Removing the jargon, focusing on productive phrases like “life skills,” and relentlessly connecting SEL to academic progress puts parents at ease—and seems to save social and emotional learning in the process.

2. The Secret Management Techniques of Expert Teachers

In the hands of experienced teachers, classroom management can seem almost invisible: Subtle techniques are quietly at work behind the scenes, with students falling into orderly routines and engaging in rigorous academic tasks almost as if by magic. 

That’s no accident, according to new research . While outbursts are inevitable in school settings, expert teachers seed their classrooms with proactive, relationship-building strategies that often prevent misbehavior before it erupts. They also approach discipline more holistically than their less-experienced counterparts, consistently reframing misbehavior in the broader context of how lessons can be more engaging, or how clearly they communicate expectations.

Focusing on the underlying dynamics of classroom behavior—and not on surface-level disruptions—means that expert teachers often look the other way at all the right times, too. Rather than rise to the bait of a minor breach in etiquette, a common mistake of new teachers, they tend to play the long game, asking questions about the origins of misbehavior, deftly navigating the terrain between discipline and student autonomy, and opting to confront misconduct privately when possible.

3. The Surprising Power of Pretesting

Asking students to take a practice test before they’ve even encountered the material may seem like a waste of time—after all, they’d just be guessing.

But new research concludes that the approach, called pretesting, is actually more effective than other typical study strategies. Surprisingly, pretesting even beat out taking practice tests after learning the material, a proven strategy endorsed by cognitive scientists and educators alike. In the study, students who took a practice test before learning the material outperformed their peers who studied more traditionally by 49 percent on a follow-up test, while outperforming students who took practice tests after studying the material by 27 percent.

The researchers hypothesize that the “generation of errors” was a key to the strategy’s success, spurring student curiosity and priming them to “search for the correct answers” when they finally explored the new material—and adding grist to a 2018 study that found that making educated guesses helped students connect background knowledge to new material.

Learning is more durable when students do the hard work of correcting misconceptions, the research suggests, reminding us yet again that being wrong is an important milestone on the road to being right.

4. Confronting an Old Myth About Immigrant Students

Immigrant students are sometimes portrayed as a costly expense to the education system, but new research is systematically dismantling that myth.

In a 2021 study , researchers analyzed over 1.3 million academic and birth records for students in Florida communities, and concluded that the presence of immigrant students actually has “a positive effect on the academic achievement of U.S.-born students,” raising test scores as the size of the immigrant school population increases. The benefits were especially powerful for low-income students.

While immigrants initially “face challenges in assimilation that may require additional school resources,” the researchers concluded, hard work and resilience may allow them to excel and thus “positively affect exposed U.S.-born students’ attitudes and behavior.” But according to teacher Larry Ferlazzo, the improvements might stem from the fact that having English language learners in classes improves pedagogy , pushing teachers to consider “issues like prior knowledge, scaffolding, and maximizing accessibility.”

5. A Fuller Picture of What a ‘Good’ School Is

It’s time to rethink our definition of what a “good school” is, researchers assert in a study published in late 2020.⁣ That’s because typical measures of school quality like test scores often provide an incomplete and misleading picture, the researchers found.

The study looked at over 150,000 ninth-grade students who attended Chicago public schools and concluded that emphasizing the social and emotional dimensions of learning—relationship-building, a sense of belonging, and resilience, for example—improves high school graduation and college matriculation rates for both high- and low-income students, beating out schools that focus primarily on improving test scores.⁣

“Schools that promote socio-emotional development actually have a really big positive impact on kids,” said lead researcher C. Kirabo Jackson in an interview with Edutopia . “And these impacts are particularly large for vulnerable student populations who don’t tend to do very well in the education system.”

The findings reinforce the importance of a holistic approach to measuring student progress, and are a reminder that schools—and teachers—can influence students in ways that are difficult to measure, and may only materialize well into the future.⁣

6. Teaching Is Learning

One of the best ways to learn a concept is to teach it to someone else. But do you actually have to step into the shoes of a teacher, or does the mere expectation of teaching do the trick?

In a 2021 study , researchers split students into two groups and gave them each a science passage about the Doppler effect—a phenomenon associated with sound and light waves that explains the gradual change in tone and pitch as a car races off into the distance, for example. One group studied the text as preparation for a test; the other was told that they’d be teaching the material to another student.

The researchers never carried out the second half of the activity—students read the passages but never taught the lesson. All of the participants were then tested on their factual recall of the Doppler effect, and their ability to draw deeper conclusions from the reading.

The upshot? Students who prepared to teach outperformed their counterparts in both duration and depth of learning, scoring 9 percent higher on factual recall a week after the lessons concluded, and 24 percent higher on their ability to make inferences. The research suggests that asking students to prepare to teach something—or encouraging them to think “could I teach this to someone else?”—can significantly alter their learning trajectories.

7. A Disturbing Strain of Bias in Kids’ Books

Some of the most popular and well-regarded children’s books—Caldecott and Newbery honorees among them—persistently depict Black, Asian, and Hispanic characters with lighter skin, according to new research .

Using artificial intelligence, researchers combed through 1,130 children’s books written in the last century, comparing two sets of diverse children’s books—one a collection of popular books that garnered major literary awards, the other favored by identity-based awards. The software analyzed data on skin tone, race, age, and gender.

Among the findings: While more characters with darker skin color begin to appear over time, the most popular books—those most frequently checked out of libraries and lining classroom bookshelves—continue to depict people of color in lighter skin tones. More insidiously, when adult characters are “moral or upstanding,” their skin color tends to appear lighter, the study’s lead author, Anjali Aduki,  told The 74 , with some books converting “Martin Luther King Jr.’s chocolate complexion to a light brown or beige.” Female characters, meanwhile, are often seen but not heard.

Cultural representations are a reflection of our values, the researchers conclude: “Inequality in representation, therefore, constitutes an explicit statement of inequality of value.”

8. The Never-Ending ‘Paper Versus Digital’ War

The argument goes like this: Digital screens turn reading into a cold and impersonal task; they’re good for information foraging, and not much more. “Real” books, meanwhile, have a heft and “tactility”  that make them intimate, enchanting—and irreplaceable.

But researchers have often found weak or equivocal evidence for the superiority of reading on paper. While a recent study concluded that paper books yielded better comprehension than e-books when many of the digital tools had been removed, the effect sizes were small. A 2021 meta-analysis further muddies the water: When digital and paper books are “mostly similar,” kids comprehend the print version more readily—but when enhancements like motion and sound “target the story content,” e-books generally have the edge.

Nostalgia is a force that every new technology must eventually confront. There’s plenty of evidence that writing with pen and paper encodes learning more deeply than typing. But new digital book formats come preloaded with powerful tools that allow readers to annotate, look up words, answer embedded questions, and share their thinking with other readers.

We may not be ready to admit it, but these are precisely the kinds of activities that drive deeper engagement, enhance comprehension, and leave us with a lasting memory of what we’ve read. The future of e-reading, despite the naysayers, remains promising.

9. New Research Makes a Powerful Case for PBL

Many classrooms today still look like they did 100 years ago, when students were preparing for factory jobs. But the world’s moved on: Modern careers demand a more sophisticated set of skills—collaboration, advanced problem-solving, and creativity, for example—and those can be difficult to teach in classrooms that rarely give students the time and space to develop those competencies.

Project-based learning (PBL) would seem like an ideal solution. But critics say PBL places too much responsibility on novice learners, ignoring the evidence about the effectiveness of direct instruction and ultimately undermining subject fluency. Advocates counter that student-centered learning and direct instruction can and should coexist in classrooms.

Now two new large-scale studies —encompassing over 6,000 students in 114 diverse schools across the nation—provide evidence that a well-structured, project-based approach boosts learning for a wide range of students.

In the studies, which were funded by Lucas Education Research, a sister division of Edutopia , elementary and high school students engaged in challenging projects that had them designing water systems for local farms, or creating toys using simple household objects to learn about gravity, friction, and force. Subsequent testing revealed notable learning gains—well above those experienced by students in traditional classrooms—and those gains seemed to raise all boats, persisting across socioeconomic class, race, and reading levels.

10. Tracking a Tumultuous Year for Teachers

The Covid-19 pandemic cast a long shadow over the lives of educators in 2021, according to a year’s worth of research.

The average teacher’s workload suddenly “spiked last spring,” wrote the Center for Reinventing Public Education in its January 2021 report, and then—in defiance of the laws of motion—simply never let up. By the fall, a RAND study recorded an astonishing shift in work habits: 24 percent of teachers reported that they were working 56 hours or more per week, compared to 5 percent pre-pandemic.

The vaccine was the promised land, but when it arrived nothing seemed to change. In an April 2021 survey  conducted four months after the first vaccine was administered in New York City, 92 percent of teachers said their jobs were more stressful than prior to the pandemic, up from 81 percent in an earlier survey.

It wasn’t just the length of the work days; a close look at the research reveals that the school system’s failure to adjust expectations was ruinous. It seemed to start with the obligations of hybrid teaching, which surfaced in Edutopia ’s coverage of overseas school reopenings. In June 2020, well before many U.S. schools reopened, we reported that hybrid teaching was an emerging problem internationally, and warned that if the “model is to work well for any period of time,” schools must “recognize and seek to reduce the workload for teachers.” Almost eight months later, a 2021 RAND study identified hybrid teaching as a primary source of teacher stress in the U.S., easily outpacing factors like the health of a high-risk loved one.

New and ever-increasing demands for tech solutions put teachers on a knife’s edge. In several important 2021 studies, researchers concluded that teachers were being pushed to adopt new technology without the “resources and equipment necessary for its correct didactic use.” Consequently, they were spending more than 20 hours a week adapting lessons for online use, and experiencing an unprecedented erosion of the boundaries between their work and home lives, leading to an unsustainable “always on” mentality. When it seemed like nothing more could be piled on—when all of the lights were blinking red—the federal government restarted standardized testing .

Change will be hard; many of the pathologies that exist in the system now predate the pandemic. But creating strict school policies that separate work from rest, eliminating the adoption of new tech tools without proper supports, distributing surveys regularly to gauge teacher well-being, and above all listening to educators to identify and confront emerging problems might be a good place to start, if the research can be believed.

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New Data Show How the Pandemic Affected Learning Across Whole Communities

  • Posted May 11, 2023
  • By News editor
  • Disruption and Crises
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  • Evidence-Based Intervention

Today, The Education Recovery Scorecard , a collaboration with researchers at the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University (CEPR) and Stanford University’s Educational Opportunity Project , released 12 new state reports and a research brief to provide the most comprehensive picture yet of how the pandemic affected student learning. Building on their previous work, their findings reveal how school closures and local conditions exacerbated inequality between communities — and the urgent need for school leaders to expand recovery efforts now.

The research team reviewed data from 8,000 communities in 40 states and Washington, D.C., including 2022 NAEP scores and Spring 2022 assessments, COVID death rates, voting rates, and trust in government, patterns of social activity, and survey data from Facebook/Meta on family activities and mental health during the pandemic.

>> Read an op-ed by researchers Tom Kane and Sean Reardon in the New York Times .

They found that where children lived during the pandemic mattered more to their academic progress than their family background, income, or internet speed.  Moreover, after studying instances where test scores rose or fell in the decade before the pandemic, the researchers found that the impacts lingered for years.  

“Children have resumed learning, but largely at the same pace as before the pandemic. There’s no hurrying up teaching fractions or the Pythagorean theorem,” said CEPR faculty director Thomas Kane . “The hardest hit communities — like Richmond, Virginia, St. Louis, Missouri, and New Haven, Connecticut, where students fell behind by more than 1.5 years in math — have to teach 150 percent of a typical year’s worth of material for three years in a row — just to catch up. That is simply not going to happen without a major increase in instructional time.  Any district that lost more than a year of learning should be required to revisit their recovery plans and add instructional time — summer school, extended school year, tutoring, etc. — so that students are made whole. ”

“It’s not readily visible to parents when their children have fallen behind earlier cohorts, but the data from 7,800 school districts show clearly that this is the case,” said Sean Reardon , professor of poverty and inequality, Stanford Graduate School of Education. “The educational impacts of the pandemic were not only historically large, but were disproportionately visited on communities with many low-income and minority students. Our research shows that schools were far from the only cause of decreased learning — the pandemic affected children through many ways — but they are the institution best suited to remedy the unequal impacts of the pandemic.”

The new research includes:

  • A research brief that offers insights into why students in some communities fared worse than others. 
  • An update to the Education Recovery Scorecard, including data from 12 additional states whose 2022 scores were not available in October. The project now includes a district-level view of the pandemic’s effects in 40 states (plus D.C.). 
  • A new interactive map that highlights examples of inequity between neighboring school districts. 

Among the key findings:

  • Within the typical school district, the declines in test scores were similar for all groups of students, rich and poor, white, Black, Hispanic. And the extent to which schools were closed appears to have had the same effect on all students in a community, regardless of income or race. 
  • Test scores declined more in places where the COVID death rate was higher, in communities where adults reported feeling more depression and anxiety during the pandemic, and where daily routines of families were most significantly restricted. This is true even in places where schools closed only very briefly at the start of the pandemic. 
  • Test score declines were smaller in communities with high voting rates and high Census response rates — indicators of what sociologists call “institutional trust.” Moreover, remote learning was less harmful in such places. Living in a community where more people trusted the government appears to have been an asset to children during the pandemic.
  • The average U.S. public school student in grades 3-8 lost the equivalent of a half year of learning in math and a quarter of a year in reading.

The researchers also looked at data from the decade prior to the pandemic to see how students bounced back after significant learning loss due to disruption in their schooling. The evidence shows that schools do not naturally bounce back: Affected students recovered 20–30% of the lost ground in the first year, but then made no further recovery in the subsequent three to four years.   

“Schools were not the sole cause of achievement losses,” Kane said. “Nor will they be the sole solution. As enticing as it might be to get back to normal, doing so will just leave the devastating increase in inequality caused by the pandemic in place. We must create learning opportunities for students outside of the normal school calendar, by adding academic content to summer camps and after-school programs and adding an optional 13th year of schooling.”

The Education Recovery Scorecard is supported by funds from Citadel founder and CEO Kenneth C. Griffin, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Walton Family Foundation.

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10 Education Studies You Should Know From 2023

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The school environment is changing rapidly, as a result of emerging technologies and ongoing problems with student achievement and mental health. This year saw new research insights in critical areas. Here’s a look at some of the findings from some of the studies that were most popular with our readers.

Teenagers need a social media detox

The dangers of adolescents’ social media habits took center stage this year, with the U.S. surgeon general issuing public warnings about the dangers of social media use for developing brains. Federal and state legislatures likewise moved to regulate how minors can use social media, and dozens of districts nationwide are suing major platforms like Facebook, arguing that they damage students’ mental health.

Amid the swirl of activity, a longitudinal and empirical research analysis found that more frequent use of smartphones and social media is associated with higher rates of mental distress, self-harming behaviors, and suicide among teenagers.

The study suggests schools can help counter potential damage from social media by helping students and families engage in open, nonjudgmental, and developmentally appropriate discussions and problem-solving around ways to limit social media.

The wrong problem can make a difference in math

An analysis of more than 100 studies of math interventions in Educational Psychology Review found that students who study already-worked example problems improved in mathematics significantly more than students who used a different approach. Students who had experienced gaps in their math knowledge particularly benefited from studying and discussing incorrectly worked problems in addition to studying correct problems to highlight potential areas of misunderstanding.

However, teachers need to choose their examples carefully: Problems without a clear goal, or with less detail, and those that don’t highlight the steps needed to solve the problem were associated with less student growth in math. A student studying well-chosen worked problems, however, had math growth equal to moving from the 50th percentile to above the 69th percentile.

ChatGPT’s educational uses are still up in the air

Launched a little more than a year ago, the generative artificial intelligence tool ChatGPT has exploded in popularity among teachers and the general public. A meta-analysis of 50 studies in the journal Education Sciences suggests educators use the tool most to generate course materials and sample questions , as well as to provide virtual tutoring for students.

However, the analysis finds mixed evidence so far on ChatGPT’s most effective uses. While the bot provided highly accurate responses in areas like economics and critical-thinking prompts, it was ironically not able to provide highly accurate information in math or software testing. The tool occasionally or often provided out-of-date or incorrect information in various subjects. The study also found ChatGPT often did not provide proper sources for its information and its use led to higher rates of plagiarism with some groups of students who used it.

But artificial intelligence may help to design more equitable school districts

School districts have long struggled to design attendance zones that limit long bus rides while preventing high-poverty students from becoming concentrated in a few schools. One study in the journal Educational Researcher suggests AI might be able to create a more equitable and efficient fit.

Northeastern University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers simulated new attendance zones for nearly 100 of the nation’s largest districts, using algorithms that took into account both parent preferences and district integration goals. The new simulated attendance zones lowered segregation of white students and students of color across district schools by 14 percent on average, while slightly reducing travel times and only requiring a fifth of students to change schools.

Avoiding academic anxiety can worsen and prolong students’ fear

Teachers may be inclined to let students avoid tasks like public presentations that trigger fear and stress, but over time, that can make their anxiety worse. A study in the Journal of Psychologists and Counselors in Schools looked at elementary students with severe anxiety. Teachers reported several common activities that tended to trigger anxiety, such as group work and reading aloud in class. All teachers at least occasionally allowed students to avoid the activities that worried them, but the more avoidance teachers allowed, the higher students’ anxiety around those activities.

The lead researcher, child psychology professor Golda Ginsburg of the University of Connecticut, developed and is now piloting the Teacher Anxiety Program for Elementary Students (TAPES) , in which educators learn and role-play ways to identify students who are experiencing anxiety in class and help them without exacerbating their triggers.

Extra learning days add up

A working paper in the National Bureau of Economic Research found big differences in the amount of time schools are in session. A rising number of schools nationwide have moved to longer school days, weekend school sessions, and longer years or summer sessions.

The study found students who attend schools in the top 10 percent for the amount of time they’re in session receive on average five weeks more instruction every year than do students attending schools in the bottom 10 percent of the spectrum. Over those students’ 12-year academic careers, students in the longest-running schools get nearly two years’ worth of additional instruction.

By contrast, nearly 900 districts nationwide now use four-day weeks . While these districts often have longer school days, the study found this tended to exhaust students and teachers and did not make up for the lost full days.

District leadership has a big gender gap

The names say it all .

A study in the journal Educational Researcher finds it’s just as likely for a district to be led by a man with one of 15 names as it is for one to be led by a woman with any name.

The study finds districts have a 1 in 4 chance of being led by a man named Michael, David, James, Jeff, John, Robert, Steven, Chris, Brian, Scott, Mark, Kevin, Jason, Matthew, or Daniel. While superintendent turnover has risen over time, particularly for men, those open positions are still more likely to be filled by a male candidate than a female one. Meanwhile, more than three-quarters of teachers and 56 percent of principals are women.

Chronic absenteeism isn’t going away

Two out of 3 schools nationwide had high chronic absenteeism in 2022 , up from a quarter before the pandemic, according to an analysis of federal data by the nonprofit Attendance Works.

In 11 states, the study found more than 1 in 4 students were chronically absent—defined as missing 10 percent or more of school days. High-poverty schools have been the hardest hit, with absenteeism nearly tripling since the pandemic.

Want kids in school? Build bridges with families first

While schools have been ramping up efforts to increase student engagement to combat absenteeism, a study by Harvard University researchers and the New Teacher Project suggests keeping parents engaged is equally important.

Schools with higher assessed trust between parents and teachers and higher parent involvement—particularly in schools’ decisionmaking—had 6 percentage points lower chronic-absenteeism rates after remote learning, compared with schools with less parent engagement.

Virtual tutoring can help students, if it follows high-dosage criteria

High-dosage tutoring programs have expanded significantly, with nearly 40 percent of schools now using individual and small-group tutoring with trained teachers or tutors four or five days a week. This approach has been shown to boost student learning, but it can also be expensive. A new study by the National Student Support Accelerator at Stanford University suggests virtual tutoring could be a less-costly option, if it remains as intensive and rigorous as in-person tutoring.

Researchers tracked the reading growth of about 2,000 K-2 students in a dozen Texas charter schools, half of whom participated in intensive remote tutoring for part of the school day, in small-group video chats. Students who received supplemental lessons in phonics and decoding for 20 minutes a day, four times a week, via the remote tutoring performed significantly better on two early-reading tests by the end of the year.

A version of this article appeared in the January 17, 2024 edition of Education Week as 10 Education Studies You Should Know From 2023

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Global education trends and research to follow in 2022

Subscribe to the center for universal education bulletin, emily gustafsson-wright , emily gustafsson-wright senior fellow - global economy and development , center for universal education @egwbrookings helen shwe hadani , helen shwe hadani former brookings expert @helenshadani kathy hirsh-pasek , kathy hirsh-pasek senior fellow - global economy and development , center for universal education @kathyandro1 maysa jalbout , maysa jalbout nonresident fellow - global economy and development , center for universal education @maysajalbout elizabeth m. king , elizabeth m. king nonresident senior fellow - global economy and development , center for universal education jennifer l. o’donoghue , jennifer l. o’donoghue deputy director - center for universal education , senior fellow - global economy and development @jennodjod brad olsen , brad olsen senior fellow - global economy and development , center for universal education @bradolsen_dc jordan shapiro , jordan shapiro nonresident fellow - global economy and development , center for universal education @jordosh emiliana vegas , and emiliana vegas former co-director - center for universal education , former senior fellow - global economy and development @emivegasv rebecca winthrop rebecca winthrop director - center for universal education , senior fellow - global economy and development @rebeccawinthrop.

January 24, 2022

  • 12 min read

As the third calendar year of the pandemic begins, 2022 promises to be an important one—especially for education. Around the world, education systems have had to contend with sporadic closures, inequitable access to education technology and other distance learning tools, and deep challenges in maintaining both students’ and teachers’ physical and emotional health. At the same time, not all of the sudden changes precipitated by the pandemic have been bad—with some promising new innovations, allies, and increased attention on the field of global education emerging over the past three years. The key question is whether 2022 and the years ahead will lead to education transformation or will students, teachers, and families suffer long-lasting setbacks?

In the Center for Universal Education, our scholars take stock of the trends, policies, practices, and research that they’ll be closely keeping an eye on this year and likely in the many to come.

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More than ever, in 2022 it will be critical to focus on strengthening the fabric of our global education system in order to achieve positive outcomes—particularly through an increased focus on data-informed decisionmaking. We have seen a renewed focus on different forms of data that are critical to enhanced education outcomes, such as real-time performance data, which allow teachers and other decisionmakers to course-adjust to the needs of learners to better support their educational journeys. Additionally, high-quality program cost data are needed for decisionmakers to plan, budget, and choose the most cost-effective interventions.

One way we are seeing these areas strengthened is through innovative financing for education, such as impact bonds , which require data to operate at full potential. This year, pooled funding through outcomes funds—a scaled version of impact bonds—should make a particularly big splash. The Education Outcomes Fund organization is slated to launch programs in Ghana and Sierra Leone, and we also expect to see the launch of country-specific outcomes funds for education such as OFFER (Outcome Fund For Education Results) in Colombia, the Back-to-School Outcomes Fund in India, and another fund in Chile. At the Center for Universal Education, we will be following these innovations closely and look forward to the insights that they will bring to the education sector.

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As we look ahead to 2022, one continued challenge for many families is navigating the uncharted territory of supporting children’s learning with a growing number of school closures . But while the pandemic forced an abrupt slowdown in modern life, it also provided an opportunity to reexamine how we can prioritize learning and healthy development both in and out of school. Moreover, the cascading effects of the pandemic are disproportionally affecting families living in communities challenged by decades of discrimination and disinvestment—and are very likely to widen already existing educational inequities in worrisome ways.

One innovative approach to providing enriching learning opportunities beyond school walls that address the inequities in our current systems is Playful Learning Landscapes (PLL) —installations and programming that promote children and families’ learning through play in the public realm. A current focus for PLL at Brookings is measuring the impact of these spaces to show that PLL works and to garner greater investment in them. To that end, Brookings and its partners developed a framework and an initial set of indicators from both the learning science and placemaking perspectives to help assess the positive effects of PLL on learning outcomes , as well as its potential to enhance social interaction and public life in revitalized spaces. The framework will continue to evolve as we learn from communities that are testing the expansion and adaptation of PLL—this important work is just beginning.

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The pandemic highlighted several trends in education that promise to be the focus of future policy and practice in 2022 and beyond: the importance of skills that supplement the learning of content, systemic inequities in education systems, and the role of digital technology in the education of the future. It has become increasingly clear that the memorization of content alone will not prepare children for the jobs and society of the future. As noted in a Brookings report “ A new path for education reform, ” in an automated world, manufacturing jobs and even preliminary medical diagnoses or legal contracts can be performed by computers and robots. Students who can work collaboratively—with strong communication skills, critical thinking, and creative innovation—will be highly valued. Mission statements from around the globe are starting to promote a “whole child” approach to education that will encourage the learning of a breadth of skills better aligning the education sector with needs from the business sector.

The past year also demonstrated weaknesses and inequalities inherent in remote learning that I’ll be closely tracking in the years to come. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that virtual learning presents risks to social-emotional learning . Further, research suggests that academic progress during the pandemic slowed such that students demonstrated only 35 to 50 percent of the gains they normally achieve in mathematics and 60 to 68 percent in reading. The losses are not experienced uniformly , with children from underresourced environments falling behind their more resourced peers.

The failure of remote learning also raises questions about the place of digital learning in the classroom. Learning will become more and more hybrid over time, and keeping an eye on advances in technology—especially regarding augmented reality and the metaverse—will be particularly important, as both have real consequences for the classrooms.

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In 2022, I’ll be focusing on one group of children in particular–refugees–who are among those children who have historically had the least access to preprimary education. The pandemic has affected them disproportionally , as it pushed them and their families into poverty and deprived them from most forms of education during the school closures.

While much more investment in early childhood education research and evaluation is needed to improve evidence and channel scarce resources effectively, there are a few important efforts to watch. A report commissioned by Theirworld last year provided an overview of the sector and focused on a critical gap and opportunity to address the inequity of access to early childhood education in refugee settings by better supporting teachers and community workers. This year, Theirworld and partners will pursue two of the report’s recommendations–making the science of early childhood brain development widely accessible in refugee communities and building the evidence base on what works in supporting early childhood education teachers and the young refugee children they teach.

The report was informed by existing initiatives including Ahlan Simsim, which in 2017 received the largest known grant to early education in a humanitarian context. While the evaluation of Ahlan Simsim will not be complete until two more years, the Global Ties for Children research center, Sesame Workshop, and the International Rescue Committee will share critical insights into their learning to date in a forthcoming episode of the podcast the Impact Room .

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This coming year I’ll be focused on how education systems can prepare for future disruptions, whatever the cause, with more deliberateness. The past two years of the COVID pandemic have seen education systems throughout the globe struggle to find ways to continue schooling. Additionally, there have been other public health crises, natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and severe storms, and wars and terrorism in different parts of the world that have gravely tested school systems’ ability to minimize the cost of catastrophes on students and teachers. Finding safer temporary learning places outside the school and using technologies such as radio, TV broadcasts, and online learning tools have helped, but quick fixes with little preparation are not effective approaches for sustaining and advancing learning gains.

In the age of broadcast and digital technologies, there are many more ways to meet the challenges of future emergency situations, but life- and education-saving solutions must be part of the way school systems operate—built into their structures, their staffing, their budgets, and their curricula. By preparing for the emergencies that are likely to happen, we can persevere to reach learning goals for all children.

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By the close of 2021, a number of studies began to document the impact of COVID-19 on girls’ educational trajectories across the Global South. These studies point to promising trends –lower than expected dropout rates and reenrollment rates similar to (if not greater than) those of boys–while still highlighting the particular challenges faced by adolescent girls and girls living in poverty , conflict, and crisis .

In 2022, it will be critical to continue to generate more nuanced evidence—carefully considering questions such as “for which girls,” “where,” “when,” and “why.” And then we must put this knowledge to use to protect and promote girls’ and young women’s rights not just to education, but to participate and thrive in the world around them. Ensuring that marginalized girls and young women become transformative agents in improving their lives and livelihoods—as well as those of their families and communities—requires us to develop new strategies for learning and acting together.

At the Center for Universal Education, this means strengthening our work with local leaders in girls’ education: promoting gender-transformative research through the Echidna Global Scholars Program ; expanding the collective impact of our 33 Echidna alumni; and co-constructing a learning and action community to explore together how to improve beliefs, practices, programs, and policies so that marginalized adolescent girls’ can develop and exercise agency in pursuing their own pathways.

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Going into year three of COVID-19, in 2022 I’m interested to see whether countries will transform their education systems or largely leave them the way they are. Will leaders of education systems tinker around the edges of change but mostly attempt a return to a prepandemic “normal,” or will they take advantage of this global rupture in the status quo to replace antiquated educational institutions and approaches with significant structural improvement?

In relation to this, one topic I’ll be watching in particular is how countries treat their teachers. How will policymakers, the media, parent councils, and others frame teachers’ work in 2022? In which locations will teachers be diminished versus where will they be defended as invaluable assets? How will countries learn from implications of out-of-school children (including social isolation and child care needs)? Will teachers remain appreciated in their communities but treated poorly in the material and political conditions of their work? Or will countries hold them dear—demanding accountability while supporting and rewarding them for quality work?

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I’m interested in learning more about how pandemic lockdowns have impacted students. So far, we’ve only gotten very general data dealing with questions that are, in my opinion, too simple to be worthwhile. It’s all been about good and bad, positive and negative, learning loss and achievement. But I’ll be watching for more nuanced studies, which ask about specific ways increased time away from school has impacted social-emotional development. How do those results differ between gender, race, socioeconomic status, and geographic location? I suspect we’re going to learn some things about the relationship between home environment and school environment that will challenge a lot of our taken-for-granted assumptions.

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In 2022, I’ll be tracking emerging evidence on the impact of the COVID-19 school closures on children and youth. Several researchers, including my co-authors and me , have provided estimates of the school closures’ impact on student learning losses, unemployment, future earnings, and productivity globally. But only recently are researchers analyzing actual evidence of learning losses , and an early systematic review finds that “Although robust and empirical research on COVID-19-related student learning loss is limited, learning loss itself may not be.”

Likewise, there is little rigorous reviews of remote learning tools’ and platforms’ impact on student learning during the school closures. After the pandemic, it is almost certain that remote and hybrid learning will continue—at a minimum occasionally and often periodically—in primary, secondary, and post-secondary education. It is urgent that we build the evidence base to help education decisionmakers and practitioners provide effective, tailored learning experiences for all students.

Finally, a key issue for education is how to redesign curricula so that this generation (and future generations) of students gain a key set of skills and competencies required for technologically-advancing labor markets and societies. While foundational literacy and numeracy skills continue to be essential for learning, a strong foundational knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is ever more important in the 21st century, and I look forward to contributing research this year to help make the case for curricula redesign efforts.

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I will be interested to see how parent-teacher relationships progress after the pandemic has (hopefully) faded into the background. COVID-19 has had an inescapable impact on the way we deliver education globally, but none more so than on how education leaders and teachers interact with students and their families.

For the past three years, I have been studying family-school collaboration. Together with my colleagues and partners, we have surveyed nearly 25,000 parents and 6,000 teachers in 10 countries around the world and found that the vast majority of teachers, parents, and caregivers want to work together more closely. Quality family-school collaboration has the potential to significantly improve educational outcomes, spur important discussions on the overall purpose of school, and smooth the path for schools and families to navigate change together. From community schools in New Mexico  to text message updates from teachers in India , new innovations are popping up every day—in every corner of the world. I’m excited to see what the future holds for family-school collaboration!

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The Impact of COVID-19 on Education: A Meta-Narrative Review

Aras bozkurt.

1 Distance Education Department, Anadolu University, Eskişehir, Turkey

2 Department of English Studies, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa

3 Anadolu Üniversitesi, Açıköğretim Fakültesi, Kat:7, Oda:702, 26470, Tepebaşı, Eskişehir, Turkey

Kadir Karakaya

4 Applied Linguistics & Technology Department, Iowa State University, Ames, IA USA

5 Educational Psychology, Learning Sciences, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK USA

Özlem Karakaya

6 Educational Technology & Human-Computer Interaction, Iowa State University, Ames, IA USA

Daniela Castellanos-Reyes

7 Curriculum and Instruction, Learning Design and Technology, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN USA

Associated Data

The dataset is available from the authors upon request.

The rapid and unexpected onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic has generated a great degree of uncertainty about the future of education and has required teachers and students alike to adapt to a new normal to survive in the new educational ecology. Through this experience of the new educational ecology, educators have learned many lessons, including how to navigate through uncertainty by recognizing their strengths and vulnerabilities. In this context, the aim of this study is to conduct a bibliometric analysis of the publications covering COVID-19 and education to analyze the impact of the pandemic by applying the data mining and analytics techniques of social network analysis and text-mining. From the abstract, title, and keyword analysis of a total of 1150 publications, seven themes were identified: (1) the great reset, (2) shifting educational landscape and emerging educational roles (3) digital pedagogy, (4) emergency remote education, (5) pedagogy of care, (6) social equity, equality, and injustice, and (7) future of education. Moreover, from the citation analysis, two thematic clusters emerged: (1) educational response, emergency remote education affordances, and continuity of education, and (2) psychological impact of COVID-19. The overlap between themes and thematic clusters revealed researchers’ emphasis on guaranteeing continuity of education and supporting the socio-emotional needs of learners. From the results of the study, it is clear that there is a heightened need to develop effective strategies to ensure the continuity of education in the future, and that it is critical to proactively respond to such crises through resilience and flexibility.

Introduction

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has proven to be a massive challenge for the entire world, imposing a radical transformation in many areas of life, including education. It was rapid and unexpected; the world was unprepared and hit hard. The virus is highly contagious, having a pathogenic nature whose effects have not been limited to humans alone, but rather, includes every construct and domain of societies, including education. The education system, which has been affected at all levels, has been required to respond to the crisis, forced to transition into emergency modes, and adapt to the unprecedented impact of the global crisis. Although the beginning of 2021 will mark nearly a year of experience in living through the pandemic, the crisis remains a phenomenon with many unknowns. A deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the changes that have been made in response to the crisis is needed to survive in these hard times. Hence, this study aims to provide a better understanding by examining the scholarly publications on COVID-19 and education. In doing this, we can identify our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, be better prepared for the new normal, and be more fit to survive.

Related Literature

Though the COVID-19 pandemic is not the first major disruption to be experienced in the history of the world, it has been unique due to its scale and the requirements that have been imposed because of it (Guitton, 2020 ). The economies of many countries have greatly suffered from the lockdowns and other restrictive measurements, and people have had to adapt to a new lifestyle, where their primary concern is to survive by keeping themselves safe from contracting the deadly virus. The education system has not been exempt from this series of unfortunate events inflicted by COVID-19. Since brick-and-mortar schools had to be closed due to the pandemic, millions of students, from those in K-12 to those in higher education, were deprived of physical access to their classrooms, peers, and teachers (Bozkurt & Sharma, 2020a , b ). This extraordinary pandemic period has posed arguably the most challenging and complex problems ever for educators, students, schools, educational institutions, parents, governments, and all other educational stakeholders. The closing of brick-and-mortar schools and campuses rendered online teaching and learning the only viable solution to the problem of access-to-education during this emergency period (Hodges et al., 2020 ). Due to the urgency of this move, teachers and instructors were rushed to shift all their face-to-face instruction and instructional materials to online spaces, such as learning management systems or electronic platforms, in order to facilitate teaching virtually at a distance. As a result of this sudden migration to learning and instruction online, the key distinctions between online education and education delivered online during such crisis and emergency circumstances have been obfuscated (Hodges et al., 2020 ).

State of the Current Relevant Literature

Although the scale of the impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic on education overshadows previously experienced nationwide or global crises or disruptions, the phenomenon of schools and higher education institutions having to shift their instruction to online spaces is not totally new to the education community and academia (Johnson et al., 2020 ). Prior literature on this subject indicates that in the past, schools and institutions resorted to online or electronic delivery of instruction in times of serious crises and uncertainties, including but not limited to natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes (e.g., Ayebi-Arthur, 2017 ; Lorenzo, 2008 ; Tull et al., 2017 ), local disruptions such as civil wars and socio-economic events such as political upheavals, social turmoils or economic recessions (e.g., Czerniewicz et al., 2019 ). Nevertheless, the past attempts to move learning and teaching online do not compare to the current efforts that have been implemented during the global COVID-19 pandemic, insofar as the past crisis situations were sporadic events in specific territories, affecting a limited population for relatively short periods of time. In contrast, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to pose a serious threat to the continuity of education around the globe (Johnson et al., 2020 ).

Considering the scale and severity of the global pandemic, the impacts it has had on education in general and higher education in particular need to be explored and studied empirically so that necessary plans and strategies aimed at reducing its devastating effects can be developed and implemented. Due to the rapid onset and spread of the global pandemic, the current literature on the impact of COVID-19 on education is still limited, including mostly non-academic editorials or non-empirical personal reflections, anecdotes, reports, and stories (e.g., Baker, 2020 ; DePietro, 2020 ). Yet, with that said, empirical research on the impact of the global pandemic on higher education is rapidly growing. For example, Johnson et al. ( 2020 ), in their empirical study, found that faculty members who were struggling with various challenges adopted new instructional methods and strategies and adjusted certain course components to foster emergency remote education (ERE). Unger and Meiran ( 2020 ) observed that the pandemic made students in the US feel anxious about completing online learning tasks. In contrast, Suleri ( 2020 ) reported that a large majority of European higher education students were satisfied with their virtual learning experiences during the pandemic, and that most were willing to continue virtual higher education even after the pandemic (Suleri, 2020 ). The limited empirical research also points to the need for systematically planning and designing online learning experiences in advance in preparation for future outbreaks of such global pandemics and other crises (e.g., Korkmaz & Toraman, 2020 ). Despite the growing literature, the studies provide only fragmentary evidence on the impact of the pandemic on online learning and teaching. For a more thorough understanding of the serious implications the pandemic has for higher education in relation to learning and teaching online, more empirical research is needed.

Unlike previously conducted bibliometric analysis studies on this subject, which have largely involved general analysis of research on health sciences and COVID-19, Aristovnik et al. ( 2020 ) performed an in-depth bibliometric analysis of various science and social science research disciplines by examining a comprehensive database of document and source information. By the final phase of their bibliometric analysis, the authors had analyzed 16,866 documents. They utilized a mix of innovative bibliometric approaches to capture the existing research and assess the state of COVID-19 research across different research landscapes (e.g., health sciences, life sciences, physical sciences, social sciences, and humanities). Their findings showed that most COVID-19 research has been performed in the field of health sciences, followed by life sciences, physical sciences, and social sciences and humanities. Results from the keyword co-occurrence analysis revealed that health sciences research on COVID-19 tended to focus on health consequences, whereas the life sciences research on the subject tended to focus on drug efficiency. Moreover, physical sciences research tended to focus on environmental consequences, and social sciences and humanities research was largely oriented towards socio-economic consequences.

Similarly, Rodrigues et al. ( 2020 ) carried out a bibliometric analysis of COVID-19 related studies from a management perspective in order to elucidate how scientific research and education arrive at solutions to the pandemic crisis and the post-COVID-19 era. In line with Aristovnik et al.’s ( 2020 ) findings, Rodrigues et al. ( 2020 ) reported that most of the published research on this subject has fallen under the field of health sciences, leaving education as an under-researched area of inquiry. The content analysis they performed in their study also found a special emphasis on qualitative research. The descriptive and content analysis yielded two major strands of studies: (1) online education and (2) COVID-19 and education, business, economics, and management. The online education strand focused on the issue of technological anxiety caused by online classes, the feeling of belonging to an academic community, and feedback.

Lastly, Bond ( 2020 ) conducted a rapid review of K-12 research undertaken in the first seven months of the COVID-19 pandemic to identify successes and challenges and to offer recommendations for the future. From a search of K-12 research on the Web of Science, Scopus, EBSCOHost, the Microsoft Academic, and the COVID-19 living systematic map, 90 studies were identified and analyzed. The findings revealed that the reviewed research has focused predominantly on the challenges to shifting to ERE, teacher digital competencies and digital infrastructure, teacher ICT skills, parent engagement in learning, and students’ health and well-being. The review highlighted the need for straightforward communication between schools and families to inform families about learning activities and to promote interactivity between students. Teachers were also encouraged to develop their professional networks to increase motivation and support amongst themselves and to include opportunities for both synchronous and asynchronous interaction for promoting student engagement when using technology. Bond ( 2020 ) reported that the reviewed studies called for providing teachers with opportunities to further develop their digital technical competencies and their distance and online learning pedagogies. In a recent study that examines the impact of COVID-19 at higher education (Bozkurt, 2022 ), three broad themes from the body of research on this subject: (1) educational crisis and higher education in the new normal: resilience, adaptability, and sustainability, (2) psychological pressures, social uncertainty, and mental well-being of learners, and (3) the rise of online distance education and blended-hybrid modes. The findings of this study are similar to Mishra et al. ( 2021 ) who examined the COVID-19 pandemic from the lens of online distance education and noted that technologies for teaching and learning and psychosocial issues were emerging issues.

The aforementioned studies indicate that a great majority of research on COVID-19 has been produced in the field of health sciences, as expected. These studies nonetheless note that there is a noticeable shortage of studies dealing with the effects of the pandemic in the fields of social sciences, humanities, and education. Given the profound impact of the pandemic on learning and teaching, as well as on the related stakeholders in education, now more than ever, a greater amount of research on COVID-19 needs to be conducted in the field of education. The bibliometric studies discussed above have analyzed COVID-19 research across various fields, yielding a comparative snapshot of the research undertaken so far in different research spheres. However, despite being comprehensive, these studies did not appear to have examined a specific discipline or area of research in depth. Therefore, this bibliometric study aims to provide a focused, in-depth analysis of the COVID-19-related research in the field of education. In this regard, the main purpose of this study is to identify research patterns and trends in the field of education by examining COVID-19-related research papers. The study sought to answer the following research questions:

  • What are the thematic patterns in the title, abstract, and keywords of the publications on COVID-19 and education?
  • What are the citation trends in the references of the sampled publications on COVID-19 and education?

Methodology

This study used data mining and analytic approaches (Fayyad et al., 2002 ) to examine bibliometric patterns and trends. More specifically, social network analysis (SNA) (Hansen et al., 2020 ) was applied to examine the keywords and references, while text-mining was applied (Aggarwal & Zhai, 2012 ) to examine the titles and abstracts of the research corpus. Keywords represent the essence of an article at a micro level and for the analysis of the keywords, SNA was used. SNA “provides powerful ways to summarize networks and identify key people, [entities], or other objects that occupy strategic locations and positions within a matrix of links” (Hansen et al., 2020 , p. 6). In this regard, the keywords were analyzed based on their co-occurrences and visualized on a network graph by identifying the significant keywords which were demonstrated as nodes and their relationships were demonstrated with ties. For text-mining of the titles and abstracts, the researchers performed a lexical analysis that employs “two stages of co-occurrence information extraction—semantic and relational—using a different algorithm for each stage” (Smith & Humphreys, 2006 , p. 262). Thus, text-mining analysis enabled researchers to identify the hidden patterns and visualize them on a thematic concept map. For the analysis of the references, the researchers further used SNA based on the arguments that “citing articles and cited articles are linked to each other through invisible ties, and they collaboratively and collectively build an intellectual community that can be referred to as a living network, structure, or an ecology” (Bozkurt, 2019 , p. 498). The analysis of the references enabled the researchers to identify pivotal scholarly contributions that guided and shaped the intellectual landscape. The use of multiple approaches enables the study to present a broader view, or a meta-narrative.

Sample and Inclusion Criteria

The publications included in this research met the following inclusion criteria: (1) indexed by the Scopus database, (2) written in English, and (3) had the search queries on their title (Table ​ (Table1). 1 ). The search query reflects the focus on the impact of COVID-19 on education by including common words in the field like learn , teach , or student . Truncation was also used in the search to capture all relevant literature. Narrowing down the search allowed us to exclude publications that were not education related. Scopus was selected because it is one of the largest scholarly databases, and only publications in English were selected to facilitate identification of meaningful lexical patterns through text-mining and provide a condensed view of the research. The search yielded a total of 1150 papers (articles = 887, editorials = 66, notes = 58, conference papers = 56, letters = 40, review studies = 30, book chapters = 9, short surveys = 3, books = 1).

Search strings used to create research corpus

Data Analysis and Research Procedures

This study has two phases of analysis. In the first phase, text mining was used to analyze titles and abstracts, and SNA was applied to analyze keywords. By using two different analytical approaches, the authors were able to triangulate the research findings (Thurmond, 2001 ). In this phase, using lexical algorithms, text mining analysis enabled visualizing the textual data on a thematic concept map according to semantic relationships and co-occurrences of the words (Fig.  1 ). Text mining generated a machine-based concept map by analyzing the co-occurrences and lexical relationships of textual data. Then, based on the co-occurrences and centrality metrics, SNA enabled visualizing keywords on a network graphic called sociogram (Fig.  2 ). SNA allowed researchers to visually identify the key terms on a connected network graph where keywords are represented as nodes and their relationships are represented as edges. In the first phase of the study, by synthesizing outputs of the data mining and analytic approaches, meaningful patterns of textual data were presented as seven main research themes.

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Thematic concept mapping of COVID-19 and education-related papers

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Social networks analysis of the keywords in COVID-19 and education-related papers

In the second phase of the study, through the examination of the references and citation patterns (e.g., citing and being cited) of the articles in the research corpus, the citation patterns were visualized on a network graphic by clusters (See Fig.  3 ) showing also chronical relationships which enabled to identify pivotal COVID-19 studies. In the second phase of the study, two new themes were identified which were in line with the themes that emerged in the first phase of the study.

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Social networks analysis of the references in COVID-19 and education-related papers 2019–2020 (Only the first authors were labeled – See Appendix Fig. ​ Fig.4 4 for SNA of references covering pre-COVID-19 period)

Strengths and Limitations

This study is one of the first attempts to use bibliometric approaches benefiting from data mining and analysis techniques to better understand COVID-19 and its consequences on published educational research. By applying such an approach, a large volume of data is able to be visualized and reported. However, besides these strengths, the study also has certain limitations. First, the study uses the Scopus database, which, though being one of the largest databases, does not include all types of publications. Therefore, the publications selected for this study offer only a partial view, as there are many significant publications in gray literature (e.g., reports, briefs, blogs). Second, the study includes only publications written in English, however, with COVID-19 being a global crisis, publications in different languages would provide a complementary view and be helpful in understanding local reflections in the field of education.

Findings and Discussion

Sna and text-mining: thematic patterns in the title, abstract, and keywords of the publications.

This section reports the findings based on a thematic concept map and network graphic that were developed through text mining (Fig.  1 —Textual data composed of 186.234 words visualized according to lexical relationships and co-occurrences) and sociograms created using SNA (Fig.  2 —The top 200 keywords with highest betweenness centrality and 1577 connections among them mapped on a network graph) to visualize the data. Accordingly, seven major themes were identified by analyzing the data through text-mining and SNA: (1) the great reset, (2) digital pedagogy, (3) shifting educational landscape and emerging educational roles, (4) emergency remote education, (5) pedagogy of care, (6) social equity, equality, and injustice, and (7) future of education.

  • Theme 1: The Great Reset (See path Fig.  1 : lockdown  +  emergency  +  community  +  challenges  +  during  >  pandemic and impact  >  outbreak  >  coronavirus  >  pandemic and global  >  crisis  >  pandemic  >  world; See nodes on Fig.  2 : Covid19, pandemic, Coronavirus, lockdown, crisis ). The first theme in the thematic concept map and network graphic is the Great Reset. It has been relatively a short time since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 a pandemic. Although vaccination had already started, the pandemic continued to have an adverse impact on the world. Ever since the start of the pandemic, people were discussing when there would be a return to normal (Bozkurt & Sharma, 2020a , b ; Xiao, 2021 ); however, as time goes by, this hope has faded, and returning to normal appears to be far into the future (Schwab & Malleret, 2020 ). The pandemic is seen as a major milestone, in the sense that a macro reset in economic, social, geopolitical, environmental, and technological fields will produce multi-faceted changes affecting almost all aspects of life (Schwab & Malleret, 2020 ). The cover of an issue of the international edition of Time Magazine reflected this idea of a great reset and presented the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to transform the way we live and work (Time, 2020 ). It has been argued that the pandemic will generate the emergence of a new era, and that we will have to adapt to the changes it produces (Bozkurt & Sharma, 2020 ). For example, the industrial sector quickly embraced remote work despite its challenges, and it is possible that most industrial companies will not return to the on-site working model even after the pandemic ends (Hern, 2020 ). We can expect a high rate of similar responses in other fields, including education, where COVID-19 has already reshaped our educational systems, the way we deliver education, and pedagogical approaches.
  • Theme 2: Digital pedagogy (See path on Fig.  1 : distance learning  >  research  >  teacher  >  development  >  need  >  training  +  technology  +  virtual  >  digital  >  communication  >  support  >  process  >  teaching  >  online  >  learning  >  online learning  +  course  >  faculty  >  students  >  experience ; See nodes on Fig.  2 : online learning, distance learning, computer-based learning, elearning, online education, distance education, online teaching, multimedia-based learning, technology, blended learning, online, digital transformation, ICT, online classes, flexible learning, technology-enhanced learning, digitalization ). Owing to the rapid transition to online education as a result of COVID-19, digital pedagogy and teachers’ competencies in information and communication technology (ICT) integration have gained greater prominence with the unprecedented challenges teachers have faced to adapt to remote teaching and learning. The COVID-19 pandemic has unquestionably manifested the need to prepare teachers to teach online, as most of them have been forced to assume ERE roles with inadequate preparation. Studies involving the use of SNA indicate a correspondence between adapting to a digital pedagogy and the need to equip teachers with greater competency in technology and online teaching (e.g., Blume, 2020 ; König et al., 2020 ). König et al. ( 2020 ) conducted a survey-based study investigating how early career teachers have adapted to online teaching during COVID-19 school closures. Their study found that while all the teachers maintained communication with students and their parents, introduced new learning content, and provided feedback, they lacked the ability to respond to challenges requiring ICT integration, such as those related to providing quality online teaching and to conducting assessments. Likewise, Blume ( 2020 ) noted that most teachers need to acquire digital skills to implement digitally-mediated pedagogy and communication more effectively. Both study findings point to the need for building ICT-related teaching and learning competencies in initial teacher education and teacher professional development. The findings from the SNA conducted in the present study are in line with the aforementioned findings in terms of keyword analysis and overlapping themes and nodes.
  • Theme 3: Shifting educational landscape and emerging educational roles (See path on Fig.  1 : future > education > role > Covid19; See nodes on Fig.  2 : higher education, education, student, curriculum, university, teachers, learning, professional development, teacher education, knowledge, readiness ). The role of technology in education and human learning has been essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. Technology has become a prerequisite for learning and teaching during the pandemic and will likely continue to be so after it. In the rapid shift to an unprecedented mode of learning and teaching, stakeholders have had to assume different roles in the educational landscape of the new normal. For example, in a comprehensive study involving the participation of over 30 K higher education students from 62 countries conducted by Aristovnik et al. ( 2020 ), it was found that students with certain socio-demographic characteristics (male, lower living standard, from Africa or Asia) were significantly less satisfied with the changes to work/life balance created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that female students who were facing financial problems were generally more affected by COVID-19 in their emotional life and personal circumstances. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, there is likely to be carry over in the post-pandemic era of some of the educational changes made during the COVID-19 times. For example, traditional lecture-based teacher-centered classes may be replaced by more student-centered online collaborative classes (Zhu & Liu, 2020 ). This may require the development and proliferation of open educational platforms that allow access to high-quality educational materials (Bozkurt et al., 2020 ) and the adoption of new roles to survive in the learning ecologies informed by digital learning pedagogies. In common with the present study, the aforementioned studies (e.g., Aristovnik et al., 2020 ; König et al., 2020 ) call for more deliberate actions to improve teacher education programs by offering training on various teaching approaches, such as blended, hybrid, flexible, and online learning, to better prepare educators for emerging roles in the post-pandemic era.
  • Theme 4: Emergency remote education (see path Fig.  1 : higher education  >  university  >  student  >  experience  >  remote; See nodes on Fig.  2 : Covid19, pandemic, Coronavirus, higher education, education, school closure, emergency remote teaching, emergency remote learning ). Educational institutions have undergone a rapid shift to ERE in the wake of COVID-19 (Bozkurt & Sharma, 2020a ; Bozkurt et al., 2020 ; Hodges et al., 2020 ). Although ERE is viewed as similar to distance education, they are essentially different. That is, ERE is a prompt response measure to an emergency situation or unusual circumstances, such as a global pandemic or a civil war, for a temporary period of time, whereas distance education is a planned and systematic approach to instructional design and development grounded in educational theory and practice (Bozkurt & Sharma, 2020b ). Due to the urgent nature of situations requiring ERE, it may fall short in embracing the solid pedagogical learning and teaching principles represented by distance education (Hodges et al., 2020 ). The early implementations of ERE primarily involved synchronous video-conferencing sessions that sought to imitate in-person classroom instruction. It is worth noting that educators may have heavily relied on synchronous communication to overcome certain challenges, such as the lack of available materials and planned activities for asynchronous communication. Lockdowns and school closures, which turned homes into compulsory learning environments, have posed major challenges for families and students, including scheduling, device sharing, and learner engagement in a socially distanced home learning environment (Bond, 2020 ). For example, Shim and Lee ( 2020 ) conducted a qualitative study exploring university students’ ERE experiences and reported that students complained about network instability, unilateral interactions, and reduced levels of concentration. The SNA findings clearly highlight that there has been a focus on ERE due to the school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is key to adopt the best practices of ERE and to utilize them regularly in distance education (Bozkurt, 2022 ). Moreover, it is important to note that unless clear distinctions are drawn between these two different forms of distance education or virtual instruction, a series of unfortunate events in education during these COVID-19 times is very likely to take place and lead to fatal errors in instructional practices and to poor student learning outcomes.
  • Theme 5: Pedagogy of care (See path Fig.  1 : r ole  >  education  >  Covid19  >  care ; See nodes on Fig.  2 : Stress, anxiety, student wellbeing, coping, care, crisis management, depression ). The thematic concept map and network graphic show the psychological and emotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on various stakeholders, revealing that they have experienced anxiety, expressed the need for care, and sought coping strategies. A study by Baloran ( 2020 ), conducted in the southern part of the Philippines to examine college students’ knowledge, attitudes, anxiety, and personal coping strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic, found that the majority of the students experienced anxiety during the lockdown and worried about food security, financial resources, social contact, and large gatherings. It was reported that the students coped with this anxiety by following protective measures, chatting with family members and friends, and motivating themselves to have a positive attitude. In a similar study, Islam et al. ( 2020 ) conducted an investigation to determine whether Bangladeshi college students experienced anxiety and depression and the factors responsible for these emotional responses. Their cross-sectional survey-based study found that a large percentage of the participants had suffered from anxiety and depression during the pandemic. Academic and professional uncertainty, as well as financial insecurity, have been documented as factors contributing to the anxiety and depression among college students. Both studies point to the need for support mechanisms to be established by higher education institutions in order to ensure student wellbeing, provide them with care, and help them to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression. Talidong and Toquero ( 2020 ) reported that, in addition to students’ well-being and care, teachers’ perceptions and experiences of stress and anxiety during the quarantine period need to be taken into account. The authors found that teachers were worried about the safety of their loved ones and were susceptible to anxiety but tended to follow the preventive policies. A pedagogy of care has been presented as an approach that would effectively allow educators to plan more supportive teaching practices during the pandemic by fostering clear and prompt communication with students and their families and taking into consideration learner needs in lesson planning (e.g., Karakaya, 2021 ; Robinson et al., 2020 ). Here it is important to stress that a pedagogy of care is a multifaceted concept, one that involves the concepts of social equity, equality, and injustice.
  • Theme 6: Social equity, equality, and injustice (See path on Fig.  1 : Impact  >  outbreak  >  coronavirus  >  pandemic  >  social ; See nodes on Fig.  2 : Support, equity, social justice, digital divide, inequality, social support ). One of the more significant impacts of COVID-19 has been the deepening of the existing social injustices around the world (Oldekop et al., 2020 ; Williamson et al., 2020 ). Long-term school closures have deteriorated social bonds and adversely affected health issues, poverty, economy, food insecurity, and digital divide (Van Lancker & Parolin, 2020 ). Regarding the digital divide, there has been a major disparity in access to devices and data connectivity between high-income and low-income populations increasing the digital divide, social injustice, and inequality in the world (Bozkurt et al., 2020 ). In line with the SNA findings, the digital divide, manifesting itself most visibly in the inadequacy and insufficiency of digital devices and lack of high-speed Internet, can easily result in widespread inequalities. As such, the disparities between low and high socio-economic status families and school districts in terms of digital pedagogy inequality may deepen as teachers in affluent schools are more likely to offer a wide range of online learning activities and thereby secure better student engagement, participation, and interaction (Greenhow et al., 2020 ). These findings demonstrate that social inequities have been sharpened by the unfortunate disparities imposed by the COVID-19, thus requiring us to reimagine a future that mitigates such concerns.
  • Theme 7: Future of education (See word path on Fig.  1 : Future  >  education  >  Covid19  >  pandemic  >  changes and pandemic  >  coronavirus, outbreak, impact  >  world ; See nodes on Fig.  2 : Sustainability, resilience, uncertainty, sdg4). Most significantly, COVID-19 the pandemic has shown the entire world that teachers and schools are invaluable resources and execute critical roles in society. Beyond that, with the compulsory changes resulting from the pandemic, it is evident that teaching and learning environments are not exclusive to brick-and-mortar classrooms. Digital technologies, being at the center of teaching and learning during the pandemic period, have been viewed as a pivotal agent in leveraging how learning takes place beyond the classroom walls (Quilter-Pinner & Ambrose, 2020 ). COVID-19 has made some concerns more visible. For example, the well-being of students, teachers, and society at large has gained more importance in these times of crisis. Furthermore, the need for educational technology and digital devices has compounded and amplified social inequities (Pelletier et al., 2021 ; West & Allen, 2020 ). Despite its global challenges, the need for technology and digital devices has highlighted some advantages that are likely to shape the future of education, particularly those related to the benefits of educational technology. For example, online learning could provide a more flexible, informal, self-paced learning environment for students (Adedoyin & Soykan, 2020 ). However, it also bears the risk of minimizing social interaction, as working in shared office environments has shifted to working alone in home-office settings. In this respect, the transformation of online education must involve a particular emphasis on sustaining interactivity through technology (Dwivedi et al., 2020 ). In view of the findings of the aforementioned studies, our text-mining and SNA findings suggest that the COVID-19 impositions may strongly shape the future of education and how learning takes place.

In summary, these themes extracted from the text-mining and SNA point to a significant milestone in the history of humanity, a multi-faceted reset that will affect many fields of life, from education and economics to sociology and lifestyle. The resulting themes have revealed that our natural response to an emerging worldwide situation shifted the educational landscape. The early response of the educational system was emergency-based and emphasized the continuance of in-person instruction via synchronous learning technologies. The subsequent response foregrounded the significance of digitally mediated learning pedagogy, related teacher competencies, and professional development. As various stakeholders (e.g., students, teachers, parents) have experienced a heightened level of anxiety and stress, an emerging strand of research has highlighted the need for care-based and trauma-informed pedagogies as a response to the side effects of the pandemic. In addition, as the global pandemic has made systemic impairments, such as social injustice and inequity, more visible, an important line of research has emerged on how social justice can be ensured given the challenges caused by the pandemic. Lastly, a sizable amount of research indicates that although the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed unprecedented challenges to our personal, educational, and social lives, it has also taught us how to respond to future crises in a timely, technologically-ready, pedagogically appropriate, and inclusive manner.

SNA: Citation Trends in the References of the Sampled Publications

The trends identified through SNA in citation patterns indicate two lines of thematic clusters (see Fig.  3 -A network graph depicting the citing and being cited patterns in the research corpus. Node sizes were defined by their citation count and betweenness centrality.). These clusters align with the results of the analysis of the titles, abstracts, and keywords of the sampled publications and forge the earlier themes (Theme 4: Emergency remote education and Theme 5: Pedagogy of care).

  • Thematic Cluster 1: The first cluster centers on the abilities of educational response, emergency remote education affordances, and continuity of education (Bozkurt & Sharma, 2020a ; Crawford et al., 2020 ; Hodges et al., 2020 ) to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on education, especially for more vulnerable and disadvantaged groups (UNESCO, 2020 ; Viner et al., 2020 ). The thematic cluster one agrees with the theme four emergency remote education . The first trend line (See red line in Fig.  3 ) shows that the education system is vulnerable to external threats. Considering that interruption of education is not exclusive to pandemics – for example, political crises have also caused disruptions (Rapp et al., 2016 ) – it is clear that coping mechanisms are needed to ensure the continuity of education under all conditions. In this case, we need to reimagine and recalibrate education to make it resilient, flexible, and adaptive, not only to ensure the continuity of education, but also to ensure social justice, equity, and equality. Given that online education has its own limitations (e.g., it is restricted to online tools and infrastructures), we need to identify alternative entry points for those who do not have digital devices or lack access to the internet.
“What we teach in these times can have secondary importance. We have to keep in mind that students will remember not the educational content delivered, but how they felt during these hard times. With an empathetic approach, the story will not center on how to successfully deliver educational content, but it will be on how learners narrate these times” (p. iv).

Conclusion and Suggestions

The results from this study indicate that quick adaptability and flexibility have been key to surviving the substantial challenges generated by COVID-19. However, extreme demands on flexibility have taken a toll on human well-being and have exacerbated systemic issues like inequity and inequality. Using data mining that involved network analysis and text mining as analytical tools, this research provides a panoramic picture of the COVID-19-related themes educational researchers have addressed in their work. A sample of 1150 references yielded seven themes, which served to provide a comprehensive meta-narrative about COVID-19 and its impact on education.

A portion of the sampled publications focused on what we refer to as the great reset , highlighting the challenges that the emergency lockdown brought to the world. A publication pattern centered around digital pedagogy posited distance and online learning as key components and identified the need for teacher training. Given the need for adaptability, a third theme revealed the demand for professional development in higher education and a future shift in educational roles. It can be recommended that future research investigate institutional policy changes and the adaptation to these changes in renewed educational roles. The ERE theme centered on the lack of preparation in instituting the forced changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The publications related to this theme revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic uncovered silent threads in educational environments, like depression, inequality, and injustice. A pedagogy of care has been developed with the aim of reducing anxiety and providing support through coping strategies. These research patterns indicate that the future of education demands sustainability and resilience in the face of uncertainty.

Results of the thematic analysis of citation patterns (Fig.  3 ) overlapped with two of the themes found in our thematic concept map (Fig.  1 ) and network graphic (Fig.  2 ). It was shown that researchers have emphasized the continuity of education and the psychological effects of the COVID-19 crisis on learners. Creating coping strategies to deal with global crises (e.g., pandemics, political upheavals, natural disasters) has been shown to be a priority for educational researchers. The pedagogy of resilience (Purdue University Innovative learning, n.d. ) provides governments, institutions, and instructors with an alternative tool to applying to their contexts in the face of hardship. Furthermore, prioritizing the psychological long-term effects of the crisis in learners could alleviate achievement gaps. We recommend that researchers support grieving learners through care (Noddings, 1984 ) and trauma-informed pedagogy (Imad, 2020 ). Our resilience and empathy will reflect our preparedness for impending crises. The thematic analysis of citation patterns (1: educational response, emergency remote education affordances, and continuity of education; 2: psychological impact of COVID-19) further indicates suggestions for future instructional/learning designers. Freire ( 1985 ) argues that to transform the world we need to humanize it. Supporting that argument, the need for human-centered pedagogical approaches (Robinson et al., 2020 ) by considering learning a multifaceted process (Hodges et al., 2021 ) for well-designed learning experiences (Moore et al., 2021 ) is a requirement and instructional/learning designers have an important responsibility not only to design courses but an entire learning ecosystem where diversity, sensitivity, and inclusivity are prioritized.

ERE is not a representative feature in the field of online education or distance education but rather, a forced reaction to extraordinary circumstances in education. The increasing confusion between the practice of ERE and online learning could have catastrophic consequences in learners' outcomes, teachers' instructional practices, and institutional policies. Researchers, educators, and policymakers must work cooperatively and be guided by sound work in the field of distance learning to design nourishing educational environments that serve students’ best interests.

In this study, text mining and social network analysis were demonstrated to be powerful tools for exploring and visualizing patterns in COVID-19-related educational research. However, a more in-depth examination is still needed to synthesize effective strategies that can be used to support us in future crises. Systematic reviews that use classical manual coding techniques may take more time but increase our understanding of a phenomenon and help us to develop specific action plans. Future systematic reviews can use the seven themes identified in this study to analyze primary studies and find strategies that counteract the survival of the fittest mindset to ensure that no student is left behind.

Acknowledgements

This paper is dedicated to all educators and instructional/learning designers who ensured the continuity of education during the tough times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This article is produced as a part of the 2020 AECT Mentoring Program.

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SNA of references covering pre-COVID-19 period (Only the first authors were labeled)

Authors’ Contributions

AB: Conceptualization, Methodology, Software, Formal analysis, Investigation, Resources, Data Curation, Writing—Original Draft, Writing—Review & Editing, Visualization, Funding acquisition.; KK: Conceptualization, Investigation, Writing—Original Draft, Writing—Review & Editing.; MT: Conceptualization, Investigation, Writing—Original Draft, Writing—Review & Editing.; ÖK: Conceptualization, Investigation, Writing—Original Draft, Writing—Review & Editing.; DCR: Conceptualization, Investigation, Writing—Original Draft, Writing—Review & Editing.

This paper is supported by Anadolu University, Scientific Research Commission with grant no: 2106E084.

Data Availability

Declarations.

This is a systematic review study and exempt from ethical approval.

The authors declare no competing interests.

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Contributor Information

Aras Bozkurt, Email: moc.liamg@trukzobsara .

Kadir Karakaya, Email: ude.etatsai@ayakarak .

Murat Turk, Email: [email protected] .

Özlem Karakaya, Email: ude.etatsai@melzo .

Daniela Castellanos-Reyes, Email: ude.eudrup@dletsac .

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  1. The 10 Most Significant Education Studies of 2021 | Edutopia

    3. The Surprising Power of Pretesting. Asking students to take a practice test before they’ve even encountered the material may seem like a waste of time—after all, they’d just be guessing. But new research concludes that the approach, called pretesting, is actually more effective than other typical study strategies.

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