LWF joins CloserStill

News release


London, July 14th 2011. CloserStill, the fast growing UK media & events group have acquired Learning Without Frontiers (LWF) the pioneering online community, digital media & conference organisation focused on facilitating & documenting the on-going dialogue about disruptive change in global learning & teaching.

Formed in 2004, LWF and its community members have represented a growing movement who have consistently set the agenda on the use of mobile, video game, social media, open source & other disruptive technologies driving fundamental shifts in learning & where learning takes place.

Uniquely bringing together thought leaders & policy makers from the education, entertainment & technology sectors LWF has been described as the "Davos of learning & new technology". Previous keynote speakers have included Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, Ray Kurzweil, the godfather of AI, & Malcolm McLaren in his last public speech. Industry partners & supporters of LWF represent the who's who of leading technology providers & organisations leading the vanguard of new learning including Apple, Nintendo, Microsoft Xbox, Sony Computer Entertainment, Technology Strategy Board, Nominet Trust & NESTA.

LWF's annual UK conference & festival, LWF 12, will run alongside CloserStill’s successful Learning Technologies and Learning and Skills events in Olympia in January 2012.

LWF's founder, Graham Brown-Martin, will be a director & shareholder in a new company set up to run the organisation with a brief to continue creative direction of LWF whilst bringing his knowledge & expertise of social & digital media marketing to the CloserStill Group. He will work alongside co-directors Mark Penton and Ian Smout who have built up the Learning Technologies and Learning and Skills events into a formidable proposition.

CloserStill's CEO Andy Center said:

"Graham is a bit of a trouble-maker, so he will fit in well here! He also runs one seriously cool and funky festival. Delegates and supporters love it. This business is a glove fit with our strategy to strengthen our position in the fast-changing learning sector and to embed our events more deeply in the communities they serve. Watch this space."


Graham Brown-Martin:

"The fit with CloserStill was obvious from the start", he explained, "as a part of their DNA both organisations are naturally disruptive, prepared to challenge entrenched thinking & the status quo. The formidable management experience & financial support now available to LWF as part of the CloserStill Group enables us to scale the festival to meet the demands of our delegates, speakers & industry partners".

The move to Olympia presents new opportunities for LWF to once again reinvent itself and set a new benchmark for the next gathering of their global community.

“We’ve been presented with a considerable amount of space that will be the canvas to re-imagine & build a creative environment for our next festival themed around “Superstructures” commented Brown-Martin, “we will be creating a pop-up university or school of the future using ingenious rapid build structures and working with industry partners to create compelling installations & features”.

Speakers are yet to be announced but LWF’s trademark of eclectic, high-profile and cross-sector mix with numerous surprises is promised.

Ticketing for the festival will re-open soon with a revamp of the LWF main site. Registration  provides all delegates with an iPad 2 for use before, during and after the event to maintain an ongoing dialogue between participants and community members.


Optional musical interlude:


Fear of a wireless planet

By Graham Brown-Martin

Read all about it...In an age where there is so much information the headline is king.

So it is with those reader hungry newspapers who live off scare stories where they don’t have practice much, you know, “journalism”.

Journalism is defined in Wikipedia as “the practice of investigation and reporting of events, issues and trends to a broad audience”.

The Oxford English Dictionary is more succinct and describes it thus “the activity or profession of writing for newspapers or magazines or of broadcasting news on radio or television”

Whilst I prefer the more lofty definition presented by Wikipedia I’m more inclined to believe the investigation-free version offered by OED that's more in keeping with the journalistic practice demonstrated by todays mainstream press.

Take this headline from The Telegraph newspaper:

Ban mobile phones and wireless networks in schools, say European leaders

Or this headline from the Daily Express:


Or this one from the Daily Mail:

Ban mobile phones and wi-fi from schools ‘as they are potentially harmful’

Heady stuff (no pun intended), more than enough to fuel numerous blogs (including this one) and copycat news items around the world much like the story of Chicken Little who after an incident with an acorn decided that the “sky was falling in” and sets off to tell the king collecting, other animals along the way.

Optional cartoon interlude:

Given the shortage of journalists working at these papers perhaps a little critical thinking from an enquiring mind might be in order.

So what’s the background to the story?

Well, a committee from the Council of Europe published a report / working document on May 6th entitled “The potential dangers of electromagnetic fields and their effect on the environment”. The committee proposes a draft resolution that

“all reasonable measures to reduce exposure to electromagnetic fields, especially to radio frequencies from mobile phones, and particularly the exposure to children and young people”.

It then proposes banning

“all mobile phones, DECT phones or WiFi or WLAN systems from classrooms and schools” and also anticipates legislation to “to keep high-voltage power lines and other electric installations at a safe distance from dwellings”.

It justifies this proposed action because “waiting for high levels of scientific and clinical proof can lead to very high health and economic costs”.

So what’s the Council of Europe (CoE) and who belongs to the committee?

First off, the CoE is not the European Union neither is it the European Parliament nor the European Council.

The CoE has been around for over 60 years with 47 member countries and whose objective is

“to create a common democratic and legal area throughout the whole of the continent, ensuring respect for its fundamental values: human rights, democracy and the rule of law.”

Mr Jean Huss MP, Green Party, LuxembourgThe CoE’s Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs responsible for the report is composed of politicians rather than scientists. The report has been prepared by Mr Jean Huss, a Green Party MP in the Luxembourg legislative Chamber.

The report has yet to be debated by Council of Europe which is scheduled for debate in Kiev on May 27th where it will be approved or otherwise. So currently this report does not represent the views of the Council of Europe. Besides even if it did the views expressed are somewhat different from the European Commission.

The reason why our auspicious newspapers would pick up on this non-story and run such misleading headlines is clear, they sell newspapers.

The reason why these politicians would ignore the peer-reviewed research from the World Health Organisation, Health Protection Agency and numerous other organisations including the European Commission in favour of claims made by the anti-RF lobby is less clear.

Hello, may I speak with Mr Huss...It’ll be interesting to learn how the Council of Europe responds to this report.

Certainly if it makes recommendations about mobiles, Wi-Fi, WLAN, health and kids that differ from the advice already provided by the agencies responsible there’s a story worth reporting which may or may not have anything to do with health but until then let’s look at the facts rather than the catchy headlines.


If you've found this post interesting and would like to leave a comment please do!




An Apple for the Living Room

By Graham Brown-Martin

Ten years ago it seemed unlikely that Apple would successfully make the transition from computer company to one of the worlds largest consumer electronic and media companies.

That today the value of its brand has eclipsed both Microsoft and Google whilst deriving most of its revenue from the sale of mobile devices and digital content stands testament to its vision and ability to cause and ride the disruptions that are alluding many. That this news coincidentally comes within a week or so of Sony’s nightmare scenario for the PlayStation Network has encouraged me to think about how far Apple could go.

The iPad 2 was never going to be as revolutionary as the iPad 1 after all the first iPad wasn’t just a new product, it was a whole new category of computer. “Magical” or not I’m pretty sure that Apple on the first outing ultimately had to take a deep breath and hope that consumers and developers figured out what the iPad was on their own.

It was an audacious gambit where had Apple positioned iPad as an ebook reader it would have been slammed for being more than twice the price of a Kindle or as a notebook replacement people would have undoubtedly pointed to the raft of cheap netbooks on the market. Indeed some did anyway and we’re about to see the appearance of “netbook 2.0” running Chrome OS for the keyboard Jesuit’s. Good luck with that.

15 million iPads later suggests that the world got the point.

But I actually wonder whether the iPad is really a “third computing category” between the smartphone and the laptop or whether it and products like it will effectively replace both whilst making a convincing play for the family living room.

It’s the latter bit, the living room, that I believe may drive sales of iPads and comparable tablet devices into the hearts and homes of the less gadgety or affluent. I’ll come back to that in a moment.

Does the iPad 2 or future versions thereof prove my oft-quoted canard that “laptops are on deathrow”?

Well given that it launched with laptop-grade video editing and music composition apps, i.e. the kind of creative tasks that mobile devices had hitherto been incapable of doing, I’m inclined to believe that the days of lugging around a laptop are indeed numbered.

But surely the iPad doesn’t challenge the smartphone?

Well I think the answer to this and to some extent the earlier question maybe related to the age of the user and the way in which we end up embedding devices like the iPad into our everyday lives.

The phone call is all but dead which in the tech industry means it’s in serious decline. Looking at my recent usage statement from my mobile telco I’m inclined to believe this.

Despite being addicted to checking my smartphone and staying in constant contact with so many friends, family and colleagues I used less than 10% of my monthly allowance of phone calls and SMS. I got hammered on international and data-roaming but that’s another issue.

The fact is that I use my smartphone mostly for apps, browsing and email whilst for actual speaking I tend to use the significantly cheaper Skype for international.

The phone call is becoming as anachronistic as the keyboard. Phone calls are invasive, they come at the most inconvenient times demanding you to interrupt whatever you’re thinking about, working on or enjoying. Phone calls are low bandwidth information carriers that force you to think or respond in real time and whilst it’s nice to hear from a loved one the etiquette of the phone call is hard to sustain in these days of information overload.

Optional musical interlude:

Of course, there are times when only a phone call or a physical meeting will do. Heaven knows how many people I’ve upset with a carelessly written email or poorly constructed tweet. But those calls are getting further apart and can easily be conducted via Skype that also allows me to share other information during a call.

Recent stats from Nielsen shows that voice usage of phones has been dropping in every age group except for those past age 54 where teens see SMS as easier and faster than a phone call whilst still fun.

This behavior is important if one considers that it takes most industries at least a generation to be completely disrupted so the mighty telco’s time could soon be up.

So assuming that I’ve ditched my laptop would I also be prepared to ditch my smartphone?

This is a tricky one given that the form factor of the pocketable digital communicator is its biggest strength but I’m increasingly performing similar tasks on both my smartphone and my iPad although this is often down to habit rather than necessity. I often take Skype calls on my iPad using a bluetooth headset.

Taking the Nielsen stats into account I wonder if younger people will form the same habits or whether they’ll settle for a single device?

I’m not ready to consign the smartphone to “deathrow” status but I do think there is some justification to believe that iPad and tablet computing devices may fragment or challenge the dominance of smartphones at some point in the not to distant future.

So back to my earlier teaser about the living room and the less affluent for whom, in theory at least, premium devices like the iPad might be regarded as an expensive luxury.

So here’s my thinking.

The seemingly obvious upgrade that appeared with iPad 2, that of screen mirroring to HDTV, would appear to give Apple access to a new market and challenge the traditional gaming console / set-top box industry. Surely it’s only a matter of time before this feature becomes wireless and multi-user?

The appearance of HD resolution video games on the iPad that work on your HDTV whilst using the iPad as a sophisticated controller represents an unexpected challenge to the likes of Sony, Nintendo and Xbox.

The iOS App ecosystem has presented a new opportunity for game developers who have taken to the format with zeal and where new champions have emerged such as Rovio, the creators of Angry Birds, who were recently valued at $200 Million and are expecting to head for an IPO in the next few years. The emergence of high quality and often inexpensive games on mobile and social media platforms has wrecked havoc with the traditional video game industry that traditionally relied on cross-subsidy marketing where the console price was subsidised by the cost of the games.

The iPad also offers many of the features of the cheaper, smaller but also iOS powered Apple TV system on sale at $99 where via iTunes it offers all the facilities of a video rental and music store as well as a simple way of displaying all of your photo’s, family movies and favourite YouTube clips on the domestic TV to share with the whole family.

Assuming that Apple doesn’t come up with an Apple TV upgrade allowing access to the AppStore with new gaming controllers (what is that micro-USB port really for?) then the iPad could be a viable living room device that also challenges the traditional set-top box provided by your satellite or cable TV provider.

It’s this possible disruption to the satellite TV, video rental and gaming console sectors that interests me.

The story of satellite and cable TV in the UK is well known. In the late 80’s when subscription based satellite TV was about to make it’s debut with the British consumer it was thought that the cost of subscription would mean that it would be a middle-class phenomenon.

Thus one of contenders for the crown, British Satellite Broadcasting, entered the market with a technically superior system that was full of high-brow arts and current affairs programming. Meanwhile Rupert Murdoch took a different route to the market believing that it would be popular entertainment and sport that would drive demand for his Sky service. Well it turned out that Murdoch was right and for a while Britain’s middle class turned their nose up to satellite TV and the “chimney woks” that started appearing on the homes and tower blocks of the great unwashed.

The UK leads the world proportionally for HDTV ownership running at nearly 60% (compared to US at 57%) yet availability to HDTV content is dwarfed by other nations. Only 13% of UK HD-ready households have access to high-definition broadcast channels via their set-top boxes with the majority accessing HD material via Blu-ray or their PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360.

So I would suggest that there is a now a new battlefront for Apple and one that could inadvertently benefit those learners from less affluent homes. Despite being a premium product the iPad and similar platforms could be seen as a viable option as a component of a home entertainment system.

Certainly it is clear that that both iOS and Android have intentions on the living room whether it’s via Apple TV or Google TV and this could be the Trojan Horse that finally integrates the web, apps and the wealth of the internet to every home.

If popular entertainment was what drove the uptake of satellite and cable TV in the UK perhaps a device that performs all of the above plus the benefits of access to knowledge and learning may find itself into the hands of the many.

Granted I’ve taken quite a leap with my “what-if’s” but 10 years ago few imagined that Apple would become the largest retailer of music to the consumer. Based on that performance would becoming the dominant provider of entertainment to the living room really be such a stretch?

Now, my thoughts on the iPad 2's (or 3's) possible assault the living room are wild speculation. A developer called FireCore has already demonstrated that it is possible to use Apple TV as a web-surfing device as well as install Apps.

Rather than milk the iPad Apple could decide to officially open their TV system up for web-browsing and App's on HDTV and literally change the game overnight by becoming the cheapest HD gaming system on the market with a potential raft of inexpensive Apps.

In addition to the revenue generated by providing family entertainment such a device could provide access to a whole new audience who want to learn as much as play.



21st century skills

By Graham Brown-Martin

What are 21st century skills?

The question hangs in the air where responses are invariably peppered with buzzwords such as “collaboration”, “creativity”, “technology”, “agility”, “citizenship” and many others. I’m confident that you’ll be able to add to this list and most of them would, in part, be correct.

I enjoy playing buzzword bingo in my head as I’ve listened to policy makers, corporate executives and other 20th century thinkers take a stab at guessing what these skills might be as they struggle to be down with the kids and their quarterly returns.

Video clip: What is she talking about?

In the UK we have an administration - the part responsible for education at least - that would like to turn the clock back to 1950 to a post-war time and a land of opportunity, prosperity and better living through chemistry, where people knew their station in life. The 80/20 rule where 80% of the population were ruled and guided by the other 20%. How comforting that must be.

But there’s an elephant wearing a day-glo pink tutu who’s been dancing in the room since even the last century.

I have a vision about what happens after we elect a new President or Prime Minister. After they’ve stood at the doorway, family in tow, to their newly won corridor of power for the press shots they enter to find Mr Sinister who closes the door behind them, locks it and takes them for a briefing about “how it really is”.

They get to meet the elephant and boy can she dance.

This elephant was touched on during Sir Ken Robinson’s recent LWF talk and it makes climate change seem like a supporting act. And it wasn’t the well-rehearsed and perfectly delivered arguments about creativity in learning but the very reason it’s essential to the survival of our species.

(Sorry iPad users the bit below needs Flash)

The elephant is called “population” and her supporting acts are called “resources” and “environment”. There’s also a mad man in the audience who shouts “how the hell are we going to get out of this mess!” but every body assumes he’s a drunk so ignores him.

So let’s break this down.

A recent BBC documentary fronted by David Attenborough presented some startling statistics about the Earths population and our ability to support ourselves.

Video clip: How many people can the Earth support?

It turns out that if every person on the planet consumed and left an environmental footprint at the same rate as a typical citizen of Rwanda then our lovely blue marble of a planet could support 15 billion people.

On the flipside if we consume and leave the same environmental footprint as a typical US (and many a European) citizen then the planet can support 1.7 billion people.

The rub is that we are now at 7 billion people and counting.

Which means there’s a whole bunch of people having less so that a minority can have more.

Now this is a really tricky subject because the majority of people reading this blog, myself included, aren’t too keen on the using less bit. Of course, we talk about it and separate our garbage into the right bins, take public transport when we can but this is like comfort eating in a state of denial.

Nobody knows how many people have walked this planet but some pretty clever people have taken a stab and suggested that currently 10% of all the people who have ever lived are alive today. We are quite simply the most populous generation of our species.

For those of a right wing, nationalistic or religious persuasion - depending on who’s stats you read - you should know that the average age of people in the Middle East is under 30 with a growing population and the average age in Europe is approaching 40 rising to 50+ in the next 40 years with a rapidly declining population.

Sarkozy and Berlusconi anybody?

Whilst the physical size of the planet will one day be an issue the restriction on the number of people this planet can support comes down to our natural resources. The water table in China is now precipitously low and our fossil fuels will eventually exhaust themselves exacerbated by, well, those inconvenient people that, you know, want a bit of what you got.

Optional musical interlude:

So whilst we read about the “Arab Spring” and unrest in the African continent perhaps what we’re really witnessing is that our 21st century skills aren’t too different from the ones we’ve been deploying for a few centuries now.

Regime change, intervention, espionage, bombing, sustainable somnambulism, keeping people poor / uneducated, preventing independence, shotgun diplomacy, fiscal control, looting, pillaging whilst adopting a strategy of we take you buy would seem to be the kind of 21st century skills that we’ve become good at and have perfected through our systems of cultural reproduction since even before the Victorians.

So let’s lighten up a bit and bring it back to the topic of 21st century skills and the purpose of learning.

The next few generations of kids including those in our education systems today have some formidable challenges ahead if we are to see a 4th or 5th generation of our species.

Sounds sort of “woo-woo” dramatic doesn’t it until you think about it for a while and try to answer the fundamental questions about how we will ensure sufficient water, food, energy and medicines that will support an ever-growing population.

All that science fiction stuff about city size populations living in a single tall building and deep space exploration begins to seem a little less science fiction when you consider that we will need to design incredibly efficient ways of recycling and using our naturally limited resources without entering a dystopian world.

If we’re serious about educating the global population then they are going to want what you have or at least the good bits and if this is the case we will need to plot a course for energy and environmental neutrality that will allow this to happen. The alternative is what we have at the moment. Keeping the majority of people down and hiding behind well-intentioned NGO’s to salve our conscience. Unfortunately we know how that story ends.

So the point I’m driving at is that we, as a species, have a massive challenge ahead that won’t be solved by sticking our heads in the sand and pretending it will never happen.

We need to challenge and equip our learners of today and tomorrow with the skills to solve bigger problems.

Peace-keeping and the equitable sharing of resources and culture are going to be a big part of this but we are going to need architects, engineers, scientists, designers, artists and all the other members of the team who can reengineer and reimagine almost every facet of what we know today in ways we can hardly envision. 


This will require a challenge to our societies super-structures that hardly seems possible amongst a population who already consider themselves post-modernists when in reality we still live by a feudal system.

All this at the same time as ensuring we have a society and life that’s worth living.

Perhaps the purpose of education is now not simply to reproduce culture and maintain an elite but to take that elephant dancing until she has to leave the room.

What are 21st century skills?

The ones that will ensure we survive in a world that we want to live on.

Personally I don’t think that learning Latin is one of them.

Now what do you think?


The trouble with free

By Graham Brown-Martin

Free is the new business model and we like free don’t we?

Free search, free information, free social media, free apps, free newspapers - the list is almost endless as businesses adapt to this new model.

Business writer and editor-in-chief of Wired (£2 per copy on subscription), Chris Anderson (not to be confused with the guy who runs TED) followed his best selling Long Tail book with another best-selling book entitled “Free: How today’s smartest businesses profit by giving something for nothing” (available from Amazon for £5.45) which documents this 21st century business phenomenon.

The strap line for the book “How todays smart businesses profit...” is a clue to what’s happening here.

One of the examples in the book concerns that of King Gillette and how he built a hugely successful empire on the back of giving away the razors that were useless on their own but created a demand for disposable blades.

Billions of blades later the rest is history giving birth to a business model that is the foundation of entire industries from free mobile phones with monthly call/data plans to cheap video game consoles with pricey games to free coffee machines in offices with expensive coffee sachets to satellite TV with monthly subscriptions and so on.

The approach pioneered by Gillette became known by economists as “cross-subsidy”. Get something free as long as you bought something else.

Anderson convincingly proposes that a new kind of “free” business model has emerged as a result of the web because the costs of the products themselves is falling fast. Recording artists Prince, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and the thousands of artists who launched themselves off YouTube and MySpace have all benefitted from the audience-building concept of nada.

But you know what? None of this is free

Whether it’s that free newspaper you pick up on your morning commute or that Facebook page you update religiously, someone, somewhere is paying.

But as long as it’s not you it’s great right?

Well, maybe...

Let’s play a game. Answer me these questions, if only in your head.

How much would you charge to sell me:

  • your web-browsing history?
  • your purchasing history?
  • your list of friends and business contacts?
  • your social security number and credit card info?

We are now so conditioned to free that we sometimes forget to value these things to balance the deal.

So what has this to do with learning and education?

Well, a friend of mine in the UK education sector recently told me that due to the cuts in public sector spending that he would no longer be able to attend paid-for conferences.

Another colleague in government told me that an edict from the UK Cabinet Office stated that departments could no longer support commercially operated events. Now I don’t mean  events designed for commercial purposes like trade shows that also fall under the ban but also any event that is being operated by a commercial company - like LWF for example.

At first pass given the precarious state of of public finances in the UK these seem like prudent measures to encourage the private sector to become more resilient and less dependent on the public purse.

I’d also be the first to say that during the glory days there were a host of chancers who would set up a conference at the drop of a new government agenda and trouser the cash. These events added little to the idea of debate and were simply promotional exercises for the agenda, its followers and any commercial parties who were in on the act. Those in attendance got their day out, a free lunch and nodded (off) at the required times.

Optional musical interlude:

Naturally, as someone who monetizes their organisation by hosting events, I have an interest here. LWF’s “free” bit is the distribution of valuable resources and facilitating a platform for unfettered dialogue made possible by this “monetization”.

But what if we did it a different way?

What if we made all our events free to attend?

Well, we have thought about it and it could be done. However the nature of the events and the discussion via our various communities would change beyond a point that I would feel comfortable.

There a numerous free events, summits and even “world forums” aimed at the education sector. Some even fly you across the world and put you in expensive hotels.

But are they free?

No, they’re not and someone is paying. Someone who quite reasonably has an interest in gaining a return on their investment which means the programme of these events, just like the editorial in your free newspaper, will be influenced by those who control the purse.

The education supply sector is after all a business, no different from any other. It relies on influencing the thought leaders, opinion formers and budget holders.

Without commercial supporters the delegates would have to shoulder the entire costs of attending the event which could be considerable. The rightly renowned TED conferences charge their delegates upwards of $6,000 to attend and even then take sponsorship dollars for funding the pre-roll on their gorgeous videos.

But what commercial organisation in their right mind would support a dialogue that may question their position in the market or enable an open dialogue that may take the market in a totally new direction that isn’t in line with their business plan and quarterly returns?

Only those who are courageous, authentic and secure in their own position.

Of course, as a reader of this blog you’re smart and savvy. You know when you’re being sold to and when the agenda is being pre-programmed to deliver a certain result.

I’m not as naive as to suggest that some of those free junkets or conferences hosted by a single commercial vendor or consortium don’t hold an element of value, after all if nothing else there’s always a chance to catch up with your mates, but the control of debate and the agenda solely for commercial ends fills me with concern when it relates to the future of learning and that of our children.

And that’s why free ends up being the most expensive option of all.