Reimagining Development Learning:
The Launch of the Open Learning Campus

The World Bank vitalized the revolution in development learning with the formal "unveiling" of its new Open Learning Campus (OLC) by Jim Yong Kim, President, World Bank Group, at a jam-packed live event on January 12, 2016. Streamed around the world to thousands, and the biggest WB Live event ever, the event highlighted how learning that is accessible and adaptable can inspire change and innovation.

The OLC is designed to build the leadership and technical capabilities of Bank clients, staff and development partners through practice-based, actionable learning. It builds on the success of the e-Institute, which piloted e-learning for development practitioners, reaching more than 250,000 learners across 190 countries in just four years.

At the live event, Abha Joshi-Ghani, Director, Leadership, Learning and Innovation, introduced a spirited conversation about the power and future of learning by Jim Yong Kim, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, and CEO of edX Anant Agarwal.

Using learning to keep up with a changing world

The OLC is the Bank’s response to help millions around the world adapt and grow in a fluctuating global landscape. Kim immediately jumped on board with the OLC because as an educator he wants to help everyone learn to the extent of their ambition: “You have got to figure out a way to ensure the capacity to learn is available to everyone… We know that the better your population can learn, the more competitive your country will be.”

Through the OLC, everyone—from policy makers to practitioners to civil society to the general public—could benefit from the Bank’s cross-sectoral knowledge on the ground. As Friedman said, the only way to get change is to get ordinary people to do extraordinary things by providing them the system to do so.

And what happens if everyone is educated, what will all these people do? Agarwal feels that a more educated global populace can only promote more prosperity, understanding and communication—because “the rising tide lifts everyone up.” Through edX and other online platforms, he sees people from different cultures learning and growing together.

Re-imagining development learning

Aiming to set the standard for development institutions, the OLC fosters cross-sectoral learning and is the first to raise awareness and advocacy through its Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). It has drawn on edX and other successful models of free, open-sourced digital learning.

Agarwal recalled the initial skepticism around the launch of edX in 2011, and then how their first MOOC on circuits and technology enrolled 150,000 students. He described how edX continues to unlock learning, by now offering academic credits and inexpensive certificates from renowned higher education institutions and partnering to build national digital platforms. edX’s success in democratizing learning is a model the OLC will follow as it seeks to expand its global reach and breadth of its offerings.

The panelists highlighted how essential the mobile platform has become to the flexibility of “anytime and anywhere” learning. Inexpensive and easy-to-obtain smartphones and Internet connections means the digital divide will no longer exist soon. So, rather than only erecting physical schools that can be destroyed or cannot travel with a moving population, developing mobile technologies for learning such as the OLC offer untold possibilities.

Inspiring and motivating through learning
“If we don’t do all we can in 5–10 years to ensure every young person has capacity to learn, we’re doing them a disservice.” @jimkim_wbg

Three young innovators regaled the audience with their personal experiences in changing the learning landscape:

Battushig Myanganbayar enrolled in the first edX MOOC by MIT at 15 years old, in school in Mongolia—and he received a perfect score. Myanganbayar called the course his “Aha” moment, when he discovered his potential to apply knowledge and help his community. He is now a junior at MIT. He asked the audience, “What if my Aha moment could be repeated by millions of students around the world?”

Mariam Adil discussed her experience founding Gaming Revolution for International Development (GRID), which aims to trigger social dialogue and inspire behavior change through digital games in development interventions. With phones now so inexpensive, she sees a window of opportunity to leverage the power of games. The OLC is working with her organization to incorporate game apps into its curricula.

Rikin Gandhi is CEO of Digital Green, a research project in Microsoft Research India’s Technology for Emerging Markets, and he now leads the spin-off to bring digital learning to the last mile. He sees communities at the heart of their program, with learning technologies sparking individuals to take small steps toward development solutions in the areas of agriculture, health and nutrition.

Expanding learning and partnerships

The OLC already has 300 structured learning materials, 2,000 bite-sized offerings and 300 communities to join, which is only the beginning for its online catalog. The site has generated the enthusiasm of many partners from around the world who view it as a powerful platform to transform development knowledge into action.

Kim highlighted the creative efforts and teamwork of Bank colleagues that turned the OLC’s digital learning strategy into a reality. He remarked on the huge potential of the OLC to disseminate Bank knowledge and bring interested learners together to tackle common development goals.

This vision of collaborative learning has been emphasized by the OLC from the start. Sheila Jagannathan, who leads the Open Learning Campus, said: “In the OLC, development knowledge captured throughout the world is available at your fingertips just-in-time, and in many formats—bite-sized lessons to full-length courses to peer conversations. We want everyone from all walks of life to come join us, to learn and co-create the best possible solutions for complex development challenges.”

Twitter feedback on #OpenLearning showed enthusiasm for open-sourced, free learning for the development community