October 20, 2017

OEB Conference, Berlin, 2016


What: OEB: Shaping the Future of Learning: The global, cross-sector conference on technology supported learning and training (formerly Online Educa). OEB is organised by ICWE GmbH, an international events and communications company.

Where: Hotel InterContinental, Budapester Strasse 2, 10787 Berlin, Germany
When: November 30-December 2, 2016
How: Registration is now open. To register, click here
  • Jane Bozarth, North Carolina, USA
  • Marcia Conner, Consultant, USA
  • Stephen Downes, NRC, Canada
  • Nina Huntemann, edX, USA
  • Andrew Keen, author, USA
  • Diana Knodel, appCamps, Germany
  • Jeff Kortenbosch, AkzoNobel, Netherlands
  • Diana Laurillard, London Knowledge Lab, UK
  • Nadia Magnenat Thalmann, NTU, Singapore
  • Roger Schrank, Socratic Arts, USA
  • Andreas Schleicher, OECD
  • Toby Shapshak, Stuff Magazine, South Africa
  • Eric Sheninger, International Center for Educational Leadership, USA
  • Clive Shepherd, The More than Blended learning Company, UK
  • Jeff Staes, EOI Academy, Belgium
  • Mark Surman, Mozilla Foundation, USA
  • Monika Weber-Fahr, SE4All, Austria

Conference themes: 

Main theme: Owning learning: Tomorrow’s learning is about ownership. We will own our learning. We will control what, where, when and how we learn. We will access, link, combine, interpret and interact with knowledge. We will be empowered as never before. We will make learning work for us.

  • learning and ownership
  • learning without limits
  • learning and investment
  • learning and design
  • learning and connecting
  • learning and the future
  • new learning and new work
  • learning the new literacy


There are 15 pre-conference workshops

The OEB plenary debate

Motion: This House believes artificial intelligence (AI) could, should and will replace teachers


Position your brand as a market leader to the OEB community of learning, training, technology and L&D professionals.

Official conference news platform: OEB News


OEB is almost the exact opposite of the EDEN Research Workshop, and no better or worse for that. OEB’s strength is that it covers formal education, corporate training and the business of educational technology. It is a huge conference, extremely wide-ranging in topics, audiences, and quality of presentations, from the very best to the truly awful. You will come across a lot of blowhards forecasting the doom of formal education, and a lot of thoughtful contributions about the future of online learning and education. It will have over 2,000 participants, so finding your way round the program can be a problem. However, as a result you might end up attending something you would never have deliberately chosen, yet find it is one of the most interesting sessions. You will also meet people you would otherwise never meet, and may learn something really interesting from them. Let serendipity rule (if you can afford it – the conference fee alone is about US$1,000. Rooms at the Intercontinental start at around US$150 a night).

Online Educa conference, Berlin, 2013

Kurfürstendamm Berlin at Christmas


The 19th International Conference on Technology Supported Learning and Training: Learning Moves.

Learning is changing. Learning is also changing us. The world seems ever more complex, presenting education with new challenges. New technology can seem complicated too but it offers unparalleled opportunities, changing learning and enabling us to inspire others to learn. How is the world of learning changing? How does technology help us to change the world? With a particular emphasis on how Learning Moves, ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN 2013 will focus on change and the role of technology in promoting creativity and innovation.


Hotel Intercontinental, Berlin


December 4-6, 2013


Go to the conference web site at: http://www.online-educa.com/

Posts from a foreign land: Online Educa 2011, No. 3: Public Education ( #oeb11 )


This is the last of three posts on the Online Educa Berlin 2011 conference and here I focus on the three education sessions I attended. (The other two posts were on the main plenary session and on corporate training). I also provide a brief wrap-up of the conference, from my perspective.

Evolving a Learning Culture

The opening of the second day of the conference offered two options: a ‘half plenary’ on ‘Evolving a Learning Culture’ and a ‘half plenary’ on Developing a Performance Culture (the latter was part of the Business strand). Although my main focus for the conference was on corporate learning, I have a strong personal interest in the interplay between university cultures and the implementation of learning technologies, so I opted for the Education strand. It was a mistake.

Ruth Martinez, ELEARNING 3D, Spain

The session was opened by a Ph.D. candidate, who began with the statement, “I don’t know why I’m here.” Since this is a question that has plagued philosophers since humans could speak, I looked forward to her answer. I think the reason for her being there was because she was a young female student, who would speak about the human factor in online learning, which she did, quite well.

Douglas Thomas, Annenberg School of Communication, University of Southern California, USA

The reason Douglas Thomas was here was obvious. He is the co-author with John Seeley Brown of the book, A New Culture of Learning. I must admit I learned more about what he had to say by reading the blurb of his book than by listening to his presentation, so rather than waste my time trying to summarise his talk, I suggest you click on the link to the blurb for the book.

Huw Morris, University of Salford, UK

This was an account of the University of Salford’s embrace of new learning technologies, which again was at such a general level it became more of a PR job for the university than an analysis of new learning cultures.

Alastair Cameron, its Learning, Norway/UK

This was for me the most interesting and articulate of the presentations. It focused on the vexing issue of the practical difficulties of assessment for personalized learning. The numbers are the problem: a single teacher needing to assess the learning of up to to 170 students a day in a high school if assessment is to provide support for learning at an individual level. In the end though it became an argument for computer-assisted assessment to cut down the paper work. That will help, but doesn’t deal with the question of how best to assess students in a personalized learning environment.

Videos of the keynotes can be downloaded from here.


This was another plenary session that suffered from too many speakers with too little time. You have to be really focused on a maximum of three main points in 15 minutes. The result was superficial treatment of a subject that is easy to support at an abstract level, but much more difficult to implement in practical terms.

Although I support the general idea that we need to change the culture of education, that we need to focus on learner-centered teaching and learning rather than didactic information transfer,  this new culture needs to be grounded in the reality of mass (higher) education. How to provide learner guidance and support, how to find better ways of validating and assessing learning, and how to facilitate quality learning outcomes, in this new culture? These difficult issues were not really addressed in this session.

Free Research, Useful Research in Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL)

I couldn’t resist this parallel session, which was to be a discussion of ‘current and future policy priorities and needs in the field, as well as relevant and innovative issues emerging from TEL research.’ The session in fact was organized by STELLAR NoE, a European Commission project which ‘aims to set a mid-term agenda for research in TEL ….policy and decision-making, so as to make TEL research relevant to the policy agenda..

First, kudos to the EC for funding such a project. There is a great lack of research at the national and institutional policy level in online learning, and this project aims to set a European-wide agenda for research in this area, to collect the research, and to make it useful for policy and decision-making.


The study has abstracted from the European Commission’s E&T2020 strategy the following seven policy challenges:

  • drop-out and early school leaving
  • participation in lifelong learning
  • key competences in school education
  • teacher motivation
  • ubiquitous access to quality learning opportunities
  • upscaling innovation
  • valuing informal learning.


STELLAR NoE has identified five areas of ‘tension’ that are going to emerge in the years to come and which will affect the TEL research agenda:

  • ubiquitous learning vs focused and critical processing of information
  • the digital divide (despite technology spread)
  • data tracking for personalized learning vs data privacy
  • approved practices vs continuous innovation
  • individual learning paths vs standardized learning paths

Integrating policy and research

The challenge for this project is to bring the areas of policy and research together and build a mechanism to ensure that one is informed by the other. I was therefore very impressed by the intervention of Jouni Kangasniemi of the Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland, who described how Finland does this. They have a joint research and policy council within the Ministry, and a fund to support innovation in teaching and learning. There are council forums twice a year and a national conference on e-learning sponsored by the Ministry. The aim is to integrate research and policy.

TELeurope is the social media hub for technology-enhanced learning research and practice and the community platform of STELLAR NoE. It invites participation from anyone with interests in these areas.

While one can argue about whether the policy and research issues identified are the right ones, and whether the European Commission is the right organization to determine educational policy issues when education is a national responsibility, I was delighted to see work being done in this critical area. I will be following this project closely.

New demands of 21st Century Universities

This was another research session. The session focused on student use of technology in universities in Norway, Germany and Spain.

The presenters were:

  • Hilde Ørnes, Norgesunivesitetet
  • Ingo Rollwagen, Technical University, Berlin
  • Iolanda Garcia Gonzalez, Open University of Catalonia

First the surveys in each country were quite extensive, for instance involving 2,246 students across all universities in Norway, and just over 1,000 students in five universities in Catalonia, Spain. In both cases, preliminary research findings were being presented, with full reports still to be published

Both studies found widespread use of technology for study by students, with a measurable increase in Norway between 2008 and 2010. In Norway, 95% of students surveyed used an LMS, and 57% social networks for study purposes. However, only 9% used discussion forums. Two surprising results from the Norwegian study:

  • administrators did not consider cost savings to be an important goal of learning technologies
  • academics believed that training in the use of technology should be mandatory.

The Spanish study was interesting because it focused on students’ informal use of technology for study. This study’s results are still preliminary but also indicate high utilization by students and some commonality between academics and students in their use of technology for informal learning. I look forward to seeing the final paper.

Final comments

Overall it was an excellent conference. The sessions on corporate learning and training in particular were valuable for me. It was interesting to see the shift away from using technologies to develop competencies to focusing on developing a flexible and innovative workforce, from measuring learning to measuring the impact on corporate performance. The corporate sector seems also to be further ahead than the public sector in incorporating and embracing informal learning.

The conference organizers managed to pack a hell of a lot into two days. Most of the parallel sessions I attended were very informative, with good presenters. The exhibition area was impressive, with many interesting products and services on offer. The networking opportunities were excellent, although I realised afterwards that I missed meeting several good friends because of the intensity and size of the conference. I also missed many good sessions because I couldn’t be in more than one place at the same time.

My only criticism is that the plenary sessions I attended were very disappointing. With a conference that size and with the kind of conference fee being charged, it should be possible to get better keynotes and to have fewer speakers to allow those that do speak to develop an evidence-based argument. Sometimes less is more.

Posts from a foreign land: Online Educa 2011, No. 2: Corporate Learning ( #oeb11 )


I realise that there’s only one thing more ‘dead’ than yesterday’s newspaper and that’s yesterday’s conference, so I apologise for the gap of two days between the end of the Online Educa Berlin conference and this report, but it’s a long way from Berlin to Vancouver, and like many other things in life, jet lag and travel fatigue get worse as you get older. Anyway, enough excuses. (For my first post on the conference, see Posts from a foreign land: Online Educa 2011, No.2)

There was a whole strand of sessions at the conference focused on online learning in the business sector. One of my main goals was to see what the public post-secondary education sector can learn from the use of  online learning in the corporate training sector. I managed to get to four of the 14 sessions in Business Educa (including the two plenaries for the Business strand), but I also wanted to attend some other sessions that were highly relevant from outside the Business Educa strand, so I had to make some compromises. Here’s what I picked up from the Business sessions. I will focus here on straight reporting, and I won’t report on every speaker, just those that were of specific interest to me (hey, it’s my blog). Nevertheless apologies to those that I have omitted.

Plenary session: Preparing for the Future

The topic of the session was: “What will learning and development look like in the future and how do we prepare for success in these new worlds?” Good questions, and so relevant to the public sector as well.

Laura Overton, Towards Maturity, UK.

Laura Overton reported on a benchmarking study of issues in corporate learning from leading companies across Europe. Here are the main points that I took from this presentation:

  • the use of learning technologies for corporate training and learning is broadening, both in the extent to which they are used, and in the range of tools being used
  • the focus is more on staff sharing knowledge and reaching out beyond departmental boundaries
  • part of this is a focus on identifying and disseminating new ways of doing things to respond to rapid change in the business environment
  • improving efficiency – but this was NOT the main priority (a significant change from several years ago)

In particular, European businesses face the following challenges:

  • uncertainty in the environment (this applies to the non-profit as well as profit sector) and the need to innovate
  • can the workforce change fast enough for companies to survive?

In other words, the focus is on learning to better prepare the organization for change.

Norman Kamikow, MediaTech Publishing, USA

MediaTech is a large US publishing house. Kamikow reported on another benchmarking study of Chief Learning Officers in ‘successful’ companies in the USA which focused on:

  • learning strategy
  • leadership commitment to training
  • learning execution
  • learning impact
  • business performance results

The main challenges identified by CLOs were:

  • understanding the business they were in
  • better integration of training with work activities
  • being agile enough to deliver new training quickly
  • scaling training across the organization
  • delivering training to virtual/global workforces
  • using business intelligence to identify training needs and identifying appropriate metrics to measure success in training.

Main strategies for meeting these challenges

  • improved governance/management of learning across the organization
  • hybrid roles: trainers embedded within the organization
  • long term goals for learning combined with short-term capabilities to deliver

Willem Manders and Hans de Zwart, Shell Petroleum, Netherlands

Learning Scenarios: ‘A scenario is basically a story that describes a possible future. Building and using scenarios can help people explore what the future might look like. Decision makers can use scenarios to think about critical risks and opportunities in the future and to explore ways in which these might unfold. Scenarios are a vehicle to highlight the critical uncertainties ahead that might affect learning.’

I was particularly interested in this presentation, as I have been using scenario building to help faculty to ‘imagine’ the future and how they could use new technologies for teaching. Manders and de Zwart described their process, which requires ‘evidence-based brainstorming’ about the future, using four key concepts:

  • an analysis of the external and internal factors that influence the environment of corporate learning
  • identifying the underlying forces driving change
  • use a broad set of key drivers to build mini scenarios
  • combine and consolidate the mini scenarios.

They have created an excellent web site on learning scenarios.

Altogether this was an excellent session, although the attempt to build a conversation in a ballroom with over 100 participants was a brave failure.

Building performance at the heart of the workplace

This session was about how to enhance directly learner productivity and performance. Richard Straub, the chair, introduced the session by pointing out that the economic recession has forced companies to find new ways to provide corporate learning.

Lance Dublin, Dublin Consulting, USA

Yet another benchmarking study of corporate training strategies in leading multinationals. Dublin’s main point was the need to collapse the time of training – in the new environment, time, not money, is the key factor, because of the need to respond to rapid change. This means delivering learning at the point of need, before, during and after the ‘event’, combining training, salespeople and customers. To do that requires the following:

  • ‘off-the-shelf’ tools (no LMS) and be agnostic in the choice of tools: whatever does the job best
  • continuous learning
  • respect workers’ time: just in time and just enough
  • using social networking for the multiplier effect and leverage in-company knowledge
  • build learning environments, not learning events (no courses)
  • a focus on job performance, not measurement of learning

Boyd Glover, Dixons retail, UK

Boyd Glover’s session was entitled: Can learning be fun? Fusing formal and informal learning to build performance in the workplace. The presentation was certainly fun, and, just as significantly, discussed the issue of what is best done through formal learning and what is best done through informal learning. He divided learning as follows:

  • formal: first time learning; wanting more
  • informal learning: trying to remember earlier learning; dealing with change; dealing with things that go wrong in the workplace.

The company has made its learning material available to employees at any time, from anywhere. The big struggle was to get the training (delivered mainly through an LMS and short videos) outside the company’s IT firewall. Once that was done, 20% of the staff were using informal learning in their own time, without any requirement or company incentives.

This was another excellent session, with good presentations and solid content.

Crossing boundaries and cultures

Presentations in this session aimed at demonstrating practical ways to overcome the challenges of diverse languages and cultures in successfully implementing learning across cultural borders.

David Mallon, Bersin and Associates, USA

This session was entitled: ‘Corporate Learning Goes Borderless’. It was yet another study based on benchmarking successful multinationals and their training practices. I picked up the following from this session:

  • build capabilities, i.e. teach how to learn, rather than competency, because the environment changes too quickly and the contexts in different countries are so different
  • build learning environments, rather than courses
  • decentralize the learning, to bring it closer to the local work context
  • use learning technologies for speed and reach
  • use these methods to instill the company’s organizational culture across all world locations.

Virpi Slotte, AAC Global, Finland

This was a fascinating presentation about teaching children in 40 different countries about Internet safety, through the use of online digital stories. This meant delivering similar messages in 40 different languages. The stories were in cartoon form (drawings and simple animation), with no spoken narration, but balloon bubbles for written speech. Not only was the language changed for each country, but also images and context to represent cultural diversity (for instance, a Chinese village was used for the Chinese version, whereas an Austrian village was used for the German version). The project was sponsored by Microsoft, which enabled the development of different versions of the materials, but Microsoft had no direct editorial influence on the project. There was no information on the learning effectiveness of the project.

This session provided starkly different approaches to crossing cultural boundaries. This is an area where there are many challenges and much more research is needed on the effects of the globalization of learning.


Altogether these were very interesting sessions. There are of course major differences between the corporate sector and the public sector, but my impression is that there is much to learn from the corporate sector about online learning. I need to reflect more on this, but in the meantime, here are some preliminary conclusions from these sessions:

  • benchmarking of practice from ‘successful’ organizations was heavily used in these sessions; however, how well does that work when many of these successful organizations themselves are under threat from new competitors who by definition are not yet considered successful but are competing because they do things differently?
  • change management is becoming a central focus of corporate learning
  • innovation and new ways of doing things are becoming more important than doing the same things even better, with implications for training methods and choice of technology
  • building learning environments that deliver training at the time and place where it is needed is more important that formal courses away from the work context
  • the corporate sectors focuses more on measuring performance resulting from learning than measuring learning itself.

I am very grateful to the excellent presenters in these sessions.

I will do one more post on this conference, which will cover the sessions I went to from the public sector, and some brief comments on the exhibition.


Posts from a foreign land: Online Educa 2011, No. 1 ( #oeb11 )

Why I’m here

This will be the first of several posts on this year’s Online Educa Berlin conference. This is the first time I have attended since 2001, and I am here for three specific reasons:

1. to see what the public post-secondary education sector can learn from the use of  online learning in the corporate training sector

2. to identify interesting developments in European online learning, and in particular the individuals or institutions driving change

3. to re-establish connections with European colleagues, since it is five years since I last worked in Europe.

I need to write up my experience anyway, so I thought I would share it with those who are interested but unable to attend.

Who else is here

2,000 participants from over 100 countries, with 360 speakers. The mix of participants is particularly interesting (figures from last year):

41% from the public education sector

38% from the business sector (including both corporate trainers and e-learning suppliers)

21% from other sectors (government, NGOs, not-for profit organizations).

This is a unique mix and one of the few places where both public and corporate e-learning come together on a roughly equal basis.

It was announced yesterday that the three countries with the largest number of participants were as follows:

Netherlands; UK; and Finland. This is interesting because both the Netherlands and especially Finland are relatively small countries in the European Union. This is a crude but helpful indicator of where the e-learning action is in Europe.

One interesting development was a relatively strong presence from Arab countries (Saudi Arabia, Oman, Jordan, and Egypt, for instance).

The program

The conference program is 158 pages thick! Wednesday there were pre-conference workshops (which unfortunately I was unable to attend). On each of the other two days there are the following:

  • plenary sessions (more on this below)
  • three time blocks of 15 parallel sessions each day (nearly 90 sessions in all), most with three speakers, arranged under 10 themes (e.g. assessment, business, policy)
  • a bewildering range of special and interactive sessions (e.g. hands-on labs, interactive discussion groups, best practice showcases)
  • a very large exhibition area with just under 100 companies or organizations with stands. Pearson was the conference platinum sponsor, and its Learning and Blackboard were gold sponsors. The National Centre for e-Learning and Distance Education of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was one of several silver sponsors.

I describe this in detail, because in two days it is possible to participate in only a small part of the conference (less than 7%) so you have to be very focused. Thus my reports should be read in this context.

The main plenary session

There were four speakers in a 105 minute session, introduced by Talal Abu-Ghazaleh.

Talal Abu-Ghazaleh (Jordan): president of a business school in Jordan

  • There is no world crisis, only a Western crisis (so much for globalization)
  • we have to move from being teachers to being learning facilitators
  • we don’t need educational reform, but new education systems
  • we need to educate for citizenship
  • Saudi Arabia spent $35 billion on education last year, 25% of its overall budget

Neelie Kroes: (Netherlands), Commissioner, the Digital Agenda, European Commission

  • Digital education is important. We must do more, and do it better. Over to you.
  • Memorable quote (from a 16 year old she interviewed designing apps): ‘Sharing makes you a better competitor.’

Peter Novak: (Canada), a journalist and author of Sex, Bombs and Burgers

  • despite Occupy Wall Street, the world overall is getting richer; poverty (defined as income of $1.25 a day or less) is dropping dramatically world wide
  • this means a massive expansion of people demanding education: 8 million more teachers needed by 2015
  • demand can’t be met by the traditional classroom model
  • entrepreneurial learning is needed; adults teaching each other; learning is in our DNA
  • memorable quote (illustrated by Lady Gaga): ‘ ‘Quality is not a pre-condition for self-expression.’

John Bohannon: (USA), a journalist and writer for the journal Science

  • Google Books now holds copies of 15% of all the books ever published;
  • this is a gold mine for large-scale analytical research, e.g. analysis of names suppressed or promoted during the Nazi period, or during Macarthyism in the USA (providing you can get access)
  • Wikipedia is messy, often dangerously misleading, but still extremely valuable if used properly (i.e. checking sources): examples:
    • civilian casualties in Afghanistan; reliable sources not taken account of in commentary although listed in sources
    • the sections on psychology were very poor, until a US university professor got his students to do research and update the entries.
    • arguments between just a couple of ‘unqualified’ contributors can seriously distort entries

Jeff Borden: (USA), Senior Director of Teaching and Learning, Pearson

  • formal education needs learning frameworks to help organise teaching, e.g. tell, show, do, ask/review
  • use of social networking for solving problems, e.g. InnoCentive
  • learning analytics will be BIG, e.g. analysing who is talking to whom in online class discussions

Video recordings of the keynotes can be downloaded from here.

Comment on the plenary session

Yes, you have to have a European Commissioner and you have to have a speaker from the platinum sponsor, but I can’t express how disappointed I was with the plenary session. There must have been over 1,500 people present, and almost all the presentations were shallow and only barely on target for the audience. What a missed opportunity.

It would have been better to have had two or at most three speakers with more time to bring depth. Jeff Borden in particular was rushed because the session was late starting and running over time, and as a result, he came over more as a preacher (as the chair of the session noted). As a result his session was just very short ‘images’ of what looked like really interesting e-learning applications but there was no time to explore any of them. If you are going to bring speakers in from outside the field, they must have something very special to say, and all must have sufficient time to say it.

Peter Nowak’s arguments in particular need to be challenged. I think Western commentators should be very careful in suggesting educational solutions for the rest of the world. Suggesting radical changes to education for new economically emerging countries is not  a good idea when we are unable to make such changes in more economically advanced (but maybe declining) countries. There is a danger of suggesting solutions that we ourselves are not prepared to implement on a large scale. There is a good deal of innovation in e-learning in Africa these days and economically emerging countries will find their own solutions, as have South Korea, Singapore and increasingly India already.

So, in summary, a few good ideas and points were made, but it could have been much more.


Don’t despair – I attended some excellent parallel sessions, which I will discuss in the next blog.

For a more comprehensive and detailed set of notes on the presentations, see Hans de Zwart’s Technology as a Solution…