Using Technology to Close the Global Education Gap

Hobbies are funny things. Some people do jigsaw puzzles or collect stamps; I like to build things that solve problems. I’m a tinkerer of sorts: one part developer, one part designer and a pinch “mad scientist.”

One problem I have seen in my lifetime is the inequity of a good education – not only in the United States but also around the world. Living in Chicago, for example, the quality of public schools are varied and, on the average, nowhere near the standards one finds in the suburbs. Budgets are thin, teaching resources are scarce, and few schools have the means to buy or build innovative teaching tools that helps teachers teach and students learn.

The picture around the world is even grimmer. As bad as schools may be domestically, developing nations’ education systems struggle with curriculum, access to content and a means to deliver their courses.  While education is a problem, some struggle with more basic needs like access to clean water, food and safety. Non-governmental organizations and charities provide aid and help to address Maslow’s basic needs but after everyone is fed, clothed and sheltered there still remains the problem of access to quality education; the basic building block of success.

Education has played a big part of my life, shaping the person I am today. I have been fortunate, and quite frankly, lucky to receive a quality education. My education guided my career and my purpose: to help companies solve problems through the power of technology.  As I stepped back and thought about the problem of global education inequity, I saw an opportunity to use what I have learned to help give back. Why can’t we use technology to help solve a real problem: close the education gap between those who have access to quality education and those who do not?

As a university student I used learning management systems (or “LMS”) to access content and courses without having to actually attend in class; a very helpful tool for one particular freshman who happened to miss the occasional 8:00 AM lecture. 🙂 Professors used these platforms to extend the classroom beyond the physical world into a virtual learning experience. As a college professor today I use a variety of LMSes provided by the university. A few years back, I developed a learning management system called ClassActive that enables me to create content-rich, immersive, and collaborative learning experiences for my students. There are a variety of LMS platforms on the market, packed have amazing features that allow students to learn on their terms and free teachers from the physical limitations of the classroom. The problem with these LMSes is they are expensive and difficult for schools to maintain, which makes them virtually inaccessible to the very people who need them the most.

So I asked myself:

What if there was a free learning management platform, purpose-built for schools and organizations who cannot afford a robust commercial learning management system?  And what if this system allowed teachers across the globe to share content and collaborate on curriculum for the benefit of their students?

These were the questions that inspired the vision for Learnified.org – a free learning management system for those who need it most.

LearnifiedIt’s a simple concept really.  In fact, I replicated the technology and platform I built for ClassActive and made it freely available using the power of open-source software (Moodle) and the cloud. Learnified is designed for non-profits, schools in need, and extra-curricular programs. The mission is simple: close the education gap by making learning available everywhere. With Learnified, teachers can build classes for their students who can then access the courses on their computers or mobile devices. Teachers can also collaborate with one another to share curriculum, resources and teaching methods. No need to reinvent the wheel; just leverage the Learnified community.

Learnified is passion project, a hobby, and something that Kat and I have enjoyed building in what little spare time we have as a way of giving back. I have no idea if it will grow or what the future holds for Learnified, but I do know there is a real education disparity problem to be solved and I am happy to do my part in piecing together this complex jigsaw puzzle of closing the global education gap.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Learnified. Leave a comment below and let me know what you think!

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