Text Message Learning - From Conflict Areas to Corporate Development



Long before COVID forced schools, universities, and corporate learning and development departments to pivot to online learning, warzone education involved the kinds of innovative learning that have been widely adopted over the past 10 months.


When I worked in Iraq and Congo, remote education was standard practice: surges of violence meant that commuting to school or university could involve taking a life risk, and learning had to incorporate a virtual element to work around these conditions.


The particular needs of conflict zone education influenced the design of Arist, a Massachusetts-based text message learning company that originally designed courses for students in the Yemeni conflict zone. As a leader in educational access, Arist enables education via text message, which makes learning accessible to students with limited internet access. Shortly after its launch in 2018, the Thompson Foundation commissioned Arist to train 1200 journalists in Sudan over WhatsApp, demonstrating the utility of the platform in sharing knowledge between cell phones.


Like other learning technologies originally designed for use in conflict and post-conflict areas, Arist’s text message platform is being implemented by the corporate sector as a range of industries shift to remote learning and development. Arist continues to pave the way for educational access, with over 25 corporate clients, including some of the biggest names in technology and education.


Whether or not you plan to use Arist for your own learning and development initiatives, it’s a notable platform that’s shaping remote education. Designed for students with limited internet access, it shows that SMS, Whatsapp, and Facebook Messenger are viable channels of communication for learning, even for students who have access to WiFi for video-based learning.


Tiny courses, huge impact


Arist’s strongest attributes are accessibility and integration.


In 2020, 5.2 billion people used mobile phones, a number that surpasses the 4.66 billion people who used the internet. Delivering education through SMS and cellular data-based apps enables remote learning for students without reliable internet access.


Text message learning is also more accessible to educators and developers than web-based learning management systems (LMSs). Writing course content in text form takes significantly less time and training than building a distinct eLearning website. The simplicity of course authoring makes Arist an accessible and efficient option for educators adapting to the digital environment.


Daily integration with users’ primary apps is another of Arist’s key strengths. Rather than asking students to log onto a designated website to engage with their education, Arist delivers course content through apps that learners are already using. Course content is woven into daily mobile phone use, which facilitates engagement and content retention.


Through various studies, Arist has found that text message courses have a much higher completion rate than other eLearning solutions.


A May 2018 survey of 100 students at UCLA and Babson College showed that

  • 89% of the students enjoyed the learning experience

  • 93% of the students expressed interest in taking another course

  • 70% of the students preferred a text message course over other eLearning solutions


Getting started


eLearning developers and educators interested in exploring Arist can get started with their free Starter Plan. This option limits courses to 10 students, but if you decide to expand after exploring the platform, you can access various plans designed for different classes sizes.


While Arist’s text-based coursework can easily support a full learning experience, it can also be integrated as one component of a web-based LMS. Instructors can consider incorporating daily micro lessons via text as part of a broader course plan.


How it works


Arist’s course editor allows instructors to easily build and publish text-based course content. All Arist plans come with detailed instructions and support, and courses are editable and adaptable.



When the course is complete, Arist sends a link to students, who choose their preferred messaging platform and the time of day when they want to receive new course content.


Coursework is delivered via students’ chosen messaging platforms at the same time every day. Learning content can incorporate visual elements, and instructors can easily build in evaluation and feedback by text. Course statistics are accessible to instructors on the Arist platform, where content can be edited based on evaluations.


The average course day on Arist takes students 5 minutes to complete, and most courses last 5-30 days in total.


The value of simplicity


As the eLearning landscape becomes more sophisticated and customizable, it’s easy to forget the value of simplicity. Text message learning is one of the tools we can take from the progress that’s been made in conflict zone-based remote education.


For functional and accessible course delivery without the bandwidth-heavy bells and whistles enabled by advanced LMSs, Arist is a great resource to explore as we adapt to the digital environment.





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I am a learning & development professional with over 5 years of international experience, working with governments, non-government organizations (NGO), and private sector clients.

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