Driving the future

Dr Jeff Borden is director of the Center for Online Learning at Pearson’s Research & Innovation Network. He has just returned from ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN, one of world’s largest e-learning events, where he delivered the keynote address. But among thousands of educators, practitioners and administrators from around the globe, it was one seemingly innocuous observation that really got him thinking.


by Jeff Borden


Last week I was privileged to deliver one of the opening keynote addresses at the annual ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN (OEB), where I returned to the topic of Education 3.0 – something anyone who has followed my blogs lately knows well. Alongside me, Professor Viktor Mayer-Schönberger discussed the power, promise, and need for policing of ‘Big Data’; and a reminder about the who and the why in an effective education system by Professor Gianpiero Petriglieri.


At some point, I’m sure I will blog about the various speakers, meetings, and experiences I had. But here I wanted to highlight an interesting statement made to me just prior to getting up on that opening stage. All of the speakers met in an oak-paneled library together just before the session. Over coffee and biscuits we talked with the managing director of OEB, Rebecca Stromeyer, who made a curious observation; that the thrust and intent of OEB has changed over the years. Whereas attendees used to come to the conference to see about the latest in media, delivery, or curriculum considerations, they now come to connect and share effective practice stories, because they already know the latest and greatest software, hardware, and cloud-ware. We’re so connected that the conference just can’t possibly be that cutting edge anymore.


What an interesting perspective, no? We ARE more connected than ever before. And yet, as I heard these words, I also thought about feedback and statements from the seven pre-conference and conference workshops I gave or attended. As much as this conference was ‘the choir’ – meaning that there were very few who needed to be converted to the power of eLearning, there was still a pervasive notion that the majority of faculty, in many institutions, still did not buy into digitally enhanced education. The majority of faculty were described by administrators, instructional designers, and eLearning specialists as lecturing; stand-and-deliver advocates who would not use social media in the classroom any more readily than they would make their own shampoo. (I apologise to any shampoo enthusiasts out there…)


But it reminded me of another story I heard during my travels. As this was my fifth visit to Germany, all for this very conference each December, I was intrigued during my flight over to see a story about how the Mercedes-Benz company pushed the concept of the car to people who had no idea, nor seemed to care about the invention. Of importance to the story is the culture of the time. As you may know, the horse has legendary status in German ethos; it was not just a symbol on the German flag and royal crests, but seen by many as a virtual ‘backbone’ of the country. As such, the Kaiser actually said that a ‘horseless’ carriage was unpatriotic. At the same time, the devoutly Catholic nation followed the Pope’s words that an automated carriage was the work of the Devil! (And you thought convincing educators that about the value of internet-learning was hard…)


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