Enhancing the OEB Experience and EdTech’s Future: An Interview with Keynote Pär Lager

On November 23rd-25th this year, the OEB Conference welcomes an illustrious range of keynote speakers to its leading educational showcase. Among these keynotes is Pär Lager, a Swedish lecturer, bestselling author and innovator in learning analytics. Pär will be opening the OEB Conference in November with inspiring insights into the future of EdTech.

On June 15th, we had the privilege of interviewing Pär to discover more about him, his career and Pär’s contribution as keynote speaker to the upcoming OEB Conference. The following interview was held virtually via Microsoft Teams at 15:00 CEST on June 15th, 2022.

Good afternoon, Pär, it’s nice to meet you. Thank you for meeting with me today. To start off, tell us a bit about yourself, your career and your history with OEB.

Pär: In my previous position, I was running a vocational, educational group at a university in Scandinavia, which had facilities in eastern Africa and over 50,00 students in total. It was very important for me to keep track of everything that was going on in the industry, so I attended as many conferences as I could at least once. While I was in the cities, I met leading universities and schools, also leading organisations that were highly innovative in learning.

That’s when I discovered OEB. I was first there in 2015, it was a fantastic experience – I loved the focus on innovation and the lifelong learning aspect. I met an amazing group of people, and I sent other colleagues to OEB and recommended other organisations to OEB too. What I like about OEB is a lot of practitioners share their best cases. For example, Volvo talked about how they were building a new factory in China, and how they educated their learners for this with real examples and ground-breaking knowledge delivered.

In terms of Edtech, what have you seen in the industry recently that points to a brighter future?

So many things, so I will highlight a couple. All tech helps us make learning more individualised. I’m very curious about the journey into AI and the Metaverse that can make the learning pathways more individualised. For the last 15-20 years, I’ve worked on the most strategic level of education. It’s very promising to work with data to discover trends on what education needs, both on a national level as well as on regional and organisational levels. Using tech, be it AI or other tools such as learning portals, help us to dive in and discover the true needs of education. This I find very important and inspirational.

Thank you, it’s great to hear so many positive ideas. But of course, there is a need for change in some EdTech solutions. What, in your experience, would be the best way to tackle these challenges?

The major challenge with EdTech is with all tech – we focus too little on training. If we want teachers and practitioners to use tech tools, we need to train them on how to use them. All the research I’ve seen suggests that it’s the number one challenge. That’s something I would really like to put forward – we need to train teachers, participants and practitioners on tech. We need this training to utilise the scale of things up.  

I would just like to say congratulations on completing the business strategy project with the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Can you tell us a bit about your experience?

I’m a firm believer that using MOOCs (massive open online courses) is an innovative way to get an enormous effect. For example, in Scandinavia, only 10-20% of employees know about MOOCs. With the Wharton School, I worked on a MOOC; I participated to help an organisation with its learning strategy. Not many participants had worked with developing a new strategy, so they hired me as their coach for developing their strategy. It was hard for me to help them as there was a gap in their knowledge and competence. I think everyone should participate in MOOCs together like this. From the people that applied, I divided them into two groups that studied, had weekly meetings with study buddies, and had a session every second week to reflect on what they learnt, and what we can conduce from the course to make our own strategy. I used this course as a catalyst for them to create their own strategy. To me, that’s the power and potential of using modern ways of working.

For me, it’s always important to combine the Meta-world with the real world. In this project, we participated in a digital course, and we combined that with a physical pedagogic. Participants met physically in real life, discussing what they learnt what they learned online and physically in workshops. Combining the Meta-world with the physical world is important. Working completely in the Meta-world is not enough, and working entirely in the real world is not enough – you need the perfect combination. It’s ideal for discovering where each world is most valuable.

Thank you for such great insights, Pär. I’m going to ask you a couple more questions about OEB this year. What was your first thought on our main theme ‘Re-imagining our Vision for Learning’?

I think it’s a perfect timely theme – in the sense that the timing is perfect for this. After Covid-19, we are more prepared to operate new tech. We tried, we practised, and we found new ways of working with technology – new ways it could value, but also where we miss the physical world. We are more ready than ever to embrace all the potential that’s been available to us even before the pandemic. That’s why it’s a perfect time to reimagine learning.

The challenge we face is that people need to learn now more than ever, to keep jobs and make societies blossom. In order to give people this opportunity, we need to reimagine how we work with education. We need to be more innovative than ever because people need to learn more than ever. OEB is a perfect playground for that. Being alone in learning and training means not being strong – we need to learn from each other. Being alone is too slow and ineffective, so we need to meet and learn the best practice from one another, in order to deal with this enormous challenge.

As one of OEB’s keynote speakers, you’re going to play an important role at the conference in November. What do you hope people will get out of your session?

At OEB this year, I will talk about the revolution that now takes place in upskilling and reskilling and point out trends and cases that I found have great value. To me the learning revolution is very often like a black box – very few have access to everything that goes on in learning. I aim to open this black box; sharing cases and insights from both research and practitioners. We need to learn from each other more than ever, and I hope to be a catalyst for that.

I will make sure to put together questions to make my session more interactive, so we can build and generate value together. We create even more knowledge together with questions and discussion.

Speaking of upskilling and reskilling, as much of the OEB community is aware, your book ‘Upskill and Reskill’ is being translated into English in August of this year. Can you give us a little teaser on what you discuss in it?

My book is about the secret source of how to build a learning culture. I try to learn from the best people and most innovative organisations in the world and what they have in common when they build a learning culture. I explore my own experiences in learning cultures for organisations, and what I discovered, is all organisations that have managed to build a learning culture focused on five perspectives. This is what I will reveal in my talk at the OEB Conference this year.

That sounds brilliant, thank you! And what do you hope to get out of the OEB Conference this year?

I have high expectations to meet many people that will inspire me; it’s my primary reason for travelling to OEB – to get inspiration and learn from others. I will be engaged in many talks and meetings after my session, whether it’s by an exhibition stand or over coffee.

Thank you so much for your time today. Lastly, do you have a final message for the OEB community?

I try to live as learn. I start my book ‘Upskill and Reskill’ with a tip, and I would like to give all participants this tip: think about what you would really like to learn during a learning session. I urge everyone to get prepared before OEB and ask themselves these three questions:

  • What should I look for at OEB that I’m doing well and should continue to do when I leave?
  • What should I look for to stop doing when I leave?
  • What am I looking for that I need to start doing?

Get prepared! Have an internal session in your organisation prior to OEB and look at the programme together. Ask your colleagues what you should look for – for the team and the organisation. Of course, during the conference – take notes, take photos and film, so you can share your insights when you leave. This is so that when you return, you know the things you’re confident you’re already doing well, identified a couple of things you should stop doing, and you’ve noted things you should start doing. This is all to improve your learning, training, and anything your organisation needs.

So, get prepared before travelling to OEB, have great sessions, and when you leave, have an internal session with your team. This is how you get the most out of a great conference like OEB!

This interview was conducted for OEB Global 2022 by Chloë Sibley.

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