Technology

From Polarization to Open Learning: How Technology Can Help Us Beyond COVID-19

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COVID-19 was something many of us watched from afar and then came into our lives like a tidal wave. Suddenly our world was flipped upside down and we were faced with decisions and actions we never anticipated needing to take. This shift has required us to look beyond our borders and be open to learning from others outside our familiar social networks for guidance on how they are dealing with this novel virus.

The impact and spread of this global pandemic has been wide and deep affecting literally every industry on the planet. From overrun hospitals, to the crash of the financial markets, from vacant restaurants and hotel rooms, to empty arenas unable to host professional sporting matches or cultural events — the reach of this global pandemic and its adverse effects economically and on society as a whole is unprecedented.

It’s clear that in this time of uncertainty brings with it very real questions on how best to move forward. As many of us stay home and practice social distancing — there is still wide speculation around what the future will bring and how we can be more intentional in shaping it.

The threat of disinformation is real. In fact, on February 15th, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus when addressing delegates at the Munich Security conference expressed the sentiment that Fake news about COVID-19 was as dangerous as the virus itself. He stated:

“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous.” And if we don’t tackle this, he went on, “we are headed down a dark path that leads nowhere but division and disharmony”.

As we continue to live in a polarized world where people get much of their information through  their social media echo chambers; paradoxically the shared existential threat of Covid19 creates an opportunity to reverse this polarity and come together as one global community. In fact, the world may depend on it.

Solving the COVID-19 crisis requires a level of global coordination from leaders around the world to learn from one another in real time. Viruses do not respect borders. In order to contain COVID-19, we must come together to identify the best ideas, innovations, and solutions to eradicate this pandemic locally — and globally.

Scientists around the globe are racing to develop treatments to combat the COVID-19 disease. This collaborative effort is only possible through open science and drug companies iterating on the results of each other’s tests to reach a vaccine as quickly as possible. This open learning approach extends far beyond the medical world. School teachers are sharing lesson plans with other teachers on how best to connect with their students virtually, parents are sharing tips with on managing anxiety at home with kids as daycares close, and businesses are sharing valuable ways to engage their teams remotely to keep company culture alive. This open learning approach, where a diverse range of perspectives are shared helps to build empathy for one another and help to catalyze new insights that could lead to the innovations around our the challenges our communities are facing.

Given the need for our global community to come together in new ways, another key question becomes how best to facilitate this? One approach which seems to be gaining early traction are virtual summits. Once thought of by many as a niche for the online training industry, in a time of social distancing —  virtual summits offer a platform that is both safe and which fosters a sense of community that people so desperately crave.

The virtual summit itself is a model for a new kind of collaboration. It allows stakeholders from around the world to discover the latest information, share successes, debate tough choices and imagine a future that is more resilient, more connected, kinder and healthier than ever before.

One group doing just this is Boma – a global network of country partners led by Lara Stein (Founder of the TEDx movement) who in just a few days were able to mobilize and organize a free, 100% online global summit on COVID-19, taking place this coming Monday March 23. The event features over 60 speakers across 20 countries — sharing their collective wisdom with one another for the world to take in. Notable speakers include the epidemiologist responsible for helping to eradicate smallpox, Larry Brilliant, globally renowned physician Daniel Kraft, and one of the leaders in the fight against disinformation online, Chief of Staff at Wikimedia Foundation, Ryan Merkley. The #BomaCovid19 summit embodies Boma’s mission to take action on the most pressing challenges of our time by hosting global conversations intended to empower and inspire action.

Humans are naturally social animals that thrive by staying connected. Not simply online — but to one another. During this time of global crisis, there is an unprecedented opportunity to embrace the technologies that have polarized us in the past by creating ways to embrace and learn from the ideas of others outside our usual networks in order to grow as one global community.

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