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Finding a global learning solution

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As the Director of Impact Partnerships at Unleesh, I spend a lot of my time talking to organizations that can use our mobile learning tool to increase their program’s impact and reach.

Not too long ago, I was on the other side of the equation- searching for a way to bring my curriculum into the mobile-first era.

I spent 2 years working as the Director of Education for Global Brigades, the world’s largest service learning organization. Global Brigades sends around 10,000 students a year to engage in meaningful service learning programs, shadowing local community development practitioners in Central America and West Africa.

The goal of creating a curriculum and finding a technology to support it was meant to find ways to better engage this huge diverse group of students in order to increase their impact as volunteers.

The Global Brigades curriculum was comprised of two things:

1. Pre-Departure Curriculum - Students needed to be prepared for their time in country. The Pre-Brigade Curriculum was designed to cover:

a. Logistics (coordinating flights, securing visas, getting vaccines etc.)

b. Setting expectations (what their service will look like, who will they be working with and what will their time in country be made up of)

c. Building a foundation of understanding (learning about the history of the country they are visiting, what it means to do holistic development projects and what meaningful cross cultural collaboration looks like)

2. On-Brigade Curriculum - Once abroad, students and volunteers needed ways to prepare for their next day of service and to reflect on the work they had done each night. The On-Brigade Curriculum supported students volunteer experience while in-country in several ways:

a. Helping to set an easy to follow plan for doing work in the field (setting expectations and preparing students for challenging situations)

b. Encouraging reflection by supplying students with questions and activities that helped them discuss challenging topics with local staff

c. Providing a template for capturing their experiences via written word, pictures, audio and video to tell the story of their service.

To find a technology that could support a curriculum that journeyed from university classrooms all over the world to the jungles of Panama was an undertaking.

I had spent about a year traveling around the world, talking to students and having deep conversations with our in-country teams to develop a curriculum that spanned 10 different programs and almost 40 unique lesson plans.

Now that I had this massive catalog of videos, PDF’s, facilitation activities and instructions I actually needed to find a way to make people use it!

We knew we needed technology that was both robust in it’s ability to deal with complex information, but also agile enough for anyone to pick it up and use it to add value and capture their experiences in the field.

In the words of Bill Gates “The advance of technology is based on making it fit in so that you don't really even notice it, so it's part of everyday life.”

We wanted a technology that would easily integrate with students busy lives, something that could be used on the go- we knew we needed to look to mobile.

Lucky for me Global Brigades had built quite a network over its 11+ years of service in rural areas and we were connected to amazing innovators in our field of global learning. Through our Executive Director I was connected to a great service learning organization called ThinkImpact who had developed a new mobile learning tool for volunteers called Unleesh.

Since then Unleesh has gone on to support all kinds of learning environments from corporate training programs to health and wellness groups to not-for-profits helping build their beneficiaries capacity. But in the beginning Unleesh was created to harness the power of mobile technology to help students discover the world.

I looked at a huge amount of learning management systems, mobile apps dedicated to education and software for decentralized networks of students.

In the end I chose Unleesh because it provided a suite of tools designed specifically for the place most students spent their time- on their mobile devices.

Unleesh not only creates an engaging environment where students can learn on their own time, but also a powerful tool that turns the mobile phone into a tool to capture the many experiences that happen while learning in the classroom, in the community and while abroad.

After we adopted Unleesh as the tool our students would use to engage with our curriculum, I was presented with an interesting opportunity. My 2-year assignment at Global Brigades had come to an end, in-country teams were adopting the curriculum and I was ready to move on.

Unleesh had just launched an impact initiative to find ways to get their mobile learning tools into the hands of organizations like not-for-profits, universities, foundations and social enterprises to help them grow their impact. Because of my experiences building positive-impact platforms and the work I had done at Global Brigades, I was offered to join the team.

Now I spend my days working with people who were in my shoes, educators and entrepreneurs trying to take their amazing curriculum and learning objectives and adapt them for the mobile age.

It feels wonderful to be in the position of selling something to people that you believe in so much you bought it yourself. It is also fun to be on a team of entrepreneurs, educators and software engineers creating solutions for teams to engage in collaborative learning.

If you are interested in using Unleesh to better engage your community of learners (wherever they are located) please send me e-mail at

Cole Hoover

Director of Impact Partnerships

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