<- Overview

The digital landscape

People have seen the promise of computer-based education for sixty years. In the early years, the attempts were overwhelming failures. However, they led to the many innovations that now allow global approaches to education to regularly use digital platforms as well as making fast, digital pivots during crises.

During the initial years of digital education, computers functioned primarily as platforms for reading and listening rather than interacting. However, the research on learning has made it clear that people learn best through active participation with information, whether that engagement is internally through active manipulation of thoughts, ideas and processes or with others through conversation and activity. While skilled teachers and facilitators were able to approximate and spur some elements of interactivity through digital education, it was not an easy or intuitive process.

The most recent twenty years of digital education has seen substantial digital growth, primarily through the dramatic expansion of internet functioning and speed. The advent of modern digital education can be seen in the first video cell phone in 1999 and the start of social media as we know it in 2000. The ability to watch videos and read content hasn’t changed, but the ability to interact through discussion boards, social media posts, private communication, and so much more has allowed videos and words to be shared back and forth, between teachers and learners and among learners, in remarkable ways.

While the last twenty years saw growth and creative exploration of digital education, they have collectively paled in comparison with the explosion of online education that have come about since 2020. New tools and refinements of old ones are now being regularly released and, perhaps more importantly, the ways that people thought to use the available tools expanded dramatically. Creativity of use and new tool functions became a feedback loop where teachers and facilitators were asking for new functionality and the tech companies were providing.

Taking this historical evolution into account allows for a broader perspective of the digital landscape as it applies to providing comprehensive sexuality education.

Digital media landscape

Understanding the three primary perspectives of digital media allows for a platform-generic understanding of potential digital educational tools:

  1. Elements of all digital media
  2. Media format
  3. Interactivity

Elements of all digital media

Digital media refers broadly to anything (including pictures, words, videos or a combination of those elements) that is stored on a computer, a phone, the cloud, or any other digital format. Researcher and theorist danah boyd (who spells her name with all lowercase letters) says that digital media is different than physical media in four specific ways:

  • Permanent – it lasts forever
  • Searchable – it can be found through word and image searches
  • Sharable – it can be sent to many people in quick succession
  • Viewable – it can be seen

Boyd posits that it is these four elements that makes digital media different from physical media and suggests that thinking of it in these terms allows us to generalize digital media trends outside of specifics. For example, thinking about these four elements allows us to consider social media broadly rather than focusing on which specific platform someone is discussing. Focusing on the specifics has the drawback of being about a constantly evolving form of interaction. If this document were to focus on the social media platforms that were popular during the 2020 crisis, it would miss a substantial opportunity to generalize our learning and growth in ways that will allow readers, teachers and facilitators to use these guidelines in 2025 and beyond.

Media format

The other useful consideration to take into account when considering digital media is the format that it comes in:

  • Primarily or exclusively written words
  • Primarily or exclusively images
  • Primarily or exclusively video
  • Some combination of two or three of the above

This question is particularly relevant in an educational context because the format of the communication can have wide reaching impacts on how it is accessed by learners.


The final question about media is whether it is:

  • Extensively interactive (social media)
  • Designed to be created by one person or a finite group of people and then consumed (viewed/listened to/read) by a wide audience (traditional media)
  • A combination of the two

The first group currently includes Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, but has included a wide range of other options in the past and no doubt will include more in the future. The second group changes less often. Some common examples include movies, popular music, and news reports. The third category includes platforms where some people use them exclusively as an audience while others interact extensively through them. Some examples include YouTube and online computer games.

Considered together, these three perspectives of digital media allow for a robust discussion of the best kind of tools for any CSE setting based on the unique collection of needs. For example, in environments where privacy of the learner is paramount, the elements of all digital media will be the top priority to consider. For other learning situations, however, it might be that proving skillsets like condom use is most important, and so an extensively interactive platform will be necessary.

Making a platform choice

With an apparently infinite number of tools and options now available to support online sexuality education, figuring out what works best for you, with your style, and for your participants, with their style, during a crisis situation is a particularly difficult task. Here are core questions to ask yourself as you’re deciding what kind of platform is best for you at this time:

  1. Who is my target audience?
  2. Are there any elements of all digital media that my audience would be more concerned with than normal, as they relate to learning about CSE through digital means? How will I account for that?
  3. What media format does my audience consume the most of right now? Am I able to produce content in that format or can I figure out how to quickly?
  4. How much interactivity is my audience used to when learning about CSE? How much interactivity are they available for during the current crisis? How available am I/is my organization to participate in that level of interactivity?
  5. Do I have any pre-existing tools that I have used in person that I would like to transfer to digital media? What kinds of platforms will I need for this process?

In considering your answers to those five questions, it is useful to know what is available. All types of social media have the potential to play a role in CSE learning spaces, depending on the resources (including technological savviness) available to both the teacher/facilitator and the learners. If one or more of them is of particular interest, based on the types of activities you are modifying from F2F options or are creating for online learning from scratch, do an internet search to find the one(s) that are the most consistently in use by your target group because the learners are the most  likely to be familiar, and thus comfortable, with that one.

In addition to social media, there is a full range of education-specific tools which offer important options outside of social media tools:

  • Assessment and Feedback (Examples: Spiral, Kaizena)
  • Class Website Creation (Examples: Edublogs, Google Sites)
  • Communication and Discussion (Examples: Flipgrid, Parlay)
  • Learning and Classroom Management (Examples: Edmodo, Schoology, Canvas, Google Classroom)
  • Lesson Planning (Examples: Common Curriculum, Planboard)
  • Parent, Caregiver and Family Messaging (Examples: Remind, TalkingPoints)
  • Plagiarism Checks (Examples: TurnItIn, Duplichecker)
  • Polling (Examples: Polleverywhere, Mentimeter)
  • Quizzes (Examples: Kahoot, Mentimeter)
  • Slideshows and Lesson Delivery (Examples: Nearpod, Pear Deck)
  • Student Portfolios (Examples: Seesaw, Bulb)
  • Video Lesson Creation (Examples: Screencast-O-Matic, Edpuzzle)
  • Video Conferencing (Examples: Zoom, Microsoft Teams)
  • Virtual Classrooms(Example: Bitmoji office)
  • Whiteboards (Examples: JamBoard, Zoom)

And so much more! Indeed, new tools and new kinds of tools are being developed every day. Staying abreast of these changes and evolution can feel overwhelming. The important thing to remember is that using all – or even many or most or some – of this wide range of digital tools is entirely up to the facilitator and the educational needs that they are addressing. In fact, it is possible to use very few of them and provide a high-quality digital learning experience.

Building the digital content

Populating any digital platform with content requires some level of technical skill. What kind of skills depends not only on the format of the platform (words, images, sounds, and/or video) but also on the final goals of the educational system. For example, some teachers receive assignments from students and want to check to make sure that they are original work, while other teachers do not receive assignments from students and so a plagiarism check is inconsequential.

Building digital skill sets can be accomplished prior to (or between) crisis situations much more effectively than during one, and so prioritizing which of the following skills are most important is a critical element of pre-crisis planning.

There are two general sets of skills that sexuality education teachers benefit from having: technical and research.

Technical skills and supplies

The relative importance of each of these technical skills is closely tied to the technology that a teacher or facilitator feels that they will be best served by using. Basic computer and internet literacy is critical for each of them. All of them are augmented by some level of awareness of the user experience and making that as seamless as possible for the students. With each teacher using different approaches to education, including the structure and the tools in the learning setting, students may be confused or overwhelmed by the variety. Having a highly structured approach that is as easy to follow as possible, collects all of the links in one place, and otherwise respecting that students are rarely able to follow different approaches from each of their learning settings, will benefit the students substantially.

Specific technical skills for teachers to learn and use post pandemic and in preparation for future potential crisis situations include:

Having the appropriate tools to manage digital technology is also important. Most smartphones and tablets provide sufficient quality cameras and microphones, often along with useful editing apps, to complete most of the necessary visual and video tasks associated with digital education. However, for high quality products, a video and sound studio tools like a camera, microphone, green screen, etc is necessary. Large digital storage capacity, like external hard drives, is necessary for substantial media production.

Expensive software (and associated training) also makes a huge difference in production quality. This is particularly true for video and image production.

A computer (either a laptop or a desktop)  is incredibly useful for more complex tasks like building websites, bitmoji classrooms, or other interactive online spaces.

None of these higher quality options or the training associated with them are cheap, and thus planning for integrating technology over time into the educational process will spread out the financial impact and prepare for a more effective response to the next crisis situation.

Research skills

The skill of “finding the right answers” is one that used to be primarily relegated to librarians – and they still serve critical functions for those who have access to them – but most CSE teachers and facilitators do not have access to a librarian. Nevertheless, it is critical to know how to access evolving information about sexuality and to stay up to date with educational technology. Your organization should provide all educators with a list of local reliable resources for information about sex and sexuality.

Reliable resources for evolving ed tech include: