Digital platforms are not only sources of knowledge, they can also help construct sustainable development trajectories through learning, in keeping with the terms of the Paris Agreement.

Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP
Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP

The coronavirus crisis has awakened or heightened awareness of the new, unpredictable and volatile world in which we live. In the search for sanitary, economic and social solutions–among other challenges–a common principle has undermined our previous assumptions: together, but at a safe distance from others, we must relearn the way we learn, in all areas. This individual and collective struggle adds a unique new dimension to the International Day for Universal Access to Information, on September 28.


The health crisis has emphasized the key role of digital platforms.

While nature abhors a vacuum, humans abhor the unknown. Faced with the coronavirus, we are striving to understand an unprecedented situation by constantly seeking information, often taking on the role of researcher and explorer. With a thirst for the knowledge we need to adapt to a situation with an unpredictable outcome, we fumble our way towards new ways of living. Beyond a set of individual habits, this reflex paves the way for a vast process of learning in common, which has emphasized the key role of digital platforms.



These platforms allow this vast exploratory approach to reach beyond the limits of our sectoral, scientific, thematic and social frameworks. The spontaneously collaborative heuristic path we are each taking covers all the areas of life. We are simultaneously relearning how to protect our health from a contagious virus, entertain ourselves in a context of physical distancing, be productive in absolute safety, and question our oldest social practices.


Digital platforms, demanding diffusers of knowledge and information

In these exceptional circumstances, platforms promote dissemination of learning by building knowledge and sharing information that does not come from a hierarchy or monopoly. Who would have thought, as was the case in Africa, for example, that artists would use words and songs to help disseminate methods for preventing the spread of COVID-19? Who would have thought that the collective intelligence of “makers” could produce the essential equipment needed to resuscitate patients and protect health care providers more quickly and inexpensively? Who would have thought it possible to use the internet to showcase the content recommended by WHO to combat the infodemic which has come with the pandemic?

Many platforms, created by institutions recognized for their expertise, have also been references for quality. This is a requirement which must accompany the sharing of knowledge. It is the indispensable condition for making the most of the availability of knowledge while selecting the best developed content and most thorough experts, while warding off the disinformation that spreads so quickly on social networks.


Digital platforms serving Sustainable Development Goals

Digital platforms can also help each of us become fully aware of the limits of our development models, which endanger the planet and its inhabitants, and in which principles of solidarity and sustainability take a back seat.

With ten years remaining before the 2030 target for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set by the international community in 2015 (the year of the Paris Agreement) as a universal framework for a just transition, our insights from the coronavirus crisis can help guide or reflect on the essential role of what we are learning and the way we are learning.

In the light of the major development challenges of the 21st century that mark a new era, especially in terms of climate and social issues, learning must be rebalanced to favor what Aristotle called phronesis: the ethics of action.


Promoting innovative approaches for learning in common

To do so, we must build on this digital momentum to build development trajectories that first question the impact of what we are doing on ourselves, others and our environment. This demands that we continue to review our practices as we began to do during lockdown: we need to work together to think in a more just manner. We need to research together, in openness to the non-academic world, and learn in a new way, through dialogue and by questioning knowledge.

To move in this direction, we must promote innovative means as a meeting ground for research and transmission that serves the SDG. This is the meaning behind the commitment shared by the Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity (CRI) and Agence Française de Développement Group (AFD), which promotes collective intelligence that must be mobilized on all levels, in classrooms, companies and digital portals. This is the purpose of the Edflex AFD platform, home to over 400 resources for development stakeholders and the general public, as well as #learningplanet initiatives and, which are mobilizing collective intelligence.

The coronavirus has impacted our bodies and minds, reminding us that we live in a world in common and must take action together to create a planet of learners in order to prepare for the major changes that are already underway.



The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.

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