Despite the very cold weather in Berlin, on 1-3 December 2010 over 2000 learning and training professionals from 108 countries convened to discuss the latest trends and developments in ICT-supported learning. This group discussed projects in the corporate, academic and public service sectors at the now famous ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN , which has met annually in Berlin during November/December for the last 16 years.
Plenary Session - Education + Technology = Hope
Under the theme of ‘Learning for All in a Digital Age’, plenary speakers delivered thought-provoking talks on a range of topics from high-impact corporate learning to innovative strategies and new technologies for a sustainable knowledge society. Keynote speakers included Talal Abu-Ghazaleh (Chairman of the UN Global Alliance for ICT and Development), who introduced the notion of a MDG eNabler  -- a web-based equivalent of GPS to be launched in 2011 -- to provide guidance on ICT as an enabler for achieving the MDGs. In his stirring speech Talal Abu-Ghazaleh urged people to use “new eyes to see new scenes, instead of using our existing eyes to look for different scenes”. Another interesting keynote speaker was Charles Leadbeater, a British innovation strategist whose Cisco-funded learning journey and recent work “Learning from the Extremes  [link to PDF],” highlights that new approaches to learning in slums, favelas and other deprived conditions, provides insights into how the developing world should reform its educational systems. He drove home the point about “disruptive innovation” and “radical transformation” as necessary tools to bring learning at mass scale. Examples include the kind of work being pioneered by social entrepreneurs such as Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall (profiled earlier on the EduTech blog ), Barefoot College in India, the Sistema in Venezeula, and the Center for Digital Inclusion in Brazil. Josh Bersin, the head of Bersin & Associates, reinforced the notion that high impact learning today is no longer determined by the availability of content. Rather it is defined by the “learning culture ” of the organization and facilitated by the way senior management support continuous learning. Their research based on a survey of successful companies (such as IBM, Accenture, Intel, CISCO) focus on six management practices. These include empowerment, trust, reflection, formal learning paths, knowledge sharing and demonstrating the value of learning. In today’s business climate he stressed, such a learning culture is critical for survival. Finally, Larry Johnson, head of The New Media Consortium, a firm that tracks the evolution of emerging technologies -- highlighted seven underlying patterns or “megatrends ” that will affect learning, work and place. These include intuitive interfaces, , computing in three dimensions, collective intelligence, games as a pedagogical tools, users as producers of content, the ever present Network, and the convergence of cellular networks and the Internet.
Noteworthy parallel sessions included:
Speed Learning for Financial Market Professionals. Today’s learners do not wait for the learning to come to them. They proactively seek out knowledge for themselves. So training needs to adjust. Joe Pokropski, Managing Director at Thomson Reuters, -- a leading source of intelligent information for businesses and professionals -- discussed a major change program that they have initiated for their training department. It is called the Knowledge Network  which uses three components to deliver speed learning: Knowledge Live, Knowledge On-Demand and the Knowledge Academy.
Transforming skill-sets for L&D professionals. As learning becomes more embedded, and as technology makes learning happen more socially and informally, learning specialists need to re-skill. Otherwise they will become irrelevant! In a world where we need to learn, unlearn, and relearn as fast as ever, three critical skills emerged: curiosity and innovation, a blend of training and business skills and flexibility and risk taking. The biggest contribution that learning specialists can bring to the table will be to understand a problem and put together a solution that will have an impact on business results.
Battle of the Bloggers. This proved to a popular and vibrant session where e-learning leaders and participants engaged in heated discussions on current trends and controversies. The theme this year was called “The Graveyard of Learning” and panelists Tom Wambeke , John Traxler  and Hans de Zwart  debated and shared their reflections, opinions and arguments on current e-learning trends, tools and systems, declaring them dead, alive or zombie. For example, over-used methodologies such as ADDIE and Learning Styles were both declared dead by popular vote. The audience participated in the discussion, both live and commenting through a backchannel using a new tool called Shakespeak  launched by a young Dutch start-up .
Other interesting sessions included “future of learning is increasingly free”, “augmented realities and game based learning”. Of course, in conferences like this, much more is learned in “unconference” mode along the hallway and in cafes as you meet distance learning colleagues you have only been in touch via Skype, Twitter or Facebook.
The event web site  provides an overview of all sessions and will be updated with presentations, videos and podcasts. Also, check out #OEB10  on Twitter for backchannel conversation from the event.
Note: The image used at the top of this blog post ("listening in on what happened in Berlin"), a photgraphic reproduction of a 1911 work by German Impressionist painter Lesser Ury, Mädchen im Romanischen Café, is in the public domain and comes via Wikimedia Commons .
This is the first post on the EduTech blog from Sheila Jagannathan, a Senior Learning Specialist at the World Bank Institute.