Light and shadow of technology-enhanced learning

von Andreas von Oertzen

Berlin (GER), December 2015 - (by Andreas von Oertzen) OEB 2015, the 21st edition of Berlin’s landmark international conference on technology-enhanced learning and training for the corporate, education, and public sectors, bore the title "Accelerating the Shift". In fact, the event saw some of the demands to accelerate the shift presented with great vehemence from the very beginning. They ranged from relatively well-known points such as true end-to-end connections and the right mix of peer-to-peer and top-down learning, to a concrete vision for change, improved scalability, and more influence for learning experts in the role of consultants. 

In this context, some companies and managers were accused of continuing to pursue a head-in-the-sand strategy, a "leave-me-in-peace!" attitude, or manifesting general helplessness. At least some speakers seemed to be of the opinion that these executives have not adequately recognized the importance of the radical shift in acceleration that is necessary.

"Resources instead of courses" or "available knowledge for all" could be heard as an overarching credo.

Light and shadow

Ambivalence in dealing with data and both learning and knowledge management became clear in the expert event’s opening plenary session. Three keynote speakers spanned a bridge between polarities that could literally be described as the light and dark sides.

A good portion of the light side was found in recurring encouragement for learning, coaching, and training to make even greater use of beneficial web tools. In this context, useful links were found to numerous platforms, social media, and information. Terms like "user-generated content" and "peer-to-peer-learning" were viewed as having a very positive connotation in this frame.

However, a change in viewpoint produced a rather different view, with privacy becoming a much more important topic. This dark pole focused on the shadows - the unseen data collected by Google, Facebook, and other big players that will never be visible to those users who generate it.

One OEB keynote speaker, Cory Doctorow, said, "No matter who is winning the war on general-purpose computing, you are losing". If cyberwar were a hockey game, he went on to say, it would just be beginning, but the score would already be 500 to 500. It would be a game in which there is only offense, but no defense. Fifteen years after the big copyright wars, we would still treat the Internet as a fantastic video-on-demand service.

The idea that this functionality serves as a perfect spy system, porn distribution system, or jihadi recruitment tool, however, would attract hardly any attention. As the nervous system of the 21st century, the Internet has the potential to spy on everyone, everything, and everywhere.

Business Educa und Workplace Learning

As in previous years, the Business Educa topic area gathered experts in the fields of HR and organizational development to share practical strategies and solutions. This venue also addressed more traditional issues.

A main point was the future of work, working, and workers. Which qualifications will be increasingly necessary in the future to realize or even accelerate the overridingly important "shift"? For this purpose, for example, data-based analytical skills, the ability to precisely target the filtering of masses of data, and the ability to work in multicultural environments were identified.

In the context of behavioral observations, a World Bank Group study dealt with perceptual distortions caused by tacit knowledge that can impede learning. Monika Weber-Fahr, chief knowledge officer, reported on distortion effects such as simplification, consent, self-respect, and projection. Ultimately, it came to questions about how such distortions can be overcome in favor of better learning outcomes. Taking time to put beliefs in question and to make room for unpopular issues were just some of the non-technological answers.


The direction in which the accelerating shift will go remains to be seen with anticipation.

At some places during the presentations, the sentence came to mind, "When something online is free, you're not the customer, you're the product", taken from Andrew Lewis' sentence, "If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold."

Obviously, many people around the world are already working assiduously on the technological shift - possibly even faster than many are aware of - or like.

At OEB next year, we will again get a bit closer to this assessment in the context of the future of learning.

More about the Learning Organisation (German).