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27 – 29, 2024


“We cannot print 3D cats!”

Europe’s biggest conference on technology assisted learning and training, OEB Global, opened in Berlin on Thursday Nov 28 with a lively disagreement between experts about competing views of the future.

Iyad Rahwan, founder of the Max Planck Institute for Humans and Machines and Associate Professor at the MIT Media Lab, and Wei Cui, co-founder and chief scientist of China’s Squirrel AI Learning both emphasised the importance of data and technology in future learning solutions. But education writer Audrey Watters warned conference participants to beware “the robot vision of the future.”

She claimed that “EdTech agit-prop” is pushing a dangerous and false vision of the role of technology and feeding “our desire for robot love.” The EdTech narrative is setting an agenda which is leading to “the increasing mechanisation of students’ lives.”

“Much of the EdTech imagining is entirely fanciful,” she said.

False narratives, which she cited, include claims that 65 per cent of primary school children will end up in jobs that don’t yet exist, the half-life of skills is 5 years and 40 per cent of all jobs will be automated in the next 15 years. She also said that it had even been claimed that it is already possible to produce a cat by 3D printing.

“Let me be clear. We cannot 3D print cats.”

Both Iyad Rahwan and Wei Cui argued, however, that the more effective use of data and artificial intelligence will help to deliver more effective, personalised learning solutions and spread the cognitive and social skills that are likely to be in demand in the future.

“Education correlates very strongly with where you live,” said Rahwan, who outlined research showing a “hollowing of the middle class.”

“Middle paying jobs are becoming fewer,” he said. “We need to think about what skills are needed to bridge the gap between high and low paying jobs.”

Wei Cui, whose company specialises in intelligent, adaptive learning for more than 2 million students in China, said that “we need both more technology and better teachers.” He has no doubt that “future education is career oriented” and that both data and technology have a crucial role to play in providing the personalised learning that will be essential for developing key future skills.

OEB Global, which is taking place at Berlin’s Intercontinental Hotel, runs until Friday and includes a crowded programme of sessions, seminars, workshops and debates. It takes place in association with Learning Technologies Germany and is accompanied by a major exhibition at which companies and education institutions from around the world present the latest products, services, courses and solutions.