Impact of COVID-19 on Formal Education: An International Review of Practices and Potentials of Open Education at a Distance

Keywords: school education, higher education, distance education, online learning, open education, COVID-19 pandemic, impact, educational innovation, international practices and case studies, qualitative case study


In terms of scale, shock, and disenfranchisement, the disruption to formal education arising from COVID-19 has been unprecedented. Anecdotally, responses from teachers and educators around the world range from heightened caution to being inspired by distance education as the “new normal.” Of all the challenges, face-to-face and formal teaching have been most heavily affected. Despite some education systems demonstrating resilience, a major challenge is sustaining quality and inclusiveness in formal education suddenly delivered at a distance. In probing these issues, this article profiles international perspectives on the role of open education in responding to the impact on formal school and higher education caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We proceed by highlighting and analysing practices and case studies from 13 countries representing all global regions, identifying and discussing the challenges and opportunities that have presented themselves. Reports cover the period from the beginning of 2020 until 11 March 2021, the first anniversary of the COVID-19 outbreak as declared by the World Health Organization. In our comparative study, we identify seven key aspects of which three (missing infrastructure and sharing OER, open education and access to OER, and urgent need for professional development and training for teachers) are directly related to open education at a distance. After comparing examples of existing practice, we make recommendations and offer insights into how open education strategies can lead to interventions that are effective and innovative—to improve formal education at a distance in schools and universities in the future.


Agbu, J. O., Mulder, F., De Vries, F., Tenebe, A., & Caine, A. (2016). The best of two open worlds at the National Open University of Nigeria. Open Praxis, 8(2), 111–121.

Badar, F. B., & Mason, J. (2020). Numbers are alarming, solutions are scant—Out of school children in Pakistan. The International Conference on Sustainable Development 2020 (ICSD2020).

Bozkurt, A., Jung, I., Xiao, J., Vladimirschi, V., Schuwer, R., Egorov, G., Lambert, S. R., Al-Freih, M., Pete, J., Olcott, Jr., D., Rodes, V., Aranciaga, I., Bali, M., Alvarez, Jr., A. V., Roberts, J., Pazurek, A., Raffaghelli, J. E., Panagiotou, N., de Coëtlogon, P., . . . Paskevicius, M. (2020). A global outlook to the interruption of education due to COVID-19 pandemic: Navigating in a time of uncertainty and crisis. Asian Journal of Distance Education, 15(1), 1–126.

Burgos, D. (Ed.) (2017). Open education policy. UNIR.

Burgos, D. (Ed.) (2020). Radical solutions and open science. An open approach to boost higher education. Springer.

Chatzidamianos, G., & Nerantzi, C. (2020, June 3). Stripping the layers of the onion in learning and teaching in HE. AdvanceHE.

Cowden, G., Mitchell. P., & Taylor-Guy, P. (2020). Remote learning. Rapid literature review. Association of Independent Schools NSW & Australian Council for Educational Research.

Creswell, J. W. (2012). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed.). Sage.

Creswell, J. W., & Plano Clark, V. L. P. (2018). Designing and conducting mixed methods research (3rd ed.). Sage.

Denzin, N. K. (1978). The research act: A theoretical introduction to sociological methods and practice. Sage.

di Pietro, G., Biagi, F., Costa, P., Karpinski, Z., & Mazza, J. (2020). The likely impact of COVID-19 on education: Reflections based on the existing literature and recent international datasets. Publications Office of the European Union.

European Commission. (2020). Digital education action plan (2021-2027). Resetting education and training for the digital age.

European Commission. (2021). Coronavirus: Online learning resources.

Fazackerley, A. (2021, January 29). “Price gouging from Covid”: Student ebooks costing up to 500% more than in print. The Guardian.

Heck, T., Kullmann, S., Hiebl, J., Schröder, N., Otto, D., & Sander, P. (2020). Designing open informational ecosystems on the concept of open educational resources. Open Education Studies, 2, 252–264.

Hodgkinson-Williams, C. A., & Trotter, H. (2018). A social justice framework for understanding open educational resources and practices in the global South. Journal of Learning for Development, 5(3), 204–224.

Inamorato dos Santos, A., Punie, Y., & Castano Muniz, J. (2016). Opening up education: A support framework for higher education institutions. Publications Office of the European Union.

Instituto Península. (2020). Sentimento e percepção dos professores brasileiros nos diferentes estágios do coronavírus no Brasil [Feeling and reception of Brazilian educators at different stages of the corona virus in Brazil].

JISC. (2020, March 18). Free student e-textbook programme to give university students and staff access to learning resources.

Kalezi, C., Back, D., & Yim, M. (2020, November 13). The future of online education: Lessons from South Korea. World Economic Forum.

Mason, J., & Pillay, H. (2015). Opening digital learning to deeper inquiry. In M. Ally & B. H. Khan (Eds.), The international handbook of e-learning (Vol. 2, pp. 1–10). Routledge.

Ministerio de Universidades. (n.d.). Informe de iniciativas y herramientas de evaluación online universitaria en el contexto del Covid-19 [Report on academic online evaluation initiatives and tools in the context of Covid-19].

Naidu, S. (2019). The changing narratives of open, flexible and online learning. Distance Education, 40(2), 149–152.

National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. (2021). COVID-19—Resources for the higher education sector.

Nerantzi, C. (2017). Towards a framework for cross-boundary collaborative open learning in cross-institutional academic development [Doctoral dissertation, Edinburgh Napier University].

ODI. (2020, November 10). Education open data challenge: The impact of digital access on education during Covid-19.

OECD. (2021a, July 1). The state of higher education. One year into the COVID pandemic.

OECD. (2021b, April 13). The state of school education. One year into the COVID pandemic.

Oppermann, M. (2000). Triangulation - a methodological discussion. International Journal of Tourism Research, 2(2), 141–145.<141::AID-JTR217>3.0.CO;2-U

Ossiannilsson, E., Zhang, X., Wetzler, J., Gusmão, C., Aydin, C. H., Jhangiani R., Glapa-Grossklag, J., Makoe, M., & Harichandan, D. (2020). From open educational resources to open educational practices. For resilient sustainable education. Distances et Médiations des Savoirs, 31.

Popa, S. (2020). Reflections on COVID-19 and the future of education and learning. Prospects, 49(1), 1–6.

Ramírez-Montoya, M. S. (2020). Challenges for open education with educational innovation: A systematic literature review. Sustainability, 12(17), Article 7053.

Robertson, L. H., Robertson, D. T., & Robertson, T. J. (2020). The opened mind: An application of the historical concept of openness in education. In D. Conrad & P. Prinsloo (Eds.), Open(ing) education theory and practice (pp. 26–46). Brill Sense.

Rodríguez-Abitia, G., Martínez-Pérez, S., Ramirez-Montoya, M. S., & Lopez-Caudana, E. (2020). Digital gap in universities and challenges for quality education: A diagnostic study in Mexico and Spain. Sustainability, 12(21), Article 9069.

Santos-Hermosa, G., Estupinyà, E., Nonó-Rius, B., Paris-Folch, L., & Prats-Prat, J. (2020). Open educational resources (OER) in the Spanish universities. Profesional De La Información, 29(6), Article e290637.

Schleicher, A. (2020). The impact of Covid-19 on education. Insights from Education at a Glance 2020. OECD.

Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research: Perspective in practice. Sage.

Stracke, C. M. (2017). The quality of MOOCs: How to improve the design of open education and online courses for learners? In P. Zaphiris & A. Ioannou (Eds.), Learning and collaboration technologies. Novel learning ecosystems (pp. 285–293). Springer.

Stracke, C. M. (2019). Quality frameworks and learning design for open education. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 20(2), 180–203.

Stracke, C. M. (2020). Open science and radical solutions for diversity, equity and quality in research: A literature review of different research schools, philosophies and frameworks and their potential impact on science and education. In D. Burgos (Ed.), Radical solutions and open science: An open approach to boost higher education (pp. 17–37). Springer.

Stracke, C. M., Burgos, D., Santos-Hermosa, G., Bozkurt, A., Sharma, R. C., Cassafieres C. S., Inamorato dos Santos, A., Mason, J., Ossiannilsson, E., Shon, J. G., Wan, M., Obiageli Agbu, J. F., Farrow, R. Karakaya, Ö., Nerantzi, C., Ramírez Montoya, M. S., Conole, G., Cox, G., & Truong, V. (2022). Responding to the initial challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic: Analysis of international responses and impact in school and higher education. Sustainability, 14(3), Article 1876.

Stracke, C. M., Sharma, R. C., Swiatek, C., Burgos, D., Bozkurt, A., Karakaya, Ö., Ossiannilsson, E., Mason, J., Nerantzi, C., Agbu, J.-F., Ramírez Montoya, M. S., Shon, J. G., Inamorato dos Santos, A., Farrow, R., Wan, M., Santos-Hermosa, G., & Conole, G. (2021). How COVID-19 has an impact on formal education: A collective international evaluation of open education in distance learning. In L. Gómez Chova, A. López Martínez, & I. Candel Torres (Eds.), Proceedings 14th Annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation (pp. 4270–4275). IATED Academy.

UNESCO. (2019, November 25). UNESCO Recommendation on open educational resources.

UNESCO. (2020, March 6). COVID-19: 10 recommendations to plan distance learning solutions.

UNESCO. (2021). COVID-19 response.

UNESCO, UNICEF, & The World Bank. (2020, October). What have we learnt?: Overview of findings from a survey of ministries of education on national responses to COVID-19.

UNESCO, UNICEF, The World Bank, & OECD. (2021, June). What’s next? Lessons on education recovery: Findings from a survey of ministries of education amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

UNICEF. (2020, October). What have we learnt?: Findings from a survey of ministries of education on national responses to COVID-19.

United Nations. (2020, August). Policy brief: Education during COVID-19 and beyond.

Weller, M. (2020). Open and free access to education for all. In D. Burgos (Ed.), Radical solutions and open science: An open approach to boost higher education (pp. 1–15). Springer.

Weller, M., Jordan, K., DeVries, I., & Rolfe, V. (2018). Mapping the open education landscape: Citation network analysis of historical open and distance education research. Open Praxis, 10(2), 109–126.

WHO. (2020, March 11). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Situation report – 51.

Yin, R. K. (1984). Case study research: Design and methods. Sage.

Yin, R. K. (2011). Qualitative research from start to finish. Guilford Publications.

Zawacki-Richter, O., Conrad, D., Bozkurt, A., Aydin, C. H., Bedenlier, S., Jung, I., Stöter, J., Veletsianos, G., Blaschke, L. M., Bond, M., Broens, A., Bruhn, E., Dolch, C., Kalz, M., Kerres, M., Kondakci, Y., Marin, V., Mayrberger, K., Müskens, W., . . . & Xiao, J. J. (2020). Elements of open education: An invitation to future research. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 21(3), 319–334.

How to Cite
Stracke, C. M., Sharma, R. C., Bozkurt, A., Burgos, D., Swiatek Cassafieres, C., Inamorato dos Santos, A., Mason, J., Ossiannilsson, E., Santos-Hermosa, G., Shon, J. G., Wan, M., Agbu, J.-F. O., Farrow, R., Karakaya, Özlem, Nerantzi, C., Ramírez-Montoya, M. S., Conole, G., Truong, V., & Cox, G. (2022). Impact of COVID-19 on Formal Education: An International Review of Practices and Potentials of Open Education at a Distance. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 23(4), 1-18.
Research Articles