City view of Beirut, Lebanon on June 1, 2014. Photo © Dominic Chavez/World Bank

Scaling up critical thinking against extreme poverty

Reda SadkiEvents, Interviews, Learning strategy, Writing

In three years, the World Bank’s e-Institute enrolled 50,000 learners through small, tutor-led online courses and webinars. Its first MOOC, run on Coursera’s platform for four weeks, reached 19,500. More MOOCs are in preparation, with the next one, based on the flagship World Development Report, launching on June 30th (details here). However, the need for scale is only one consideration in a comprehensive strategic vision of how learning innovation in all its forms can be harnessed to foster new kinds of leadership and accelerate development.

In this candid conversation recorded at the Scaling corporate learning online symposium, I asked Abha Joshi-Ghani, the World Bank’s Director for Knowledge Exchange and Learning, to present some early data points from the Bank’s first MOOC, situating it within a broader history of engagement in distance and online learning. Joshi-Ghani describes the partnership, business and production models for its pilot MOOC. She also shares some early insights about the learner experience, completion rates (40%), and demographics (40% from developing countries).

Listen to the conversation with Abha Joshi-Ghani


As the Bank engages in what the Washington Post has called its “first massive reorganization in nearly two decades” to focus on ending extreme poverty by 2030,  the role of knowledge in such a process should be a strategic question. In the past, the reorganization of knowledge production was a key process in creating “new possibilities of power” to determine “what could be said, thought, imagined”, defining a “perceptual domain, the space of development” (Escobar 1992:24). Harnessing knowledge flows in a VUCA world requires an open, agile approach that recognizes the changing nature of knowledge: its diminishing half-life and corollary acceleration, its location in the network. This is what I found most compelling about Abha Joshi-Ghani’s brief presentation of the new Open Learning Campus, which opens a path for the World Bank to become the first international organization to organize its learning strategy around knowledge as a networked, complex process (Siemens 2006:34) . To do so is the twenty-first century way to support critical or analytical thinking that “lies at the heart of any transformative process”, aligned closely with Paulo Freire’s ‘conscientisation’ (Foley 2008:775).

Photo: City view of Beirut, Lebanon on June 1, 2014 (Dominic Chavez/World Bank).

Foley, C., 2008. Developing critical thinking in NGO field staff. Development in Practice 18, 774–778. doi:10.1080/09614520802386827

Escobar, A., 1992. Imagining a post-development era. Social Text, Third World and Post-Colonial Issues 20–56.

Siemens, G., 2006. Knowing knowledge.