An open resource for using narrative and storytelling to map the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to online, blended, and digital learning


Since 2008, the Online Learning Consortium has offered the prestigious Institute for Emerging Leadership in Online Learning (IELOL) as a way to serve the development needs of emerging leaders responsible for a variety of digital learning initiatives in higher education. Inspired by the collective need for the field of online, blended and digital learning to address ubiquitous issues of access to education more broadly, OLC gathered the first international cohort of IELOL in 2020. This new professional learning offering, IELOL Global, was focused on the transformative power of global collaborations in enacting change work in digital learning at the local and global levels. In creating the curriculum for this new offering, it was determined that the program would be structured around creating capacity for sustaining global change work through three thematic actions: 1) developing and sharing examples of impactful cross-institutional and regional collaboration models; 2) building global communities of practice around transformative and sustainable digital transformation; and 3) curating and disseminating participant-created artifacts, use cases, and other resources that contribute to a more connected world.

About the Framework

As shared by the United Nations on their framework for action, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are “the world’s shared plan to end extreme poverty, reduce inequality, and protect the planet by 2030.” The resonant metaphors across these 17 goals provide an impactful and inclusive framing for how our collective actions have the propensity to enact lasting change for the good of the world. Within this framework, both metaphorical and literal connections to our work in digital learning are present and serve as powerful inspiration for increasing access to quality education within online, blended and digital learning environments.

In developing the curriculum for IELOL Global, we wanted to create a remix of the United Nations’ framework for global impact that would allow us each to examine our ability to uniquely contribute to significant and meaningful change as locally contextually situated. The OLC Framework for Storying Digital Learning Change Work (p. 6) provides users the ability to contextualize strategic initiatives and collaborative action within both metaphorical and literal framings of each of the SDGs. Additionally, the OLC Alignment Resource for Storying Digital Learning Change Work (p. 10) offers examples of each sustainable development goal situated within a specific digital learning challenge and paired with an opportunity to advance the SDG through leadership and collaboration.

Both frameworks utilize storytelling as a powerful tool for making sense of the world around us, encouraging us to work as a connected and engaged community of practice to dispel myths, bringing us to a place of empathy and understanding, and helping us to enact generative action steps to improve access to quality education. As you leverage this framework to create an action plan for global change within your specific digital learning context, you will be asked to create your own interpretations of one (or several) of the SDGs that speak to real challenges and opportunities that exist within your community. Using narrative elements and human-centered design, the OLC Framework for Storying Digital Learning Change Work will reveal new connections and extensions to increasing the impact and scale of your efforts. Additionally, you will be encouraged to share your ideas, reflections, and findings with both your local and global communities, all in the hopes of increasing our collective power to address ubiquitous challenges through open praxis and collaboration. Ultimately, your stories will not only illuminate new pathways to creating meaningful change but will also serve as inspiration for future leaders looking to learn from your findings and experience.

Both the OLC Framework for Storying Digital Learning Change Work and the OLC Alignment Resource for Storying Digital Learning Change Work are openly licensed for educators to use and repurpose with attribution. You can reference the end of this document for information on how to cite your usage of this work. Those looking to engage deeply with the frameworks through featured talks, discussions, and collaborative activities can take part in one of the cohorts of IELOL Global. The core program is offered fully-online to ensure inclusive participation internationally, with scholarships available for those requiring financial assistance in order to participate. The online core program is complemented by regional colloquies held on location in conjunction with lead partners located around the globe. To learn more about the IELOL Global program, we encourage you to visit the OLC IELOL Global website.