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Creating a global learning commons for development knowledge: the Open Learning Campus

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We have just launched the Open Learning Campus (OLC) with an event that blew my own expectations out of the water. As I reflect on the journey that brought us here I am impressed and inspired by the collaboration and partnerships we created along the way. The keenness of Bank staff and partners to share their knowledge and to learn. The conviction that we have to get what we know out there- among our clients. That there is also so much that we need to learn from our developing country clients and our partners to do our jobs better, to calibrate our policy advice to the context. That we must invest in learning and capacity building to lift our game and to have sustained development impact.
It was just around two years ago that my team and I went to President Jim Yong Kim with the proposal to build a versatile online campus for staff and client learning. We wanted to bring global knowledge as practical and actionable learning to our clients and staff, our development partners, and other change makers active in development.

It has always struck me that the WBG and our counterparts are sitting on a wealth of tacit knowledge. Often this knowledge is deeply rooted in people’s minds and experiences, in lengthy, text heavy reports, or locked away in pdfs. This is our stock of global development knowledge from what we learn every day in our operations – from our successes and failures.

Currently the WBG spends some $500 million annually on knowledge for external clients. The bulk of this knowledge is not easily accessible or digestible, and does not translate into practical learning for country clients who need to design and implement reforms.  Consequently, our clients still face major challenges in accessing development related quality and up-to-date knowledge and learning products. At the same time the Bank is committed through its open knowledge, open data and the Global Delivery Initiative to develop, curate, customize and transfer knowledge on how to achieve results. These include project implementation, policy reforms, institutional strengthening and practical learning.

This knowledge was really not flowing as learning and so not contributing sufficiently to development outcomes. We realized that the real value of this knowledge could be untapped by converting it into usable and useful learning. Joe Stiglitz in his book The Learning Society says that what truly separates developed from less developed countries is advances in technology and not the accumulation of capital. What separates developed from developing countries is the gap in knowledge and how quickly this gap is closed through learning. To understand how countries grow and develop, it is essential to know how they learn and what can be done to promote the translation of knowledge into practical tools.

The global practices were formed around the same time we met with President Kim. They were formed to ensure the flow of knowledge across regions and sectors so that we could be a true ‘solutions Bank’. We wanted a similar focus on learning: cross sectoral, peer- to- peer, and global – since learning has no institutional boundaries.

We took the vision we discussed with the President to create our version of ‘Khan Academy meets development learning’. This is what our hard-working team has tried to make a reality. We have brought modern technology, cutting-edge pedagogy, and learning design to create mobile-enabled, game infused, just-in-time and just–in-case learning.

One reason to dive more deeply into digitally enabled e-learning is that face-to-face courses which are still the staple of our capacity building efforts reach only a fraction of select clients, and are expensive and resource intensive to deliver with little scope for scaling up. Recent innovations in technology and instructional design make it possible to provide high quality eLearning at reduced unit costs via Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), Computer-supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) and Mobile-assisted learning (MAL). The OLC houses three distinct categories of products and incorporates flexibility and modular customization and introduces new tools:
  • WBx (Talks), short bite-sized video talks and podcasts by WBG and international experts, as well as clips from WBG and Partner conferences. 
  • WBa (Academy), modular courses for structured, deep learning related to development, houses the catalog of e-courses, MOOCs and bite-sized lessons and modules that can be combined and customized to create entire courses. 
  • WBc (Connect), a peer learning platform which will host communities of practices, South-South exchange dialogs, and Solutions Labs. 

The vision of the OLC is to become a global learning commons for international development. We will convene, connect, contextualize and co-create learning for and with our staff, for and with our clients and development partners. We envision the OLC as a destination for content but perhaps even more importantly, a destination for problem-solving conversations and communities. Today we have more than 300 technical courses across all sectors, 4,000 bite sized learning modules, 300 communities of practice, a robust facilitation of South-South learning, and in the last 18 months alone - 6 MOOCS. 

Neither problems nor solutions are the exclusive domain of the World Bank Group so openness is key. Now that we have launched the OLC and are truly ‘Open’ I invite you all to come and join us in this journey, be open to learn and open to share your knowledge.


Abha Joshi-Ghani

Senior Adviser, Infrastructure Finance, PPPs & Guarantees, The World Bank

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