I am really excited to join the Learning Solutions team as your EMEA reporter with this new column bringing news mostly from east of the meridian!

This month I’m putting the focus on a keynote speaker at PELeCON12, the 7th Annual eLearning Conference at Plymouth University in UK. The Conference is largely academic, with an increasing representation from the workplace. Recognizing the changing debate in education, the “e” in the conference title changed this year to “enhanced” – providing a wide field of debate.

Professor Keri Facer (professor of education at Manchester Metropolitan University in UK) is a specialist in digital cultures, social justice, and educational change. She leads the CREATE research group, working on a range of partnerships and projects concerned with rethinking education in the context of socio-technical change.

Keri’s keynote address continued a theme present in much thinking in Europe over the past few months – coping with the stringencies of the recession and in so doing, taking a look at the kind of world that might emerge from it. She overlaid her round-up of key facts and trends that are familiar territory to most of us engaged in the social media and its use in learning with an examination of the kind of social world that lies ahead of us.

Alongside some up-to-date statistics about the growth and reach of the social media, Keri made reference to Ray Kurzweil’s analysis and predictions about the speed of increase and cost of information that will be upon us as early as the end of the decade. (Ray had keynoted earlier in the year at Learning Technologies 12, the largest eLearning gathering in UK, mostly for a business audience).

It is interesting that keynote speakers from both sides of the so-called divide between education and the workplace, and coming from cultures on both sides of the Atlantic, chose to root their presentations in the same statistics and trends. Maybe there is a coming together of thinking between the two worlds.

Keri’s conclusions are that the world is now in constant beta (compare Harold Jarche’s work) and that the future is highly unpredictable. Therefore, she suggests, there is little point in preparing young people for any traditional model of future adult life or the workplace. Her answer is that in school, college, university, and in young adult life, our efforts should be directed to equipping people we seek to help with experiences, support, and skills to cope with that unpredictable and fast-changing world.

As an example, Keri predicted that there will be markedly fewer jobs in “employment” than hitherto. Therefore, providing life skills as we have known them for the last 20 - 30 years is an ineffective proposition. Rather, there is a need to focus our work on fostering, preserving, and enabling the natural creativity that is present in us all, but which becomes muted as we grow up.

Her suggestions for an enterprise or institutional level were particularly challenging. Keri stated that old models have ceased to work. In particular, academia’s ability to in any way describe the future for which they are preparing people is flawed and is further hampered by the slow movement away from traditional teaching methods. (In an earlier keynote address in the conference, Simon Finch, a radical visionary about the future of education, had challenged the attitudes of academia and individuals both under the slogan “Something Has To Change.”)

Keri’s solution is to explore learning through gaming more deeply. She says we should be experimenting with all types of gaming models and technologies, extending the idea beyond the activities of the kindergarten in which we cease to indulge the moment we go to “big school,” forcing children and older learners into an unnatural learning methodology. She suggests that this kind of exploration will result in a deeper commitment to learning, a sense of fun and enjoyment while learning, and the growth of creativity and innovation. Her challenge to educators is to be brave and creative themselves in putting aside old methodologies and exploring new ways of helping learning.

It is through this kind of exploration that Keri believes that as enablers of learning, wherever in the spectrum we are positioned, we will be able to see the seeds of desirable futures within the trends that are already taking place. Nurturing those seeds to create new opportunities in learners’ minds and in our learning methodologies may just be a way to tip the balance and lead us through the beta world that lies ahead.