The TED of all Learning Conferences #LWF12

On the dates of 25 January through 26 January, 2012, I had the opportunity to participate for the first time in the Learning Without Frontiers “Future of Learning Conference and Festival” held at Olympia in London, England.

As the title of this post suggests, I believe it truly is the TED of all Learning Conferences.

And since 1990, I’ve attended roughly 100 different conferences of all shapes, forms and sizes so my sample size is relatively good.

Over the duration of the two days, there were several keynote addresses sprinkled from a rich ocean of speakers. To complement the main event, several indoor igloos (termed ‘experience domes’ at the conference) housed vendors and sidebar discussions from other speakers and organizations.

Why am I so smitten over the quality of #LWF12?

There are a few reasons.


There were certainly more hits than misses in terms of speakers and their quality level (arguably more so than other conferences I attend) but I’d like to concentrate my analysis on the Top 5:

  • Mitchel Resnick
    • Professor of the Learning Research Lab at MIT and revolutionary founder of the Lifelong Kindergarten group as well as Scratch, a programming software/language for kids
    • His “imagine-create-play-share-reflect-imagine” pictorial made my jaw drop. How simple a concept and usable not only for kids, but in the corporate world as well.
  • Paul Howard-Jones
    • Professor of Neuroscience and education, game-based learning and creativity at the University of Bristol and founder of the Neuroeducational Research Network
    • I’ve devoted a significant portion of my own reading to brain-based research and to hear Paul speak with candid concern about gaming & children was reassuring, but so too was his assertion that we need new understanding and pedagogy devoted to gaming to ensure it is successful. See this clip of Paul in action, “What is the Internet Doing to Our Brains?”
  • Ray Kurzweil
    • Noted futurist and “restless genius”, I was struck by Ray’s message that students need to be looking at the world by problem solving through the use of incorporating technologies and entrepreneurship. His point is that our ability to change the world is a skill we need to foster and that it will come through technology integration and entrepreneurship.
    • Of course, to refresh your memory about Ray and his thinking about the future of technology, re-watch his 2005 TED Talk, “How Technology will Transform Us
  • Charles Leadbetter
    • A noted proponent of creativity, innovation and being ‘open’, Charles eloquently defined a systems versus empathy model of education (high-low empathy vs high-low systems)
    • A ‘low empathy and low system’ example of education (many schools of today) is not what we should be striving for, he stated rather obviously, but a high empathy and high system approach much akin to how Barcelona plays soccer/football. Their approach is not a long-ball approach, rather, a united team of 11 players on the pitch who equally share the goal through short, elegant and crisp passes, working as one, towards the goal. Fascinating.
  • Sir Ken Robinson
    • Noted author and general poster boy for education change evangelism, Sir Ken was in top form on this particular day.
    • His focus was on the purpose of education, in that it is economic, cultural and personal. Education is not linear, it is tangential, and to get it right, we need to engage and empower our students however and whenever we can.

Honourary mentions go to Geoff Mulgan, Martin Rees and Stephen Heppell who introduced the term “BaB” (Bring a Browser) as opposed to BYOD. Kudos.


  • None of the keynote sessions crossed the 20-minute mark in formal content delivery. From an attention span and digestion perspective, this is excellent.
  • The various ‘experience domes’ you could visit throughout the venue were also interactive and extremely useful. One of the most entertaining sessions in a dome was the VLE is Dead debate featuring the likes of Steve Wheeler, Ian Addison, Drew Buddie and Dughall McCormick. (read Steve’s review about the Experience Domes)
  • The starting and ending times were perfect as well. Too many conferences in North America commence at 7:45am and go until 6:30pm. Conference planners should take note that you don’t have to cram content into every nook and cranny of the day. Learning Without Frontiers excelled at this concept.
  • Students were invited to participate as well with several schools and their pupils demonstrating how they are changing the education landscape. Longfield Digital School was exceptional.
  • Being able to mingle between the exhibition floors of the Learning Technologies 12 UK conference and Cloud UK 12 conference was extremely advantageous. (I even snuck into the UK Toy Fair)

Helpful Improvement Suggestions for 2013

My hat is tipped to principal organizer Graham Brown-Martin on the overall level of excellence at this conference. In the spirit of collaboration, I offer a few bits of cross-Atlantic feedback presuming you fully comprehend my stated thunderous applause:

  • Lisa Ma session – I’m not exactly sure how this improved the overall learning experience at the conference. It was far too weird and off topic to the conference themes.
  • Jason Wishnow session – Jason may be the Film Director at Large for TED itself but his presentation was sporadic if not unparallel to the LWF12 theme. It didn’t seem to fit.
  • Entrance – like many LWF12 conference goers, it was near impossible to figure out how to actually enter Olympia on Day One. Perhaps there could have been staff standing outside to assist?
  • Learning Technologies 12 UK Conference – as several of the speakers seemed to be on both agendas, if you run LWF13 next year parallel with LT13UK, is there a way to make it even easier to cross-pollinate attendance at both events?
  • Videos – given Noam Chomsky’s age and schedule, I can understand why he wasn’t live in the flesh at the conference itself, but proper and transparent understanding of this in advance would have been better.
  • Awards – changing the number of awards being awarded mid-stream without public notice also didn’t seem as transparent as it could have been. It seems there ‘was’ a corporate category but it disappeared a few days before the conference itself.
  • In the round – I’d love to see next year’s conference offered “in the round” with 15 minutes of presentation and 10 minutes of open dialogue as the format for each keynote session.

Overall, I can’t stress enough how impressed I was with the two days. It was a class act.

Looking forward to 2013.

PS. Graham … would love to speak on the main stage next year … in the round.


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2 comments on “The TED of all Learning Conferences #LWF12”

  1. A big thanks, Dan for sharing your experiences and views on LWF. As an ardent follower of your Learning 2.0 model, your postings help me build forward to other sources of learning frameworks, like the first stone in a pond to step on and get the exhilerating experience of the wonderful world of workplace learning. Thank you.

Hey! I'd love to read what you think. Surely you have an opinion. Love, Dan.