DevOps Institute

[EP92] Digital Learning and the Intersection of Technology Use and Education in Emerging Countries with Sheila Jagannathan


In this episode, Eveline Oehrlich is joined by Sheila Jagannathan to discuss digital learning, and the intersection of technology use and education in emerging countries

Sheila Jagannathan is Head of the Open Learning Campus at the World Bank in Washington DC. She serves as the organization’s focal point on digital learning and issues at the intersection of technology use and education in emerging countries.

Sheila Jagannathan is an internationally recognized thought leader, advisor, author and a forward-thinking senior education leader with over 35 years of experience in leading capacity building, knowledge management, data, social learning and transformation change across public and private organizations.

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Narrator 0:02
You’re listening to the Humans of DevOps Podcast, a podcast focused on advancing the humans of DevOps through skills, knowledge, ideas and learning, or the SKIL framework.

Sheila Jagannathan 0:16
We had invested in the Open Learning Campus many, many years before COVID and so we had the infrastructure, we had the products, we had the services, and we were already doing it. So it was very helpful for us to pivot to 100% digital.

Eveline Oehrlich 0:33
Welcome to our Humans of DevOps podcast titled Digital Learning and the Intersection of Technology Use and Education in Emerging Countries. Today, we have with us a very esteemed thought leader in the topic of Digital Learning. Our special guest is Sheila Jagannathan and I hope Sheila, I said your last name correctly. Let me tell you a little bit before we turn over to some questions about Sheila. So Sheila is head of Open Learning Campus at the World Bank in Washington, DC. She serves as the organization’s focal point on digital learning and issues at the intersection of technology use and education in emerging countries. She is an internationally recognized thought leader, advisor, author and a forward thinking Senior Education leader with over 35 years of experience in leading capacity building, knowledge management, social learning and transformation change across public and private organizations. She has been responsible for designing and implementing world class solutions in challenging global environments, resulting in performance and productivity improvements.

Sheila also provides policy advice and technical assistance to World Bank country level capacity building programs in East Asia, China, the Middle East, Africa and South East. Her current areas of interest and activity include so many things, but here are some of them, Skilling and the fourth industrial revolution, corporate talent management, organizational development, multimodal and social learning environments, immersive learning, like a rvr use of AI and learning big data analytics, learning experience platforms, learning management systems and learning ecosystems. And I think that’s how we got she loves attention because we are at the DevOps Institute, of course, very interested in her what she has to say. She has written many articles on various peer reviewed publications and learning publications, and technology based learning, and on technology based learning and many, many more articles. Again, welcome, Sheila, we’re very honored to have you here with us on our podcast. How are you doing today?

Sheila Jagannathan 3:05
I’m doing simply great. Thank you, Eveline, for inviting me to the session.

Eveline Oehrlich 4:05
Fantastic. Again, I’m glad I know you have a very, very busy day. So let’s get started on a few things, I want to do a little bit of an introduction. Because learning and upskilling. As you might not know, it’s a central mission for us at DevOps Institute and since the beginning, our vision has to really been empowering the people who power IT, and a little different from what you do. But again, at its core, it is about upskilling and sharing, and learning and re skilling our community. Now we do this through many offers practical knowledge, we have a professional network, we have certification programs, actionable research, which is my part, we do virtual and in person events, again, glad we can do in person event again. And we just recently launched a very exciting program, which we call skill up learning, or skill up it learning.We do know that our audience wants to learn digitally, which is again why I was so interested in talking to you. So let’s get started on some questions. Before we go into more depth in terms of learning, I know most listeners will be familiar with a World Bank, but I’m not sure if I’ll know what the mission of the World Bank is. and most importantly, what excites you about working there? Can you share a little bit more about what the World Bank does and we your excitement there?

Sheila Jagannathan 4:17
Sure. Well, who are we? With 189 member countries staffed from more than 170 countries and offices in 130 locations, the World Bank Group is a global unique partnership of the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation and other Institute’s working for sustainable solution that reduce poverty and build shared prosperity in developing countries. So our mission can be concise into goals to end poverty by reducing the share of global population that lives in extreme poverty to just 3% and to promote shared prosperity, which is increasing the incomes of the poorest 40% of the people in the world. So the World Bank Group is one of the largest sources of funding and knowledge for developing countries. As I said, the World Bank Group itself comprises of five institutions, one we call IBRD, which is the main one where I work which is the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. And then we also have the International Development Association, the either the IFC, which is the International Finance Corporation and the private sector when and then you have the multilateral investment guarantee agency. And finally, the Center for settlement of investment disputes. So together these form, the World Bank, and the core values that are embedded in this entire institution and our staff and our client in working with our clients is impact integrity, respect, teamwork, and innovation. So what excites me about working in the World Bank, so it’s been there for over 25 years. It’s a huge opportunity it represents to transform lives of individuals, moving away from poverty to embarking on a path to prosperity, changing lives and actually destination of individuals and society. We play a small role in this. Job creation is an immense global challenge. Education is at the center of building human capital. The latest World Bank research, particularly after Xi COVID, shows that productivity of 56% of the world’s children will be less than half of what it could have been if they enjoyed a complete education and full health. So for me, what excites me is delivered well, education along with human capital, benefits individuals and societies for individuals education, raises self esteem and further furthers opportunity for employment and earnings. So this is what I enjoy. I live in Washington, DC, the nation’s capitol, also the headquarters of the World Bank Group. But there are several other influential actors and organizations that work in international development here in DC, such as the USA ID, the International you know, the IDB, which works on the Latin American international development issues. You have the Brookings Institute, the Carnegie Endowment for peace. So lots of interesting things happening in the world of international development here in DC.

Eveline Oehrlich 6:29
Beautiful, I am actually a vivid World Bank research reader. I followed many of the reports, because I found those fascinating, so your guys’s work is fantastic. I did do some research also on the World Bank Open Learning Campus because that was which really intrigued me in this campus. Sounds fantastic. And I know you know a lot about it as you’re heading that effort. Can you elaborate a bit on what does that World Bank Open Learning Campus include? What is it?

Sheila Jagannathan 10:00
Well, it is something that yes, I’ve been the Chief Architect of this about eight years ago, and before that we had pilots of smaller things like that, but it’s really a learning ecosystem of the World Bank Group. It’s sort of a go to destination for development learning for the World Bank staff spread over 130 countries, but also World Bank clients who are largely policymakers and practitioners, in developing countries, NGOs, private sector, academia. And so it is a go to destination for development learning. And as I said before, we launched it in 2015, after a number of pilots. And you know, and what we found is setting up and investing in the infrastructure and the services around the Open Learning Campus which is purely online given that people are so distributed, including the staff and clients proved very useful during COVID As we were able to leverage our investments in digital implanted learning, and almost immediately fully pivot fully to a virtual learning on World Bank Group priorities which included addressing COVID challenges, health, jobs, and even building back better so really helped immediately hit the ground running on economic recovery on healthcare sanitation, social protection, and infrastructure. But I’ll take a moment to say why did the World Bank create the Open Learning Campus, and what is its mission? Knowledge. In particular learning is key to development, solving development challenges, and meeting the twin goals that I mentioned to you about eradicating poverty and sharing prosperity. So whether it’s helping countries recover from COVID, dealing with climate change rescaling youth to find jobs relevant for the fourth industrial revolution, or even designing cost effective health systems. These are often characterized by multiple interdependent challenges and factors. mitigating this requires change, including behavior change, that can only be harnessed through continuous learning, not just any learning, but learning continuously, by providing dynamic learning opportunities by the diverse audiences I mentioned earlier. So they can learn at their own pace, they can learn just in time and flexibly. So the OCLC really we call it O. LC equips development practitioners and individuals with the knowledge and capital capabilities to tackle the tough development challenges and health, climate change. And other things I mentioned. Technology, as we all know, is changing the learning landscape, and changing the way we learn teach measured credentials, and so on. And so the ovlc really continue to stay cutting edge on the technical ways of bringing learning to the busy practitioner. So in a very short time that the agency has been in existence seven or eight years. On the client learning side, I think we have, I’m happy to say we flipped from doing 95% of our training used in person to now almost during COVID, 100%. Digital, and maybe over the long run, it will become 95% Digital with 5% blended, including in person. And similarly for the staff who were a little bit slower and and wanted the luxury of more in person COVID fix that, you know, during COVID, we will have 100% in person. And we’re slowly coming back to a sorry 100% virtual only coming back to some in person, but I don’t think we will go back to two pre COVID numbers. So in one sense, before I wrap up, this question, we’ll see has enabled us to move from the World Bank to move from traditional ways of teaching and learning to more digital and blended and stay cutting edge. We’ve moved from face to face. As I said to digital and blended, we’ve moved from more conceptual learning to a solution focus and embedded in the flow of work. We’ve moved from a purely lecture style, to interactive, participatory and experiential. And also in terms of learning analytics, we’ve moved from purely anecdotal to evidence based so. And the last point I want to make is while the LLC is set up and managed by the World Bank, it thrives on internal and external partnerships.

Eveline Oehrlich 14:02
I have taken very close notes on those four things you mentioned, traditional to digital blended solution focus lecture style, and evidence based that’s kind of a goal. While these these are the aspirations we have for our audience. Fabulous, but you mentioned two things I wanted to dive into a little bit further. The first one is COVID. So yes, we have it has changed many things right. All of us have, have had some learning. But in terms of the learning itself, how has it changed how people learn in post COVID? Tell me a little bit more about what you have found there and what you’re doing.

Sheila Jagannathan 14:02
So, you know, as I said before, we had invested in the Open Learning Campus many, many years before COVID. And so we had the infrastructure, we had the products, we had the services and so and we were already doing it, so it was very helpful for us to pivot to 100%.Digital, I’ll tell you a little example. The UN and the World Bank in partnership was going to have a gender conference in April, bringing 5000 People from all over the world. Remember the World Bank and most offices closed around March 20 for COVID and we didn’t reopen in person work for two and a half years. But so what do we do? 5000 people are coming they’re expecting blah, blah, blah, but we you know, so the decision was to make this completely online. And so between March 20 and we move the date from April to May, we were able to do the same achieved a lot of the same thing. But the bigger point I wanted to mention in your question, what have we learned from COVID? I think COVID has given us an opportunity to pause and reflect and think about how learning and development for all sectors and I know I’ve learned you’re more interested in it, but we’re more interested in solving development challenges, but at the end of the day, it is learning and so yeah, just want to tell you a few lessons. So I think the new normal when people I mean, we’re not already there with a blueprint for the next 25 years, I think we’re emerging are the COVID slowly and some lessons are emerging, then, and these are the lessons that these imp the new normal is not just a question of virtual or in person. It is a context where learning should be blended because work is becoming blended, where both formal and informal and social and on the job, and synchronous and asynchronous, are all part of the diverse mix of curricular delivery. It’s not just about an algorithm. Now, we talked about AI based learning and so on, which is important. But it’s not just about algorithm providing personalization at the expense of the learners self direction, but rather personalization as a consequence of understanding the importance of human capabilities and skills. And finally, the new normal needs to be agile in the face of any ambiguity, not just COVID. We need to balance best practices while ensuring that learning happens in VUCA settings. And so it’s never just one thing. It has to be dynamic. And I think just a couple more points, the factors shaping the new normal or that the role of and l&d as definitely again, we’re always thinking about in person face to face, but that’s not the entire focus, the new normal reimagines l&d to move beyond content delivery, to more participatory, interactive, immersive social learning. And it needs to consider the whole learner including the learning environment, and situate the learning in applied context. And so the point I’m making here is the l&d sector is needs to be transformed. And it is, in the process of being that however, it’s difficult because there are fixed mindsets. And so we have to work now to pull out the key lessons, as I mentioned a few just now to retain and get rid of the ones that are no longer relevant. The point is COVID is one factor that there were a whole lot of other factors that were coming to play that was causing this transformation, digital transformation of learning, including the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the youth bulge in developing countries, climate change, and so on. So I’ll stop there.

Narrator 17:59
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Eveline Oehrlich 18:32
I would absolutely agree with you saying that. The bottom line is how our IT folks how our folks in IT learn and the learnings you guys have had, we can really directly apply that. So those are great lessons, I’ll share with my co partner for sure I’m maker, listen to your podcast. I also actually ordered your book, and we’ll get to that. But I want to grab one more thing you said onto one more thing, AI learning because we have IT people who are listening, they’re probably going to go Oh, ai ai learning. Tell me a little bit about that. What is that?

Sheila Jagannathan 19:08
So you know, in fact, I did my doctoral dissertation on AI based learning about 35 years ago at Boston University. But, you know, people somehow think that AI just came on to us drop from the sky about five years ago when I say that people are just a standard and think I made a mistake. But the bottom line is, of course, you know, it didn’t come out of research institutions in the woodwork till about five, six years earlier when there was a larger recognition of AI for all sectors. But I’ll talk specifically about learning. I think AI is going to play a key role. And we need to pay close attention to this. In fact, you know, AI is being touted as the new UI the new user interface because you can use it for all phases of the learning cycle from creating learningto facilitating learning to evaluating learning and so one of the areas that a couple of I’ll give you examples of a couple of areas we are exploring. One is in the area of, you know, we run these large MOOCs and facilitated courses on climate and other things, all online. Remember, these are complex topics, and you cannot have it in a completely self paced mode. So the virtual experts, world class experts guiding coaching and mentoring virtually behind the scenes. But here we have created AI based chatbots, or expert systems, we’ll help the experts and you know, an integer, one who’s, who used to be the head of edX at MIT, and Harvard is a good friend. And remember, his he first started this whole edX movement started with this course on AI or electrical engineering, where he had 30,000 students and you know, how do you manage them. So in those kinds of setups, the bots become very useful. Another example, another small example is we use AI to create captions, and indexing of videos and so on, because this is a very expensive and a human. Plus, the final example, which which, which will really change the shape of learning in the years to come, is of course, adaptive learning, and the role AI plays. So this right now, most of our learning is one size fits all. So Sheila goes in there, whether she has any experience or not, everybody gets the same content, the same exercises, the same test, the same projects. So through AI, you can make a mental model of where the learner is through a bunch of questions, their own admission, or their own self assessment in the admission of, of where they are, you know, do you feel confident? Or how, how good do you think you are plus some subjective assessment, the system understands and creates a mental model of the student. And then on forward, the content that shared the projects that are shared, the examples that are shared, are very relevant to what the learner knows, and so on. We did a pilot did that. And there are some interesting lessons. But the thing is that I think, definitely AI is here today, we should start exploring it. But you won’t have the full potential till maybe two or three years later. Because even in the example I mentioned, it took a lot of effort to design this adaptive learning, you have to, you can’t think of just one path, you have to think of many, many paths and so on.

Eveline Oehrlich 22:47
Fascinating, you gave us a great explanation and I hope our listeners are excited about this just as much as I am in AI 35 years ago, you are an expert in this have been an expert, even at the time when I just started my IT career, which is about 35 years ago. That’s fantastic. Two more questions. And I know you have to go to a meeting. So I want to be sensitive to your day, because you are a very important person. And I hate to stand in the way of your development to more questions. My pleasure. Thank you so much. So you mentioned a lot of things. Already, I’m gonna give you a crystal ball. And you already talked about AI based learning role of beyond the current content delivery, the whole learner, I love the Agile best practices to personalization, all of that, I’m gonna give you the crystal ball back and ask you where do you think is the future of learning in some areas where you have not mentioned, give me maybe two additional things where you think, where you’re saying we have to explore that, or we are already exploring that, be it best practices, learning labs, whatever.

Sheila Jagannathan 23:58
So just a couple of thoughts. You know, I’m talking, I will address it both with tools and technologies, but approaches and so on. One thing I want to throw in there is I’m part of a group that we’re looking in Harvard is, is working on this thing called the 60 year curriculum. I don’t know if I have a chapter in my book on that. But basically, the idea is that the old traditional model of working for studying for 20 years school, college and working for about 40 years and then retiring in your mid 60s, that’s gone. Today, people are living longer, but most importantly World Economic Forum, as you know, says the shelf life of skills is 4.5 years. When I was a conference at Microsoft on a panel recently, they were saying Silicon Valley folks are not hiring because you know Java, you know this or that. They’re hiring for your learning agility. So the 60 year curriculum that some forward thinking universities are thinking about is that you you areYou learn for 60 years, right? And but because the shelf life skills are so short, you don’t stop at your master’s degree or whatever, you keep coming in and out in and out in and out for short degree specializations, badges, micro learning, micro credentials, and so on. So that’s one thing I thought I will share. The other thing is that, you know, we have to acknowledge that blended learning is here to stay. It’s the new normal. And so earlier, when we started planning curriculars, as learning heads of learning, or curriculum developers, we would start with, we do all this face to face, and then let’s tack on a little bit of online. Now that’s going to be flipped on its head moving forward, we start with everything online, and then see where we blend face to face and so on. The other thing is evidence based pedagogy, you know, this is going to be critical, good design overcomes any digital or otherwise learning fatigue, and gives you the motivation to learn. So we need to learn from neuroscience principles, we need to learn different techniques to support learning that’s active and I think connected learning is here to stay. If you study, look at recent studies in Stanford, it’s when you work and learn with somebody else, you’re 6% more effective. And so we need to have opportunities to do that. And finally, I want to say that data is the new currency of learning and development. And given that as we go into blended and digital learning, there’s a digital footprint of everything. And it’s too important to ignore. So we have to move away in the in the evaluation sphere from just completion metrics, which are not as relevant, you know, but look, look at more impact and use learning and analytics to collect, analyze and report on data about learners while they’re learning, not just when they have completed and finally, I want to say that wellness is key to productive work and we need to keep that in mind and provide opportunities to address those challenges.

Eveline Oehrlich 27:16
Excellent, fantastic. Now, I just ordered your book technologies for sustainable development, how upskilling data analysis and digital innovations foster lifelong learning. I hope it will come through the wonderful provider to me this weekend, because I’m really excited about learning about what you have in there. Now, is there. I think you have something about upskilling in there, because I read the I wouldn’t say the cliff notes, but tell our listeners, because that’s the message I would like to leave folks in terms of the importance of upskilling. Can you share a little bit about your message on importance of upskilling with us?

Sheila Jagannathan 27:58
Absolutely. The entire book is about upskilling, reskilling skilling and I start the book with a quote by Alvin Toffler, which summarizes what I’m trying to say is that the illiterate of the 21st century is not someone who cannot read or write, but it’s someone who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. So this book really is targeted because my work has to do with emerging countries. This book, and I frequently as part of my job in the bank for 25 years would get questions like even before COVID How do I move from a purely face to face brick and mortar to a Civil Service Training Institute are an Agricultural Training Institute and IT Training Institute? How do we move from digital and blended so it is for that audience. And so as as I said, it’s Skills Development Council and so on. So the book is really how to get started to navigate the choppy waters of market driven digitization, and how to incorporate what we know about some of the 21st century technology, pedagogy, the future of work need and how to transform learning how to evaluate learning how to use partnerships to build your online academy, and so on. So I have about 27 chapters, five of them written by me, but also through influential thinkers and leaders in the space. So it’s, I think, skills is going to be the currency of the future and how quickly an unlearning is also very important because that can some times blocks barriers to if somebody is working in a purely traditional automotive industry, they need to really unlearn those skills to be prepared for self driving cars and so that’s the kind of analogy that we need to look at to how to prepare all people to take advantage of the new jobs.I read I love that skills is the currency of the future that every CIO, every leader in it, who is listening here, needs to put that right on top of their desk to fund in short as happening. She likes been a absolute pleasure listening to you getting some insights, some great guidance, some great, some great things. This has been fantastic. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day. I have one little question, what’s your favorite weekend activity in DC or wherever you go on the weekend? Well, you know, now, the weather is so nice. But most importantly, we have the color change, you know, we have almost every color in the rainbow. Of course, all around us. It’s a special time of the year. So we like to, you know, do that. But also, you know, I like to read catch up on reading, working on another book that’s on AI in education. And lastly, I have this dream of writing a vegetarian cookbook. But the difference unique of this cookbook is it’s often international flavor from all the very unique and not very far up countries in the world which I have visited through work or otherwise and have made friends and so it this book would be a compilation of cooking from their homes. But it’ll have a veggie it’ll purely have vegetarian focus, which is who I am

Eveline Oehrlich 30:58
Fantastic. I’ll look for that. I still will look for it because I am a vegetarian, not all the time. I sometimes step aside, but I look for that. Fantastic. Thank you. We have been with Sheila Jaganathan and head of the Open Learning Campus at the World Bank in Washington, DC. Sheila, thank you again so much for joining me today on the Humans of DevOps. Humans of DevOps is produced by the DevOps Institute. Our audio production team includes Julia Papp and Brendan Lay. I am Human of DevOps executive producer Eveline Oehrlich. If you would like to join us on a podcast, please contact us at podcast at DevOps I’m Eveline Oehrlich. Talk to you soon.

Narrator 31:37
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Humans of DevOps Podcast. Don’t forget to join our global community to get access to even more great resources like this. Until next time, remember, you are part of something bigger than yourself. You belong.


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