Increasing access to higher education in Jordan and Lebanon

The Partnership for Digital Learning and Increased Access (PADILEIA) (2017-2021) aimed to facilitate access to higher education for Syrian refugees and disadvantaged host community members in Jordan and Lebanon through the development and delivery of blended higher education programmes. In partnership with King’s College London, Al Al Bayt University (AABU) in Jordan, the American University of Beirut (AUB) in Lebanon, Kiron Open Higher Education and FutureLearn, higher education pathways were offered to learners through:

  • Bespoke short courses with academic-developed content delivered online or in a blended learning format offering a taster into healthcare, entrepreneurship, business management, English and digital skills.
  • Contextualised foundational programmes to prepare students for university.
  • University credit-bearing courses delivered online.

The project’s learning ecosystem model, offering blended learning delivered online and in-person through study hubs, combined with its unique holistic design approach and wrap-around student support services, provided a flexible and supportive learning environment that has helped to meet a range of student’s needs.

Students graduating from the foundational programme at AUB. Photo credit: AUB.

Key achievements

  • 1,117,174 learners worldwide enrolled onto PADILEIA short courses via FutureLearn.
  • 492 graduates from the foundational programmes at AABU and AUB.
  • 102 graduates accepted into university for further study.
  • 365 students supported by mentors in English language practice, scholarship applications, peer to peer exchange.
  • 58% of learners who completed courses were female
  • 1,704 students completed PADILEIA courses on Kiron Campus


A summative evaluation of the project, carried out in 2021, highlights the significant impact PADILEIA has had on beneficiaries. The project has enhanced student’s self-efficacy and motivation, developed their subject-specific knowledge, equipped them with the transferable and soft skills needed for further education and work, and contributed to increasing their sense of belonging and feeling part of a community. Nearly a quarter of those who completed courses are studying at university and 38% report volunteering or working. Within the region, PADILEIA has contributed to a greater awareness amongst Higher Education Institutions of the need to support access to education for refugees and the value of both online and blended learning.

PADILEIA courses delivered through physical study spaces within refugee camps, on university campuses and in bespoke community spaces provided students with social and physical benefits such as access to laptops, tablets, books and the internet, as well as the chance to socialise and make friends, including with peers in other countries. Trained facilitators and instructors helped students to successfully navigate online learning, adapting content to encourage participation and motivate students to succeed. The integration of a blended learning design – online access and facilitated courses within study hubs – increased reach and offered student’s flexibility to study at their own pace and in diverse locations.

Teachers were very nice and highly qualified, they motivated us to learn and participate, they also motivated us to apply for scholarships. The teachers tailored the classes and the contents to the students’ level.”

PADILEIA student

“I learned new things and gained limitless experiences [that] I enjoyed sharing with friends in addition to the information I learned in everything related to business management.”

PADILEIA student
PADILEIA students at AABU. Photo credit: AABU.

PADILEIA courses enabled students to improve their subject-specific knowledge, notably English language and digital skills, and strengthen their communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills. 81% of students that took part in the evaluation said they felt more confident because of the courses, with many reporting using their newly acquired skills in work, to complete university assignments and to apply for jobs and university. Over 70% said the courses they had taken would benefit them in the future.

“I also learnt how to write a business plan and since I finished my course I applied for grants to start a business. I was given a grant recently to start my own business. Without the business [short] course, I would not have been able to apply for this kind of grant.”

PADILEIA student

Students were also able to access language and academic support alongside their studies through the project’s needs-based mentoring and peer-to-peer network programmes. Students and professionals from the UK volunteered with PADILEIA to offer English speaking practice, help with writing CVs, personal statements as well as scholarship applications. The peer-to-peer scheme, piloted in the final year of the project, highlighted the value-added of cross-cultural exchanges for both volunteers and mentees on their personal development.

“I learned that its vital to empathise with other people’s cultures and traditions to understand why they think the way that they do, and that their perspectives are just as valuable as anyone else’s. I also got to practice my public speaking and mentoring skills, which was great.”

King’s College London student volunteer

“[Volunteering] was a really valuable experience – I felt I was helping people and possibly building their confidence to learn English, and at the same time I learnt some useful things about teaching and which techniques are most effective.”

King’s College London student volunteer
Learners in the PADILEIA study hub. Photo credit: AUB.

Lessons learned

Student-centred design: Content that reflects student needs, is context-specific and culturally relevant is critical to engaging learners.

Blended learning: Facilitation by trained instructors offers vital support to learners particularly where English language and digital literacy skills are low. Novel forms of support such as instant messaging services were invaluable in helping to facilitate communication between students and teachers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Holistic approach: A combination of academic development, extracurricular activities and mentorship is crucial to a positive learning experience, particularly the provision of psychosocial support for vulnerable groups.

Study hubs: Physical study spaces offer a social learning experience as well as the benefits of in-person learning. The opportunity to meet and interact with peers has potential for facilitating integration of refugees within their local communities.   

Onward transitions: Focusing on building transferable skills and diversifying exit pathways such as opportunities for employment, volunteering and further education are critical where financial barriers to access remain.

Peer-to-peer support networks: Mentorship and peer-to-peer support from student and professional volunteers in the UK facilitated a cultural and knowledge exchange in an informal setting that has benefits for both mentors and mentees.   

Technological barriers: Poor internet connectivity particularly in refugee camps presents a significant barrier to access. Course design should prioritise making content available offline and ensure equitable access to devices and internet cards when needed.

Future steps

PADILEIA’s short courses will continue to be an asset in the future due in part to their capacity to be accessed on-demand and, when needed, with facilitation. The courses continue to be available to learners globally through FutureLearn as well as Kiron’s platform, Kiron Campus, including access to its student support services. PADILEIA’s study hubs remain a legacy of the project. With funding from HOPES-LEB, AUB’s Centre for Civic Engagement and Community Service are running the foundational programme for students for another year. PADILEIA assets are also being used at AABU to expand access for women in al-Mafraq and Syrian refugees. AABU have also committed to ensuring 20% of its courses are delivered online and 50 to 60% through blended delivery.

Download our Community Report in both English and Arabic.

Learn more about the impact of PADILEIA in our summative evaluation final report.

Find out about the SPHEIR programme

Download a summary of our key achievements


Rapid adaptation in Covid times:

from blended delivery to highly effective digital innovation

In the early months of 2020, like most projects around the world, PADILEIA had to adapt its courses, transitioning from a blended delivery to enable fully remote, online course delivery in response to national lockdowns and the related closure of universities in Lebanon and Jordan due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We were keen to understand the impact of these changes on our students’ experience and so commissioned a rapid evaluation study to capture learnings from this period. Lessons learned in this project would also be useful to inform our universities’ approach to teaching models during the pandemic and beyond. 

Key to the changes to course delivery by PADILEIA during this time was a shift from facilitated ‘blended’ learning in physical Study Hubs, where students had access to resources such as internet connections and laptops and had in-person support and teaching from facilitators or instructors, to remote facilitated learning which made use of online communication and teaching tools. All studying took place remotely, and students were provided with data cards and tablets where needed to facilitate this remote learning.  

Key findings 

Overall, both students and staff reported that the transition to remote learning was successfully managed by the project with many reporting positive learning experiences during this time. Significant efforts were made by the project team and delivery team staff to ensure that adequate support was provided to students. The use of WhatsApp groups for instant communication were a particularly successful element of these remote support structures. Training was also delivered to staff to support with the transition from classroom to remote-based teaching. 

Poor internet connectivity and lack of suitable devices presented significant barriers to access particularly for students located in Zaatari Camp in Jordan. Facilitators remained flexible with many staying available outside of normal working hours to accommodate student requests. Attendance rates for facilitated courses remained high overall with drop-out rates varying by course – increased responsibility at home was reported as a key reason for drop-outs. For some students who previously faced barriers to attending the facilitated courses in person as they lived too far away were able to access the courses after the transition to remote learning. 

The main adaptations to delivery of courses included

1) lessons and facilitated sessions were moved online and delivered live using Zoom and Google Meet. Many foundation course lessons were recorded and uploaded to Google Classrooms or USBs for easier access;

2) ongoing student technical and learning support was provided via WhatsApp;

3) data cards were provided to support students where needed on all facilitated courses to support remote online learning and 

4) tablets were provided to foundation course students who did not have access to an internet-enabled device. 

Lessons learned and recommendations 

  • Existing digital scaffolding made for a smoother pivot to fully online delivery for facilitators, instructors and students. 
  • Limited student device access was an impediment to learning, specifically the difficulty to fully engage with online learning using only their smartphones. 
  • Material support was effective in enabling continued learning, in particular the provision of tablets and data cards. 
  • Use of an instant messaging platform with voice-note capability (in this instance WhatsApp) was also a vital cornerstone to the delivery of effective support to students in these low connectivity contexts. 
  • Strong online student support structures were essential to successful remote delivery. 
  • Staff training, planning time and inter-partner communication are key factors for a successful transition to online delivery. 
  • Inequalities of access to devices and internet were a key barrier and must be addressed as a priority when considering blended or fully online delivery, so that existing inequalities of access are not exacerbated by the implementation of new teaching & learning models. 

Read our community report here:

Please get in touch if you have any further questions.

Articles Digital Learning

Online Education beyond a crisis

Online Education beyond a crisis

By Draego Zubiri | Project Manager at FutureLearn

During the global COVID-19 pandemic, educational institutions all over the world have sought to ensure the continuity of educational provision. For many organisations, this has meant exploring and experimenting with online education in some shape or form. For some, this has meant complementing an existing offering with new online components; others have gone further still and fully substituted a face to face offering with a digital one. The spike in online educational provision globally reflects the desire of many universities to continue delivering high quality education to learners in a time of crisis and disruption.

With many universities now venturing further into this territory, wider organisational and strategic questions are being posed to educational leaders. How does online education fit within the overall learning strategy? What is the role of online education in the short term for the organisation? Most importantly: What will its role be in the long term? 

Just a short term solution?

While many universities have rushed to start delivering education online as a means of risk mitigation and to ensure educational continuity, some have yet to determine whether online teaching and learning will hold a meaningful place in their wider strategies for educational delivery after the global pandemic. Will universities move from simply providing emergency remote teaching in the short term to providing high quality online teaching and learning experiences for both students and faculty alike? 

The Partnership for Digital Learning and Increased Access (PADILEIA), is a digitally-led educational programme which aims to provide educational opportunities and pathways to Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. King’s College London, FutureLearn, Kiron Open Higher Education, American University of Beirut, and Al-Al Bayt University work together to deliver a range of online short courses (MOOCs), study tracks, and foundation certificates through both fully online and blended means. With a robust digital strategy in place, the programme has continued to deliver value to its target learners and beyond. We believe that there are key benefits of digital learning which can be applied, not just in a crisis context. 

We’ve summarised four reasons why we believe digital learning is critical for long term sustainability and excellence.

Reason 1: Providing high-quality education at scale 

Online education can deliver learning at scale, regardless of time and place. This argument is already well understood and in a pandemic context has clear safety benefits: minimising the physical contact students need to have with each other and with the outside world. The benefits go far beyond the safety element, however. Learners have more flexibility around how they take up their learning in both synchronous and asynchronous ways. Additionally, remote learning means students are not limited by the need to travel to study space, potentially broadening the accessibility of courses. It also means class sizes do not need to be limited by physical spaces, offering organisations the opportunity to tap into new geographies and demographics. The PADILEIA project supports Syrian refugees as well as underserved students in Jordan and Lebanon, but outside of this target group we have seen close to 7,500 refugees worldwide enrolling in King’s College London courses on FutureLearn to date. One student commented that they enjoyed the new way of learning and that it had given them a boost towards achieving their objectives.

Reason 2: Online education helps build organisational resilience

As the events of 2020 have made clear, organisations must adopt online strategies for educational delivery if they are to remain resilient to external shocks, such as natural calamities and pandemics. Having an online delivery strategy safeguards an organisation from severe operational disruption should campuses be compromised for whatever reason, as both staff and students would already be equipped and acclimatised to make the switch at short notice. This doesn’t mean an end to face-to-face education. Universities must continue to refine and build on their existing expertise and this includes their traditional and existing face-to-face offerings. However, they must also start building their in-house online capability in some manner, whether by developing their own separate online offerings as alternative options for learners, or by building online components into their face-to-face content.

Reason 3: Online offerings are beginning to mature

Over the past few decades, there have been significant improvements in the functionality and features provided by educational tools and technologies. Increased competition in the EdTech market, as well as the provision of open-source educational technologies, has improved both the functionality and the affordability of online learning resources. Once awkward and unwieldy, a one-sided, didactic activity, online learning now places an increased focus on the learner experience. Content designers seek to enhance accessibility and ensure platforms are conducive to forming social learning environments and communities, as pioneered by FutureLearn. Across the PADILEIA courses, well-designed discussion prompts are built into the learning material, providing learners with opportunities to engage with and learn from one another as relevant to the subject matter, whether this be learning English as a second language or real-world business skills

Additionally, online offerings, such as short courses, programmes, and degrees, have become more embedded over time in the education space, with greater recognition of their merit by educational institutions, employers, and their learners. A recent example includes the ‘Common Microcredential Framework’ by the European MOOC Consortium (EMC), a large network of 400 HEIs, which provides an agreed standard for flexible and stackable microcredentials online. Institutions who refuse to innovate in online learning will become increasingly outdated and find themselves losing out to these new offerings.

Reason 4: Increased demand for online provision 

Over the span of the global pandemic, the PADILEIA online courses (hosted on the FutureLearn platform) have seen a significant increase in uptake by learners worldwide, increasing total reach from roughly 187,000 learners pre-pandemic to 421,000 learners since the pandemic began. Learners often leave favourable reviews commenting on the benefits of online content, such as how easy the courses are to access. One student reviewing a Basic English course commented that it was advantageous to be able to relisten to audio clips in their own time, since it allowed them to focus and take time over the part of learning they found most difficult. 

Now that both faculties and learners have had to adapt to this new way of teaching and learning, we will likely find that previously technology-reluctant educational stakeholders are now open to the prospect of online learning in the future. Indeed, some learners may find that they prefer this style of provision as opposed to the traditional face to face approach, or otherwise prefer a mixture of both. Similarly, previously reluctant faculty and staff who are beginning to explore this new teaching space, as well as develop new expertise and specialisms in this area of educational delivery, may find they do not want to relinquish the new benefits. At PADILEIA we believe the global pandemic is likely to amplify the demand and relevance of online education, and so in order to remain relevant universities must ensure they are able to meet this demand adequately. 

A crossroads for institutions

The global pandemic has brought universities and other educational providers to a crossroads. They will need to take a hard look at their current offerings, and decide what may be complemented and supplemented, if not substituted, by an online offering. Additionally, they will need to ensure that this new learning strategy is supported by appropriate staffing and expertise which may need to be introduced into the organisation, with the possible introduction of new roles such as instructional designers, learning technologists, coaches and trainers for online teaching and learning, and so on. 

The 21st century calls for a holistic approach to educational delivery, one where online provision will need to be strategically considered and refined. New forms of online teaching and learning excellence will emerge for those who choose to take up the mantle now and proactively begin crafting their strategy for online educational delivery for the long haul.

Articles Mentoring

Accessing higher education: Online mentoring for Syrian students

Navigating the higher education system in a different country has never been easy – especially for refugees. Understanding the complex eligibility criteria, going through the application process, writing powerful personal statements, collecting, translating and preparing the required documents and submitting an error-free application is challenging for learners wanting to access higher education.

To tackle this, PADILEIA has launched a new mentoring programme in Jordan and Lebanon, helping Syrian refugee students and local students to apply for a scholarship and access a higher education course.

The Partnership for Digital Learning and Increased Access (PADILEIA) produces and delivers blended higher education programmes to Syrian refugee students and local students in Jordan and Lebanon. Students can access curricula that provide micro-credentials in relevant fields, augmented by student support services and pathways into locally-delivered formal academic qualifications. The partnership aims to broaden access to high-quality educational programmes, provide a foundation for further higher education and prepare students for their futures.

Working with the Syrian Association for Education Development, PADILEIA’s new mentoring programme provides one-to-one tailored support for PADILEIA students wanting to apply for a HOPES-LEB scholarship and start their undergraduate studies.

The programme ran from 10 to 31 August 2020, with 4 hours of direct contact each week. 23 students were supported by 23 Arabic-speaking professionals who were scholarship recipients themselves. The mentors guided PADILEIA students to prepare their documents, write their personal statements, and complete and submit their application.

Through direct online mentoring – involving audio and video calls on Zoom, chat on WhatsApp, and working on living documents via Google drive – mentors and mentees worked through the application and the required documents in detail, making sure that everything was submitted correctly and on time. The effort paid off – in total, 22 of the 23 students managed to successfully submit their applications on time.

Looking ahead there are plans to build on this success: the programme is planned to run around major scholarship opportunities in Lebanon and Jordan throughout 2021 for PADILEIA students.

Articles Digital Learning

Helping young Syrian refugees to access university and support their communities

Across Lebanon and Jordan, many talented young people are desperate to study for a university qualification but face significant barriers. In this article, colleagues from King’s College London discuss a unique project that is helping displaced young Syrians to gain vital skills and access higher education.

“What I really want is to be able to go to university….” This is what we heard again and again from displaced Syrian youth in Lebanon and Jordan at the start of our project, PADILEIA (Partnership for Digital Learning and Increased Access), three years ago. As university graduates ourselves, we were not surprised: we were very aware of how university had transformed our own lives for the better.

Across Lebanon and Jordan, an estimated 76,000 Syrian young people aged 18 to 25 want to study for a university qualification but face significant barriers – such as recognition of prior learning, English language ability (a key requirement for regional universities), access to the internet, and disrupted schooling. 

The PADILEIA project was conceived to tackle these barriers. Together, an unusual partnership of three universities (King’s College London, American University of Beirut and Al al-Bayt University in Jordan), one non-governmental organisation (Kiron Open Higher Education in Germany) and a private company (FutureLearn, based in the UK) are helping to support the higher educational needs of Syrian refugee students in Jordan and Lebanon via digital and blended learning. The project is also extending this support to disadvantaged local students in Lebanon and Jordan.

Accessing higher education

The PADILEIA project offers students the chance to take Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in subjects such as Business, Entrepreneurship and Healthcare. Designed by King’s College London academics, the MOOCs provide ‘taster’-style introductions to courses, and can accommodate unlimited numbers of students. There’s also an English language MOOC, to help students brush up their skills in readiness for university.

For students who want to dive deeper, the project offers eight-month Foundation degree courses, helping students to meet entrance requirements for universities in the region and abroad. Students are selected by interview, removing the need for past exam certificates, which many students are unable to provide due to school disruption. Alongside academic learning, students receive career counselling and mentoring on university and scholarship applications. Over the last two years, 47 of our Foundation course graduates earned scholarships and the courses received a 95% recommendation rate from participants. In total, 183 students have graduated since 2017, and another 240 students are projected to graduate by July 2021.

We also have over 5000 students studying on curated blended courses that are recognised by local universities and can be used as credit to transfer to these institutions. 

Online and blended learning 

PADILEIA courses are principally delivered online – students are able to study from home, which makes our offerings very flexible and accessible. We also provide face-to-face blended learning in our PADILEIA Campus, based in Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, enabling students to engage with the course in a group setting. Facilitators with subject knowledge guide students through the courses, and offer support on digital and English language skills. 

This blended approach and online support mechanisms enabled our programmes to respond fast when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. We were able to quickly provide internet bundles and tablets for our students and to move all study programmes fully online, whilst maintaining student support. The facilitators knew their students well, so the transition was smooth and academic achievement hasn’t suffered. 

As Ismail Ababneh, VP for Administration and Student Affairs at Al al-Bayt University highlights: “The training that our instructors received on online teaching within the PADILEIA project has helped us to move swiftly and at very short notice to online instruction at Al al-Bayt University in response to Covid-19.”

We don’t know what the future holds in terms of face-to-face instruction – but we have developed programmes that can be delivered during uncertain and challenging times, when conditions change very quickly. This is the reality anyway for displaced populations; they have seen their world change completely in a matter of days and so they are ready, yet again, to adapt, to work hard and fulfil their dreams, if supporting structures are in place.

For us at King’s, it has been a very clear lesson: programmes created to respond to displacement crises can be very useful indeed for other forms of disruption too, such as Covid-19, experienced by all of PADILEIA’s partners from Beirut to Berlin, from Mafraq to London. Even in the middle of a global pandemic, refugee students continue to wish to study and get a university degree. We hope to continue to contribute to this.

About Articles

Breaking down barriers to higher education for Syrian refugees

The Partnership for Digital Learning and Increased Access (PADILEIA) was formed to meet the higher educational needs of Syrian refugee students in Jordan and Lebanon. With a shared interest in innovative digital pedagogy, student support models and transferrable skills, the PADILEIA partnership consists of three universities – King’s College London, Al Al-Bayt University in Jordan, and the American University of Beirut in Lebanon – as well as Kiron Open Higher Education, a digital education NGO, and FutureLearn, a leader in online learning.

Higher education has often been neglected in traditional humanitarian response strategies but plays a critical role in providing some refugees with a degree of continuity in their educational development and in enhancing their ability to make strategic choices about their futures (1). The large number of Syrian refugees has put pressure on the host countries’ educational institutions (2), causing challenges for education access. This pressure on the overall education system also creates barriers to higher education access for disadvantaged youth in both Jordan and Lebanon. Therefore, PADILEIA’s courses are open to anyone facing challenges getting into higher education.

A needs assessment conducted by PADILEIA found several barriers to higher education including recognition of prior learning and English language ability – a key requirement for regional universities. Most participants in the study had no prior experience in online learning and, although smartphones were widely available, a stable internet connection was not.

PADILEIA has developed a three-pronged approach to increase access to higher education: 

  • Bespoke short courses: Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in subjects identified within the needs assessment such as English, Business and Entrepreneurship, and Healthcare.
  • Online learning: six to 12 months of online study with student support, leading to the transfer of credits into university.
  • Foundation Course: eight-month classroom-based blended learning to provide students with the knowledge and ability to meet entrance requirements for universities in the region and abroad. Examples include foundation level maths, science and English courses as well as university application support and building 21st century skills.

The story so far

Overall, PADILEIA has found a blended approach to be the most effective to increase students’ participation and completion of courses. Mixed support methods, as well as face-to-face contact are embedded into the programme.

The foundation courses have a high number of contact hours and have proven to be highly successful. In the first year, 31 foundation course graduates gained scholarships or employment and courses have received a 91 per cent recommendation rate from participants. 184 students are projected to graduate by July 2019. Informed by needs assessment, students are selected through an interview, reducing the barrier presented by the requirement of documentation of prior learning.

At Kiron, where more of the students’ learning is completed online on curated pathways built from existing digital content, courses have evolved to include more blended learning, which has improved student engagement. A live chat function and realtime feedback from support staff has also been developed to further increase student support. This adapted model includes working in a blended delivery setting with students.

The short, fully online MOOCs take a different approach, aiming for widening participation and reach and acting as a stepping-stone to university access rather than a full pathway. Three courses have been developed so far, and have been completed by 492 refugee or Jordanian and Lebanese students. PADILEIA has also pioneered a novel form of remote support, using WhatsApp as a low-cost tool to provide mentoring. This has proven to be an accessible method, allowing 30 students at King’s College London to connect with over 100 refugee students studying through PADILEIA. Students receiving the mentoring found it helpful to speak English with a fluent speaker and were able to exchange knowledge and learning about new cultures. Future MOOCs will include assessment and support from King’s College London academic volunteers to further support learners.(1) Dryden-Peterson, S., and W. Giles. “Introduction: Higher Education for Refugees.” Refuge 27, no. 2 (2010): 3–9(2) Sherab, D. and Kirk, K. (2016) Access to Higher Education for Refugees in Jordan. Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD)-Legal Aid, p. 7

Articles Learnings

Key learnings from teaching English to refugees online

Online social learning platform FutureLearn is one of five partners working on SPHEIR’s PADILEIA (Partnership for Digital Learning and Increased Access) partnership, which aims to help Syrian refugees and disadvantaged host communities to develop the skills they need for higher education. Here, Fiona Reay, FutureLearn’s Head of Client Services, reflects on some key learnings from a pilot series of online Basic English social learning courses delivered to refugee communities in Lebanon and Jordan.

We set up this summer’s first run of online social learning courses to test how digital education could be delivered in a blended classroom (online and face-to-face) to refugees and other beneficiaries. The courses, developed by our PADILEIA partner King’s College London , are elementary English  and pre-intermediate English  courses specially created for Middle Eastern learners. They tell the stories of local characters like Samir, Maya and Amena who learn practical phrases and hear British voices. The first runs of each course attracted 25,000 enrolments globally, with just under 10,000 learners creating over 100,000 comments, illustrating good learner engagement. 

Understanding needs was critical

A course that can meet the needs of every pupil in a classroom is rare, especially when trying to deliver online learning for people with only basic digital and language skills. The team at King’s College London invested in user research within the learning design phase of the course. A needs assessment deemed A1 and B2 English levels were the most critical to focus on for PADILEIA, to help participants build a credible pathway into higher education.

Online delivery allowed for data analysis and continuous improvement

A big benefit of the courses being online is that data analysis can be captured and used to both improve material for the future, and to explore current discussions in a more in-depth way. Each week learners log their sentiment in relation to the material with emojis – :), 😐 or 🙁 – and have space to provide more feedback if desired. It’s an easy way for educators to gauge whether the material has pushed learners enough, or has areas for improvement.

Understanding cultural differences is key to inclusion

Ensuring people learn at the best level to help them stretch and grow, while also making them feel confident enough to attempt new skills in front of a ‘crowd of peers’ was a challenge. Making a mistake in an online course could be ‘just part of the learning experience’ for one student, but outright embarrassing for another. Being sensitive to cultural differences was key.

The importance of mentors and modelling behaviour

To keep learners engaged and learning from each other in either the physical or virtual classroom, facilitators from King’s College London modelled the behaviour they wanted to see online from the students. Being curious and friendly, encouraging those who were ‘getting things wrong’ to keep ‘practising’ (whilst explaining the nuances of words) helped to keep them motivated.

WhatsApp chat message groups ran simultaneously to ‘official course commentary’, providing additional study and language support to a smaller cohort of learners. The study mentoring was provided by King’s student volunteers, who were specially recruited for the pilot, and trained in safeguarding, English language teaching and online facilitation in order to support learners. Many had already visited or taught English in refugee camps, and the best mentors had the tenacity to reinvigorate the conversation when things reached a lull, and inspire the learners to continue learning.

Sharing a photo was a good way to start a discussion, particularly with younger people so accustomed to social media. Food was also a great ice-breaker topic; students could upload photos of what they were eating with family or friends and discuss it with their peers.

PADILEIA offers additional mentorship and facilitation from partners, including the American University of Beirut  (Lebanon), Al al-Bayt University  (Jordan) and Kiron , an open platform providing education to refugees, as well as other schools, charity and non-government organisations.

Online accessibility for those in need

The courses are audio-heavy and students would listen to audio files of British voices – rather than watch large video files, which would be more difficult to stream. Learners could also download the material at the beginning of the session, so interruptions like power cuts wouldn’t feel as disruptive. By also providing written transcripts of all audio files, along with Arabic translations, the courses aimed to ensure students could experience the material without unnecessary obstacles.

Now and next

PADLEIA is one year into a five-year partnership. Through university partners in Jordan and Lebanon, this first year has had a focus on mixing practical skills with learning English, as part of a Foundation Certificate to build readiness for higher education. As part of the blended model, students have also been recruited onto online study tracks as well as FutureLearn’s platform. More online courses are planned in nursing, healthcare, entrepreneurial business topics and further technical skills.

See the available study opportunities from all partners at