A place to convene. A place to discuss. A place for ideas.

Global Learning Revolution at the Nexus

By Subra Suresh January 24, 2014

We can’t allow advances in technology to outpace our knowledge of how people learn.

At the nexus of the four topics contemplated this week at the World Economic Forum at Davos—disruptive innovation, inclusive growth, society’s new expectations, and preparing for a world of nine billion—sits the idea of a Global Learning Revolution. Technology is disrupting traditional models of classroom education. But it also has the power to offer billions around the globe access to a first-class education and the hope for economic advancement.  Business plus government plus academia plus NGOs—working together—have the opportunity to bring this global learning revolution to life.

We look to the future and can clearly visualize the benefits of a global learning revolution. Imagine a world where education is no longer limited by geography, status, or financial well-being. Yet, as we turn back to the present, we must acknowledge that the revolution is far from being realized.

The obstacle is not a lack of technology platforms and applications—the programs are manifold and multiplying—but mainly a lack of focus on learning outcomes. Particularly as it comes to technology-enabled education, we are only just beginning to unlock the mystery of human learning.

As a society, our calling is clear: Before we forge farther ahead, we must understand exactly how technology aids in human learning, and which best practices we should replicate. There are great risks to welcoming more sophisticated—yet unproven—platforms into our classrooms or homes. Quite simply, we can’t allow advances in technology to outpace our knowledge of how people learn.

For more than 50 years, we at Carnegie Mellon University have been at work to understand human learning—and to develop technology that will enhance it. More than 65,000 classrooms use technology pioneered at CMU. But we know that to succeed on a global scale, we can’t work alone. We must work collaboratively across sectors and industries. We need the commitment of both higher education and the technology sector to amass and analyze global data around human learning. We can then build models based on the discovered best practices, and from there we can empower teachers to incorporate technology more effectively in their curriculum.

To reach this goal, we introduced the Simon Initiative, which will leverage and build upon the world’s largest data bank around how students learn using education technologies—created at CMU—and discern meaning from the data. We also created the Global Learning Council, which brings together leaders in higher education and technology to help develop standards and share best practices to ensure successful student learning. Our members include thought leaders from private industry, non-profits, universities and online course providers—many of whom are here in Davos. Together, our aim is to ensure that educational technology—whether it’s used by an individual playing a learning game on a smart phone in Nairobi, or by a classroom of students on our campus in Pittsburgh—can be as personal and effective as an individual tutor.

Increasingly this type of open collaboration—across sectors and institutions—will become the way forward for academia and for businesses truly intent on addressing society’s challenges. And it is this type of collaboration that gatherings like WEF help to foster. This week is an opportunity to fortify partnerships, to test and strengthen existing ideas, and to develop new ones. We come to Davos to focus on the topics of inclusive growth, disruptive innovation, meeting society’s expectations, and preparing for a world of nine billion. As participants, it is our opportunity to form the collaborations that will endure long after this week to address these challenges and ultimately move society forward.

Dr. Subra Suresh is President of Carnegie Mellon University.