BETT 2012: A Learning Technologist's Viewpoint

BETT 2012I normally try and get along to the BETT (British Educational Training and Technology) Show at London’s Olympia. I made it in 2011 but this year other commitments have got in the way.

Of course BETT is a show aimed at the education market so as a learning technologist and designer working in the commercial sector I’m not part of the core audience but aren’t learning technologies pretty much the same whatever the application? Well actually no, and once you’ve spent a couple of hours wandering around BETT you will see why.

The vast majority of learning technologies at BETT are designed for use within the classroom. Interactive whiteboards, classroom response systems, projectors, even special trolleys that contain banks of iPads or laptops for use in class. Educational learning technologies are all about keeping the power in the classroom. Last year I even struggled to find a Moodle vendor even though this is a massively popular platform in colleges and universities. Outside of education learning technologies are all about taking learning out of the classroom. Why is there such a disconnect? In my view it’s related to the two types of business model. Mainstream education’s business model is based on ‘bums on seats’. Schools and colleges get paid for each student they entice through their doors – there is no model to educate or partly educate online. In the commercial sector however the online learning business model works pretty well – reducing cost and providing flexibility for learners.

Things are changing however – colleges and universities are testing the water with online access to learning (proper learning technologies ;-) ). Open Courseware is now available from a number of leading educational institutions such as MIT in the US and The Open University in the UK. Of course Open Courseware is literally the ‘courseware’ which can only be a shadow of the full interactive learning experience (imagine PowerPoint without the presenter and audience). MIT though has recently announced that some of its courses will have free open access – not only to the courseware but also to the tutors, assignments, tests etc.

These are positive moves but the education business model is still rooted in the ‘bums on seats’ model. It always amazes me how one’s business model trumps almost anything else. Even though the research tells us that classroom model is outdated is so many ways we find it hard to change in case we cannibalise our core income stream.

Footnote – Next year BETT moves to Excel – this was a move that the CIPD HRD Show made a few years back and it resulted in poor attendances. As I’m not working in the education space I think it’s unlikely that I will make the trip out to Excel which is a shame because I always enjoyed the very different slant they had on learning technologies.

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