The closing PELeCON conference keynote


Donald Taylor, the James Bond of e-learning apparently ;-), gave the closing keynote at this year’s PELeCON conference. The title of his talk was ‘Does learning and development have a future?’ He began by asking us to think about how our roles have changes in the last five years as a result of technology. For me technologies have had a transformative impact on my practice. Blogging is an important way for me to develop or work up ideas or simply summarise interesting things I have seen or read. Some of the things others in the audience suggested included: the increasing importance of social media, the importance of fb, the way in which technologies enable you to have a higher profile as a research and hence have more impact, the importance of blogging, the fact that we are sharing more and the higher expectations or the 24/7 culture.

He argued that a key turning point in terms of technologies was 1990 with the development of the web. He suggested there were three aspects of importance:


  • Intangible values – the fact that there has been a shift in companies from having a high percentage of tangible assets to a high percentage on intangible assets, i.e. it is no longer physical objects that are of value, but people skills and ideas.
  • Globalisation – we are now part of an interconnected, distributed worldwide network, there is a shift from a Western perceptive to the increasing importance of China. He argued that MOOCs are an example of this global phenomenon; initiatives such as edX, coursera, the Khan Academy, FutureLearn, Udemy and Pearsons; providing free courses to thousands of people. He suggested that MOOCs are a milestone, indicating change; i.e. that education is being transformed. There has also been a shift from a position where information is power to information being free, what Martin Weller refers to as ‘an ecology of abundance’ (Weller 2011). John Naughton argues that in this world, economy makes no sense and that we need to be thinking in terms of shifting ecologies (Naughton 2012). He referenced the recent report ‘An avalance is coming’ (Barber, Donnelly et al. 2013), which begins with the controversial quote:

Our belief is that deep, radical and urgent transformation is required in higher education as much as it is in school systems. Our fear is that, perhaps as a result of complacency, caution or anxiety, or a combination of all three, the pace of change is too slow and the nature of change too incremental.

He gave some startling statistics in terms of investments in e-learning: $9.1 bn Pearson, $4.7 bn Phoenix University, $32 bn Endorsement of Harward University, $6.5 bn Cambridge University, and  $1.9 bn the global market for Learning Management Systems.

He concluded by arguing that despite the potential of technologies to be transformative, there are barriers, in particular, digital inclusion/exclusion and a replication of the old boys network. So the key message for me was – will technologies be transformative or disruptive or both? 


Barber, M., K. Donnelly, et al. (2013). An avalanche is coming: Higher education and the revolution ahead,

Naughton, J. (2012). From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg, what you really need to know  about the internet.           

Weller, M. (2011). The digital scholar – how technology is changing academic practice. London, Bloomsbury Academic.