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When Will Global Learning Cease to Exist?
Half century ago, the concept of global learning did not exist in American higher education. Little attention was given to what we now understand as internalization and globalization. University and college faculty in the United States regarded scholarship that originated here as being more advanced and rigorous. The academy referred to anything relating to other countries as “foreign,” including “foreign students.” Study abroad was to be done in the major, and that experience was the only pathway for American students to become “globally educated.”
Now, the definition of global learning has evolved. “Study away,” which stresses experiential learning and can be located domestically as well as internationally, is considered an effective pedagogical strategy to educate students to be global citizens. Intercultural competence as a developmental concept centers on accepting and communicating with others from different cultures. These recent definitions are more holistic and inclusive, stressing encounters with difference that promote equity and complexity. I have advocated for a holistic developmental approach to learning and development that includes the head, heart, and hands, which I call “global perspective.”
But how is global learning relevant for the future of this world? Neal Sobania (2015) argues that global learning is simply good learning (after all, we don’t talk about “American learning”). Good learning for the future of our global society is lifelong, with no one country, nation, or culture having all the answers. Learning is enhanced if the learner is engaged in encounters with differences among ideas and people in an environment that is challenging and supportive and fosters a sense of belonging.
I have wrestled with employing a global perspective in my volunteer work at Opportunity International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to alleviating global poverty by helping reduce, by 2030, the extreme poverty rate of 767 million people that the World Bank calculates now live on US $1.90 per day. I appreciate more than ever that learning needs to be aligned with the global issues and problems that need to be solved—including poverty, human rights, water purity, safety, social justice, climate control, and economic and environmental sustainability.
An education for solving global issues has several implications. First, technology has impacted how we learn and how we can solve global problems. For example, illiterate workers can be trained to use cell phones to carry out financial transactions, thus eliminating the necessity to travel by foot to banks located miles away.
Second, we need to further develop a mindset that global education is both a public and private good, i.e., to move away from fostering individual upward mobility toward promoting global equity, environmental sustainability, and global development. Tackling issues like global poverty and quality of education with a sense of urgency is our calling.
Third, pedagogical strategies that educate students to become learners with a global perspective are still in their formative stages. Many universities that began as land-grant universities are now world-grant universities. The cost and feasibility of educating all students as global learners remains a challenge. Providing encounters of difference only for the privileged students is not sufficient. Promising strategies toward providing global learning experiences for all students include encouraging participation in domestic study away programs and embracing and leveraging the diversity of enrolled students.
Global learning is good learning and good learning is global learning, and a convergence of the two is now appropriate and useful. I welcome the day when good learning is our mindset.
Sobania, Neal. 2015. “Introduction: The Local-Global Nexus.” In Putting the Local in Global Education: Models for Transformative Learning through Domestic Off-Campus Programs, edited by Neal W. Sobania, 1–13. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
Larry Braskamp, President, Global Perspective Institute