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Mutually assured destruction, boiling frogs and the time-travelling elevator...

Learning Technologies 2010 was a great conference, full of interesting technologies. But what most caught my eye was the elevator (or lift, for UK readers) that appeared to transport us all, not just between the conference level and the two exhibition floors, but between early 2010 and the year 2000. One minute I’d be upstairs listening to inspirational thinkers like David Puttnam, Mark Oelert, Robin Teigland or, God bless him (really...he’s a national treasure that man...) Stephen Heppell, the next I’d be downstairs being lectured at by salesmen about assessment engines, learning content management and easy-to-use authoring tools. It all took me back (to last year’s show, and the one before, and the one before that...and the one before that). Maybe it wasn’t time travel at all – maybe it was the e-learning equivalent of Groundhog day.



"Yes Patrick. We are selling pretty much the same as a few years ago. But that's all people want to buy, just a bit quicker and much cheaper."

E-learning content provider. Learning Technologies 2010. [Identity concealed for obvious reasons...]


Personally, I quite like the current day. I’m inspired more by 2010 themes and messages; by those who talk about saving the world (no less!) through tearing up the roots of education and learning (see the film “We are the people we’ve been waiting for”); by people like Stephen Heppell whose view is that what we should really be cultivating in people (all people, not just young ones) are 21st Century skills, not industrial, 19th Century ones; by experimenters like Teigland, whose students convene to progress their courses in virtual meeting places. I’m inspired more by these people than the salesmen from the year 2000, who wanted to grab me and repeat the “Martini promise” at me yet again (“learning any time anywhere, anyhow, with the help of XYZLearn, the LCMS that really sets the synapses singing”).

Jane Hart and Mark Berthelemy have already done excellent postings broadly on this theme. Their focus was mainly on the lack of interest in social learning downstairs at the exhibition (back in 2000, when we thought that the internet was a new medium for broadcasting) and outdated learning management models. My perspective is wider. I think that many – the great majority – of providers of learning content and services are colluding in a kind of mutually assured destruction (MAD) policy with their clients. For those of you who don’t remember, MAD was the strategy that kept the USSR and the USA from blowing each other up for a few decades, on the basis that neither would be stupid enough to use the systems they’d spent so long building up. In the case of learning technology it’s a case of both suppliers and buyers maintaining the pretence that they’re using networked digital technologies to help people learn; a pretence they’re happy to keep up just as long as nobody moves. But around them, things are moving. To use yet another metaphor, the water is beginning to boil around the frog, and of course the frog isn’t noticing; and maybe it won’t until it’s dead.

This is all about more than just social learning. It’s about the level of engagement people (all people, not just young ones) demand from online experiences – dammit all experiences; it’s about authenticity and honesty in communication; it’s about meeting real needs; it’s about all sorts of things that those who still live in the recently converted-from-the-classroom world of e-learning c2000 just can’t imagine. And as David Puttnam put it, “we have no future that isn’t imaginative”.

What’s going to happen if the folks from 2000 keep on peddling their wares as they are, and client organisations keep nodding (somewhat tensely) in approval? Stephen Heppell expressed it well in a kind of formula: people + technology = change. Equipped with all sorts of expressive tools and technologies, normal everyday people are going to construct and share their own learning whether their employers like it or not. They’ll just change things, messily, insecurely, haphazardly. If organisations don’t accommodate this in their cultures, structures and processes, people won’t learn what the organisations need them to. Organisations will be bypassed, first in terms of learning, then in terms of expertise, then commercially.


Reader Comments (2)

Hi Patrick,

Great post. Especially that last paragraph. It's already happening. The connections people have with other people outside the organisation are often stronger than with those *inside*.
February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMark Berthelemy
Allison Rossett has just published results of a survey of about 1000 people -- looking at what's really going on in eLearning today. She says there's the conference buzz (web 2.0, virtual worlds) and then there's what people are actually doing...a bit of a disconnect.


Are the folks on the 2000 floor continuing to peddle their wares because that's what people are still doing, or are they actually keeping people down there?

Organizations seem to want to make the leap, but there's often a lot of internal resistance. Who can lead the charge to help them get there? Some visionary vendors can help, but much of that change will need to come from within...
February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCammy Bean

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