Learning is a key accelerator for development. In fact, knowledge and learning are intricately connected. As a global development institution, we produce world class knowledge on development issues. However, the impact of this knowledge can only be fully realized when we transform it into learning for our development partners, practitioners, policy makers, our staff and, in fact, the public at large. Barely two percent of our knowledge products get translated into bite-sized practical learning.
Today, we are seeing a revolution in education and learning. Digital and on-line learning is helping us to scale up and reach thousands of people who are eager to learn and apply new knowledge and continue their learning as they progress through their careers, face new challenges, and acquire new competencies. This outreach and democratization of learning takes on greater importance as we endeavor to provide the best possible solutions for vexing development problems. Learning today is thankfully not a matter of sitting in a class room and listening to a lecture. It is available to us at our fingertips, just-in-time, and conveniently sized to our needs.
Today, innovations in learning technology enable us to take cutting edge knowledge to our development partners, our staff, and the public at large to create an action cycle of learning and applying learning to solving development challenges. We must seize this new technology, be creative, and use it to our advantage. This matters because, at the moment, most of our own learning efforts are based on expensive face-to-face (F2F) learning that is resource intensive and difficult to scale. If we want to provide continuous learning to our staff and clients to enhance performance and grow our talent – we must step out of the four walls of F2F learning and move away from a “one-workshop-at-a-time“ approach.
A Massive Partnership for Learning
Our recently launched Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on climate change, Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4⁰ Warmer World Must Be Avoided, is an exciting learning innovation that opens up new horizons. This MOOC is hosted for us by Coursera, a pioneer in online learning, and this partnership allows us to reach a much broader audience and experiment with a totally new interactive learning experience.
In his recent blog post about MOOCs, Reda Sadki  notes, “Look at George Siemens ’s prediction that ‘corporate MOOCs will be the big trend of 2014.’ … I’m still not sure what “corporate MOOC” means but I’m assuming we’re talking about workplace learning, which meshes nicely with what I’ve been arguing all along: continual learning in organizations is a key driver for organizational performance, and only the affordances of technology can make this strategic…” We think this trend is promising.
The results of our first foray into a MOOC have, thus far, been encouraging: At last count, over 19,000 people registered for this course, and about 60 percent of our participants are from developing countries. In the past, a World Bank report like
Turn Down the Heat would have reached a smaller and more homogeneous audience, and its content, while highly useful for policymakers, would not have been easy to absorb for busy practitioners. With this MOOC we were able to reach out successfully to two streams: the development practitioner as well as the ‘climate champions’ in our communities. With this new approach, we are attempting to improve how we turn our development knowledge into practical learning, at a scale that is necessary to achieve our goals. I wanted to share a tweet that made me feel this effort was worthwhile: “Just finished my reading on #wbheat. Global warming is so real and the effects here already. This is a course for all environmentalists.”
The Open Learning Campus – interactive, participatory and networked learning
For online learning to be interesting and effective it has to be creative in terms of grabbing our attention, providing interactivity with experts, peers and content; creating opportunities for dialogue and discussion, e.g., through Google Hang-Outs on Air, facilitated discussions, chats, tweets, and Communities of Practice – enabling us to capture tacit knowledge and feed it back into the learning loop.
In this context I would like to discuss our forthcoming effort to ramp up learning across the World Bank Group: In August 2014, we will be launching the Open Learning Campus, which we envision as a world class, leading-edge learning destination for our staff, clients and development partners to help us transform how we learn. The Campus will integrate innovations in technology and instructional design, such as open courseware, collaborative learning, games, and even mobile formatting, to provide quality learning at low unit cost. There will be three “schools” in the Campus:
- WBx: Video talks and podcasts by experts and advocates
- WBa: Structured learning including face-to-face, facilitated e-courses, and bite-sized modules, and MOOCs on key development issues.
- WBc: Communities of practices, South-South Knowledge exchange for just-in-time access to implementation solutions and tacit knowledge.