ELIG in Dublin Review

Every year the great and some of the relatively good members of the elearning community convene in a European city to chow down on the big issues in the elearning industry, in the guise of the ELIG (European Learning Industry Group) conference. This year it was Dublin’s turn. And an excellent choice too – surely the new silicon valley of Europe with the European capitals of Google, Facebook and LinkedIn within a tax-minimising Guinness spill of each other. In fact, the visit included some silicon up close but more on that story later.

Here’s a quick rundown of seven things we learned at ELIG 2012:

1. The hype isn’t real. Well, most of it isn’t

One of the better speakers was the redoubtable Jonny Parkes. Jonny grew Electric Paper, sold it to ThirdForce, and now has time, probably some capital, and the Irish government’s ear. Jonny rightly chastised some vendors for playing up the hype curve and bringing the e-learning industry into disrepute by making mobile/gaming/you name it promises that in reality couldn’t deliver. This was a kind of underlying theme throughout the two days really: a review of what has been in the hype discussions for years, but what is really happening? It ties in nicely to the Kineo/E-learning Age Insights Report coming out in a few weeks. Jonny also announced a new venture, The Technology Centre for Learning Innovation, which sounds like it will help to incubate and support new learning technology ideas on their way to being commercial entities. Nice for them! When we were young there were no handouts...

2. Games are still here, or still coming, or still not defined

Quite a lot of discussion around games and gaming environments took place. There were some great demos from Harvard showing an immersive learning environment for students with augmented reality. It’s still in prototype mode but we will check back in a year, it might be ready for commercial application. We met several companies with a ‘serious games’ (hate that term) focus. There was a lot of discussion about the right time and place for games in corporates: where budgets can be justified, where the risk of failure is high, where there’s a strong measurement and social dimension to the game. While it certainly has a place, we’d all do well to come up with a better set of terms to unpick gaming. Some people think that means multiple choice questions with some video and a timer, some think it means The Sims. They can’t both use the same word, though we did see some nice new tools that show the engines at least are improving for performance simulations.

3. Beware the Sputnik effect – think like Leo DaVinci

The what effect now? As in the missile gap that opened up between Russia and the US and the pressure that the Americans were under to close that gap.Fabrizio Cardinali, Chairman of ELIG and CEO eXact Learning Solutions took us on a journey through space and analogies to show how this gap is opening up between traditionally dominant Western economies and BRICS and everyone else. What is the missile to close this gap? Why, e-learning of course – do pay attention to the conference subject.

Fabrizio has a Renaissance bias – you can’t blame him for that, he’s from up the road from Florence. He shared a nice list from Michael Gelb’s book ‘7 Habits of Creative Genius – How to think like Leonardo DaVinci’:

  1. Curiosità – Curiosity: An insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning. (My note: A willingness to ask key questions.)
  2. Dimostrazione – A commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.
  3. Sensazione — The continual refinement of the senses as the means to enliven experience.
  4. Sfumato (“going up in smoke”) – A willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty.
  5. Arte/Scieza – The development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination. “Whole-brain thinking.”
  6. Corporalita – The cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise.
  7. Connessione – A recognition of and appreciation for the interconnectedness of things and phenomena. Systems thinking.

We think it’s a good list for an e-learning designer, or entrepreneur, or both to hold in their heads. Read more here.

Fabrizio also won buzzword bingo of the day with ‘co-optition’. It’s competition and co-operation. Get used to it. This happens a lot at conferences.

4. You need to be T-shaped if you want to survive

As ELIG has more of an educational and academic focus it seems, much discussion was given over to the shaping of skills for the worklplace. One panellist talked about the need to have a "T-Shaped skills portfolio": going deep into at least one discipline but wide across several others that are cross disciplinary. It’s only by cutting across multiple fields that we can make breakthroughs (see Arte/Scieza above). Something for those designing competency frameworks to think about. We feel a visual interface for skills mapping coming on. There’s a real need to define a curriculum for being an effective human in the 21stcentury – lots of discussion about how users, and sites like Kahn Academy, and TED are setting that agenda – maybe so.

5. Save our children’s spines: give them iPads

There were a few pleas to stop printing text books and spare our children’s backs from lugging them around all day – why can’t we just give them tablets and leave it at that? There’s many good reasons but really there’s no great reason why not. Even the textbook publishers who were present had to concede their futures lay more in that direction than in the printing press. Looks like some governments will actively support this.

6. Government and industry are not well connected on e-learning

Ok, we didn’t learn this at ELIG. But it was reinforced. There was a healthy discussion about policy and influencing education, but (and perhaps this is Kineo’s somewhat corporate bias) it seemed largely policy bound and at times theoretical, when most of the attendees were focused on delivering to corporate objectives with the attendant timeline and budget pressures. A lot of the well intentioned concepts in education have already been tried and honed in corporates. There didn’t seem to be a channel to feed that back effectively. One of the more positive initiatives was the Enterprise Ireland involvement, showing that good ideas for elearning can get funding and support from government (In Ireland at least – where clearly there are no other competing needs for taxpayer funds of course). All credit to Laura Overton and Piers Lea for bringing in some real examples of returns on investment and benefits delivered through e-learning and blended programmes – should have had a bit more of that.

7. Chips are very small

As part of the conference was kindly hosted by Intel Ireland, we got to visit their plant and see how chips get made. We’re sworn not to discuss it in public. But let’s just say – they’re very small. And getting smaller. More than that and we’d have to kill you.

In Summary

Overall a stimulating couple of days: good to see the elearning-, and in particular the Irish elearning industry, in good shape. It’d be great to have more corporate clients sharing their experiences – but of course OnLine Educa is just around the corner...

Find out more at http://www.elig.org/.