With a stellar speaker line-up and free iPads, LWF 12 prepares for a 'revolution in learning'
How do you create an innovative, engaging education festival in a venue like London's Olympia, the home of formulaic trade shows? Design it as a theme park for learning.
LWF 12 – the Future of Learning Festival and Conference (January 25-26), which already hosts a speaker line-up to rival any UK education gathering (opening message from Noam Chomsky, closing one from Sir Ken Robinson), will work like a "pop-up university" complete with multi-colour inflatables and pods, according to organiser Graham Brown-Martin (see prototype designs right and below).
"it's in our DNA to constantly re-invent ourselves and challenge our community to think differently about learning and the role of technology," says Graham Brown-Martin. "Our move to Olympia allows us to explore our thinking about what an educational environment of the future might look like rather than present ourselves in a traditional, tired format that doesn't stimulate, engage or inspire."
If LWF 12 lives up to the designers' visions, visitors will experience something very different to the the usual Olympia fare. The main conference will be held in a custom-built theatre. And the event supporters, who include Nintendo, Pearson, GSMA (the voice of the mobile phone industry), LEGO Education (see "NOT another brick in the wall – Stockley's LEGO coup"), Toucan Computing (Apple experts for education), MERU Networks and the Nominet Trust, will be running the futuristic "Experience Domes" or "Pods". These wlll host a range of activities including themed talks, seminars, showcases, "how-to" and hands-on sessions featuring leading practitioners and experts. While some of these sessions will be dedicated to delegates attending the conference, there will also be valuable sessions and a packed programme for those attending the adjacent free festival.
Free festival and special deals to attract more teachers
The free festival will run alongside the conference and serve visitors not able to attend the main event or who might not be able to meet the LWF 12 registration fees. These may include teachers who have supported the preceding Handheld Learning and Games Based Learning events which built up LWF's following over the past seven years with innovative registration prices which included, first, iPod Touches, and then iPads. School austerity measures haven't made it easier for teachers to get out of school either, so LWF 12's organisers have introduced special teacher scholarships (£495 admission and £200 to bring a colleague) and an industry "bring an educator" deal which gives admission for two plus an iPad each).
The top-flight speakers span industry and learning and promise two days of thought-provoking talks and discussions. They include the president of LEGO Education, Jacob Kragh, Pearson's Marjorie Scardino, futurist Ray Kurzweil, the creator of Scratch MIT Media Lab's Mitchel Resnick, WISE, Keri Facer, Charles Leadbeater, astronomer royal Martin Rees, neuroscientist Dr Paul Howard-Jones, GSMA's Michael O'Hara, game designer Jesse Schell, Mozilla Foundation's Stephanie Schipper, mathematician Conrad Wolfram and Microsoft's education boss Anthony Salcito whose Partners in Learning division has been given responsibility for the US teacher recruitment drive, teach.gov by the US Government (see video below).
LWF is known for the way it has made its keynotes and seminars available through videos on the internet. This year's speaker line-up is so strong that it has already attracted the attention of the TED Talks organisation in the US which will also be filming the presentations.
Admission to LWF12 also gives entry to the Learning Technologies 2012 and Learning and Skills 2012 complementary events being held next door in Olympia 2. They are organised by Learning Without Frontiers' parent company CloserStill.
A popular feature of Learning Without Frontiers events has always been the awards scheme, noted for its freshness and absence of formality. The scheme is now open for nominations here.
'A new and compelling experience'
The big unknown for both LWF12, and for the BETT Show being held at Olympia earlier in January, is what proportion of UK teachers will make up the attendance. Visitor figures for BETT 2011 showed a drop in UK visitors that was offset by those from overseas. This year's Learning Without Frontiers attracted a healthy 3,000 visitors and the organisers are keen to retain its UK supporters but they have the tricky balancing act of upgrading the event and its speakers against the registration fees.
"LWF 12 will be a new and compelling experience for our community who will take part in a valuable dialogue that will inform their future thinking," says Graham Brown-Martin. "Anybody expecting us to simply turn the handle and churn out another conference about technology and how it will revolutionise learning will be disappointed. There have been more than 30 years of conferences sold on that canard and we're still waiting.
"Technology is now a given; it's already embedded in one form or another in the majority of learners' lives. We need to ask bigger questions about bigger challenges. Why hasn't education changed? Why do we fear transformation? What is the purpose of learning and how does this relate to society and the enormous challenges that lie ahead for future generations? And, most importantly, how do we establish the conditions for a revolution in learning to actually take place?"