Entries in disruption (18)


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:


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.



The Napsterfication of Learning

By Graham Brown-Martin

I’ve recently enjoyed the honour of being invited to present keynote talks at conferences in the UK and US. I rarely give talks at my own events so it’s great to have the opportunity to attend and speak at others.

My general topic has been “Disruption, Innovation and Learning” that being the theme for LWF during 2011 and usually why I’ve been invited. However I like to customise my talks to the audience whom I’m addressing and the general themes of the events themselves plus I don’t like giving the same talk twice.

Will you choose the red pill or the blue pill?


The events I’ve attended have been well organised and well attended with interesting and many inspiring delegates so my comments here are not intended as a critique but a general observation about the teaching profession and our existing formal establishments for learning. Each event has, by their nature, attracted progressive educational thinkers, practitioners and innovators with a keen interest in deploying the kind of technologies that many young people are already using as opposed to the kind of bone-headed technology that has been forced upon many learners by less enlightened practitioners.

However, what has become clear to me during the events I have participated in as a speaker as well as the events I have hosted is that whilst the discussions are around potentially disruptive technologies such as mobile, video games and social media the real impact of these technologies, like an elephant dancing on the table, is rarely considered.

Common themes emerge such as how we might integrate these technologies into the classroom or within existing teaching practice rather than how these technologies might genuinely change or disrupt the way we teach and learn.

So are we to go through another cycle of missed opportunity as a result of trying to fit the 21st century into the 19th?

Are we really going to carry on talking about how we might use clunky learning platforms on mobile and gaming devices? How we might integrate iPads with Interactive White Boards? How the over-priced and over-maintained LMS might integrate with gaming platforms? How we might apply gaming mechanics to tired educational software? How we might enable the teacher with admin rights or other controls on a learners personal device?

I could go on ad-nausea here but I think you get my point.

compare and contrast

There’s been an on-going industrial-institutional complex at play here for at least the past 30 years that has ensured the continued irrelevance of technology to learning in the formal setting which has been a gift to those in government who would like to opt our learners out of the 21st century and return to back to basic teaching practice. This would be fine of course if our learners where joining a back to basics, 1950’s world after they leave their formal education.

You know what I’m talking about here, technology designed to replicate and support existing teaching practices and formal learning environments which quite frankly haven’t changed a great deal since the mid-20th century. As I’ve oft said the problem with this approach is that we get the same, often mediocre, results only quicker.

What do young people say?


When I retired the Handheld Learning Conference after 5 years at the height of its growth and success (2,000 international delegates) it was because I believed that the argument had been won. I just couldn’t see the point of more navel-gazing about devices. There could no longer be a question about the value of the connected learner who had near permanent access to learning via their mobile device.

Or could there?

Naively I didn’t count on the legion of practitioners or IT job-worths who were still thinking in the context of the mobile or tablet device as a laptop replacement and set about retro-fitting these modern marvels with the same garbage that didn’t work very well even on laptops. They must have missed the memo about the shift in computing that has left the desktop PC all but dead and the laptop on death-row.

So my question is what will happen when every learner has their own iPad like device, permanently connected to the internet without filtering and other controls?

What disruption might this enable?

So the analogy or even challenge that I make is what would the Napster of learning look like?

I’m referring to the original Napster that Shawn Fanning introduced in 1999 that despite being illegal changed the music industry and the way we access music forever. I’d venture to say that without this ingenious act of piracy the iPhone and iPad that we know today would not exist. As Matt Mason opined "piracy drives innovation" and as Stephen Heppell has said “technology + people, breaks cartels”.

Napster to my mind was a text book example of this.

The enabling technology for this disruption was the Internet and affordable, readily available computing that sent shock waves through the industry paving the way for legal platforms such as iTunes.

Napster effectively disintermediated our access to music, it took out the middle men, bypassed the record labels, the record retailers and connected the listeners directly to the music. It also meant that many artists, the creators of the music, didn’t get paid and even today it is estimated that 95% of all music downloads are illegal. However the savvy artists and labels who embraced the disruption used file sharing technology to launch themselves and shifted their revenue streams to live performances.

Interestingly Napster and illegal file-sharing didn’t damage the independent record labels who were innovating as much as the majors who were largely innovation-free and relied on re-releasing proven artists and old recordings in new formats.

I think we can draw some interesting parallels here to what is already happening in the world of learning.

Understanding who the client is here is easy. But who or what are the middle-men? Who are the cartels? Who are the artists and who are the new artists that will embrace this inevitable disruption? How will they get paid?

And what of the physical school or university building?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Addendum added August 17th 2011 - Video of talk given at the Edinburgh Interactive Festival 2011


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Q&A with Jimmy Wales & Lord Puttnam, closing session LWF11

A unique audience question and answer session to bring the London 2011 LWF Festival to a close with Lord David Puttnam and Jimmy Wales discussing learning and technology.

Facilitated by Learning Without Frontiers founder, Graham Brown-Martin´╗┐


Lord David Puttnam, LWF Talk, London 2011

Embracing disruption for a better learning future

Lord David Puttnam of Queensgate spent thirty years as an independent film producer with many award winning films including Chariots of Fire, Bugsy Malone, Midnight Express and the Memphis Belle. Retiring from film production in 1998 he has focused his work in education and the environment.

In this inspiring talk Lord Puttnam discusses the future of the creative and digital industries, the importance of ensuring  our learners are equipped for this future and makes a call to action for a positive new disruption that leads to radically improved learning and global access.