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Martin Bean keynote

Keynote at ALTC 2009 conference, Manchester 9th September 2009

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Martin Weller
9 September 2009

Martin Bean (New OU VC) is giving the keynote on Wednesday

Extra content

I'm live-blogging Martin Bean's talk at ALT-C.

Martin's slides are on brand. Makes joke about being Australian and cricket.

Bringing together technology and education/commercial and public/research and practitioner.

Not about finding big pivotal change but recognising it's a journey.

Technological scepticism is not new - has quote about problems of slate in 1703, and in 1815 about problems of paper, etc. Getting good laughs for this. resistance to application of technology has always been there and it has always been up to people like us to apply it.

References Friedman's the World is Flat. His conclusion that globalisation is a reality. So no longer about us in UK but that competition is global. Business goes where the talent is. Lifetime employment vs lifetime employability. Millions of people need to augment their skills following financial crisis.

Changing nature of HE - three categories:

Globalisation - eg Bologna agreement designed to allow you to move your education. Seeing unprecedented growth in HE.

Massification - despite massive increases, we cannot supply enough places to meet demand if we stick with bricks n mortar approach.

Privatisation - private sector is fastest growing sector for delivery. One in three students globally studies in private university. These universities have different priorities and values eg shareholder value against social justice. Makes them formidable competitor, are using technology aggressively.

Our collective challenge - UK & US overshadowed by India and China. Majority of overseas students now go home, not stay in US.

Need to educate citizens for new work. Half of adults are not qualified above level 2. Students need to be equipped with right set of skills for workplace.

STEM is key for competitive challenge.

The increasing importance of sustainability. One of roles of HE is to make people feel uncomfortable to bring about change that is necessary - sustainability/climate change is one of these times. Goes into teaching, research and leadership agendas.

Transforming info into meaningful knowledge. Exam doesn't measure 21st century skills.

Student expectations - many students have never known a world without web, mobiles, etc. Access and use of internet is almost pervasive now. We can have conversations about access but we have to be real about what people have.

What do students want? research at MS - like devices, identities, cool stuff, stuff friends like, new stuff. Hate complexity,

A crisis of relevance - 70% believe HE is crucial but only 30% believe the ed they are getting meets this.

Lifelong learning - we cannot depend on young graduates alone.

Learning in workplace needs to be integral - can't stop lives to learn.

Remove artificial barriers between formal and informal learning. Move seamlessly in and out of HE as and when they want - current systems designed to stop this.

Learner-centric focus - days of pushing info at them are gone.

The opportunity for technology - taking Friedman's stuff, the changes in HE, student needs, what is the role of tech?

1) Expanding the reach of high quality to all - eg OERs.

2) nurturing communities of learning, both formal and informal. Figure out how do we assess that

3) Enabling relevant, personal learning. The three/four year degree is done.

4) Giving educators greater insight and more time.

5) Agile, efficient and connected learning systems. No 1. problem is silos, data locked away.

Making change possible: 3 key considerations: people, process and technology. First two are more important. Tech innovation fails because we think about software and not the stuff around it. Need to put time into the people and process.

Martin Weller
11:23 on 9 September 2009 (Edited 09:29 on 3 December 2009)

Now talking about the OU. Showing old OU clips. Based around people, places, methods, ideas. Will not change under him.

Does a show of hands - who has studied, worked at or does work at OU? Very large number of hands go up.

It's still about student support but in a new way.

Some numbers for student support challenge - 1.25 million calls, 33,000 qualifications etc.

Rethinking student journey and application of technology at every stage.

Meeting them where they live - they don't want to hang out in your VLE.

Changing delivery models - content creation, etc Napster of education. Mobile devices. Openlearn, 'unbelievably proud of it'. Part of overall initiative to change and lead. Free is disruptive.

Multi-channel in a big way - YouTube, Itunes U, but also VLEs, intranet. Showing iTunesU. Need to be visually attractive, extend brand. To be successful here not just about lecture notes but have to produce new, interesting digital content.  Showing iTunes stats - 6.12 million downloads, 87% outside UK.

Announcing SocialLearn - inviting people to participate. (he's using some of my images!). Thinks SocialLearn is the possible Facebook for learning (he had lunch wth Facebook CEO). Shows transformations. Are we ready to shift? Enabling process and people to embrace technology.

Martin Weller
11:35 on 9 September 2009

My liveblog notes - also better formatted in my blog here.

This is the place I like to be best, a pleasure to accept. This is the world he’s spent his entire professional life in – the intersection between education and technology, and bringing them together in a meaningful way.  International personal background. Spent last 15 years working in commercial software companies, all engaged in education. Last five at Microsoft & Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Then made decision to move from theoretical R&D to practical, last November.

This is also the way innovation comes to bear, same journey. Less about pivotal points, but we are custodians of a piece of a journey.

Innovative Scepticism – soundbits from a teacher’s conference in 1703 – ’students today can’t prepare bark to calculate their problems. They depends on their slates which are more expensive. What will they do when slate is dropped?’; then 1815, students depend on paper to omuch. 1907, students depend too much on ink. 1928, students depend upon store-bought ink.  1941, students depend too much on fountain pens. 1950 ballpoint pens will be the ruin of education in our country.

It’s always been up to us – who see the innovations – to bring education along for the journey.

Thomas Friedman, ‘The World Is Flat’ – changing landscape. Turbo-charged environment, Two years ago this talk wouldn’t have been broadcast like this, and wouldn’t have Twitter feedback and critique – which he will read afterwards (!).  It’s hard for institutions to accept this, and the role that we play in this.lifetime

Employment vs lifetime employability. Education is not a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it’s a lifetime experience. Shifting gears.

Changing nature of HE – three categories: Globalisation, Massification, Privatisation.

Globalisation – 2.5m students learning outside their home country. Bologna process, e.g. of initiative designed to facilitate this.  Unprecedented growth in distance education. In Singapore – 200 possible online MBAs – will do a degree in how to choose!

Massification – macroeconomic environment, some massive increases in supply, but generally the world can’t supply enough to meet demand if we stick with the traditional model.  So have to move from bricks and mortar to clicks and mortar. We’ve seen 20, 30, 40% increases in supply. But in Sub-Saharan Africa, 5% increase a year is nothing like enough.

Privatisation – Tax-funded education is in retreat mode. Private sector the fastest-growing. One in three students studies in a private HE institution.  Has very different motivation to other universities. At the OU, wakes up every day thinking about social justice, giving people access.  Private organisations, wake up every day thinking about shareholder value.  That makes them extremely formidable competitors – fastest-growing, massive uptake of technology, riding the wave of distance education.

So what do we see as our colective challenges?

UK and US overshadowed by India and China – number 1 and number 3 in the world. China’s R&D investment is massive; the rankings for research instutitions will be dramatically different in 20 years.  When PhD students went to the US, they used to stay – now they go home.

Need to educate citizens for new types of work.  UK for adults of working age, just shy of half are not qualified about level 2. If we’re to underpin UK as world leader, thriving and prospering, have to face up to skills agenda, right skills.

STEM is key for a competitive workforce – but is challenged.  Why critical? It fuels innovation. Only future for economies like UK, Australia, US, is innovation.

Increasing importance of sustainability.  Key times in history to make people uncomfortable enough to make a big change. Not about giving courses in green jobs, engineering environment – it’s horizontal, in to all teaching, research, leadership agendas.

Transforming information into meaningful knowledge. 21st media skills, sage on stage to guide on side. Rote memorisation and assessment over. School is like on an aeroplane, have to put all your confidence in someone up the front, and you have to turn off all your electronic devices.  Classic examination setting: put them in a room, take away all their tools bar a pencil and paper. Somehow we’re measuring 21st century skills?

Doesn’t believe that a Powerpoint has a constitutional right to start and finish (!), coming from Microsoft.

Student expectations

Many students never known world without web, sms, MP3s, etc. Heavy use, including social networking. Uptake of technology in homes, roughly 70% in 2008, when up by 2m homes in a year.  We need to continue conversation about access, but must get real about their expectations.

What do they want? Values: autonomy, authenticity, connect and share, creativity, constant stimulation. Priorities: friends, fun, music – real-time interaction and self-presentation. Likes: Devices, cool stuff. Hates: Complexity, bad design, costs, things that get in the way of expression. Really the Internet enables what students wanted before, but faster and at bigger scale.

Crisis of relevance in Higher Education. To be more relevant, blend digital lifestyles and digital work styles: don’t unplug them, make best of both. Future jobs will require those skills.  Lifelong learning – we can’t depend on young graduates. Continual development, learning in the workplace needs to be integral. Breaking down barriers between informal and formal learning – HE must remove artificial barriers, so people can knit pathways together to weave in and out of HE as they need. Our systems look like they’re designed to stop this.  That’s not what everyone needs, not what a quality HE experience should be. Must put learner in the middle; HE is about making sure that learner is at the middle, the support revolves around them.

So with those as backdrops – macroeconomics, student expectations … why is technology relevant? What is the opportunity for technology?

Firstly, expanding the reach of high quality education to all. (OER as one example.) Microsoft research – number one role for technology is expanding access to those who couldn’t otherwise.

Nurturing powerful communities of learning – formally and informally.

Enabling relevant, personalised, engaging learning. Classic textbook model, 4-year refresh, those days are done.

Giving educators more insight and more time.

Nothing new here – the thinking has been around for decades. Instead of lecture like this – all of this could’ve been done in advance, distributed notes. More about assessing where they at, what people got from it. Would allow us to have the most awesome conversation, really get down to where learning takes place.

Also about agile, efficient and connected learning systems. Data is a big challenge: locked up in silos, some home-grown, some off-the-shelf. Everybody wants to unlock the data. MIS or whatever, gives us access to the information we need just when we need it.

Role of technology, where it’s appropriate – but number one thing he’s learned in 25y in the application of technology is that it’s more about the people and the process than it is about the technology.  Why does technology innovation fail in our institutions? Nine times out of ten it’s because we think about the hardware and software and very little about the brainware.

Need to give all stakeholders time and energy, take care of them.

Segue in to talking about the Open University.  Four key themes (Open to People, Places, Methods, Ideas)- will not change, when he’s the VC in two weeks’ time.

(Video of OU history.)

If you’ve every worked for the OU, or been involved, learned, studied – look around – it’s about half the room (presumably mostly IET!). Awesome quest.

Not revolution but evolution.

Student support – it’s always been about personal, but now even more. The OU will ride the web wave to personal. 1.25m teelphone calles, 240k registrations, 800k student assignments, 33k qualifications – every year. We’re going to do this high-touch.  We will redefine our student journey and think about technology at every stage.

Will meet them where they live. If you think they want to hang out in your VLE – ha! – that’s the last place in the world.

Take advantage of changing delivery models, content creatin, consumption and manipulation. iPod would never have worked without Napster, which broke business models.  Same is happening of textbooks.

Being driven by Open Educational Resources – OpenLearn, 4m visitors since launch, very proud of it. Recognise overall initiative to change and lead, the whole sector. The SCORE initiative to help everyone else.

Access: big disruptive: it’s FREE. Free to browse, register, use, adapt, share. Very disruptive indeed.

Going multi-channel: build once, put in repository once, then go meet them everywhere, Miro, iTunes, YouTube.  Visual surfing in iTunes U, if you recognise it’s a place to extend your brand and bee visually attractive. Not a matter of putting lecture notes on to an iPhone, it’s a whole new generation of engaging digital content.  6.12m downloads, 64k visitors, 180k downloads a week. Lots of top-20 hits. Over 50% outside the UK.  How much does it cost? Very cost-effective versus putting signs on the side of buses.

Imagine if .. more than a podcast, but a learning application – the virtual microscope on an iPhone on a Martian meteorite.  Imagine a whole course on that – do it anywhere. That’s the next generation, it’s not just doing podcasts.

Education meets social networking – exciting, fast, disruptive, social (Eboy picture!).  SocialLearn – leveraging Web 2.0 for education, building bricks for a Personal Learning Envrionment.  Learner-centric – not an echo-chamber with comfort zones. Not just a web platform, but architecture of data and services. On Facebook, no breakthrough application for education; what we want is that.

Beyond social networking: moving from people like me, to people who challenge me; quick factual info to learning journeys/depth.

We can build what they want, meet them where they live, break down barriers between informal and formal learning.  Motivated learners are creating their own reuse and sharing models and contects.

Are we prepared to BE our own worst competition?


Australian, David Kennedy, Hong Kong: Wonderful to hear a VC talk about relationship of learning and technology. What will you do to the institutional structures which tend to reward other things?

MB: If we can’t prove the value proposition, sweep people up in what we’re doing, showing them the ‘why’, that we’re willing to invest in enabling the right people and processes, then we won’t break down those structures. Must be aware of two dominant forces: our faculties and academics. Much of this innovation needs to come out of the faculties. They are custodians of quality. Trying to do it skunkworks won’t work. Also the research agenda – OU doesn’t launch anything innovative unless we’ve done a lot of grounded research. Need compelling vision, investment, academics informing the quality, grounded in solid research – and will get it done.

Diana Laurillard, IoE, ex-OU: Changing nature of HE, massification. OU has been exploiting technology like this for ages. Personalisation – key, but difficult to achieve. Greater flexibility – not just of access, but in the way and what you learn.

MB: Diana’s little Apple logo shining at him distracted him from his Microsoft days. Browser is a beautiful thing for enabling multiplatform. When he puts the OU together, it comes through – the personal stuff that we do is key – the AL-student relationship, the peer groups, the phone call when they’re about to give up. Firmly believes we get rid of high-touch at our peril: technology can make this better, not get rid of it.  The platforms allow us to create much more of a personal experience. One AL with 18-24 year-olds (25% of OU students), encouraging them to set up their own Facebook group before the course starts, get to know each other. Across Europe, using Elluminate to create a high-touch personalised experience.  There is always going to be a place for physical touch, but the technology enables it in a special way.  Open Learn is an example of us seizing on technology when it really works. But totally agree, should’ve just said yes.

Shirley Alexander, Sydney Australia: Do students really want us hanging out in their space?

MB: Yes and no. They do if it’s meaningful and relevant. 13yo daughter describes her mother as a Facebook stalker. That’s not what he’s talking about, they don’t want us stalking them. But they do want us to take what they’re using and making it more meaningful for them.  E.g. socialLearn. They don’t want to leave Facebook and come to your VLE, they want to pull it in and stay in their world. Meeting them where they live is like that.  The long tail of learning, what the web provides, can take narrow areas of focus and let people come together. Take that further, giving them scaffolding to make it richer – that’s what he’s talking about. They don’t want us looking at their drunken photos.

John McAlister: Boundaries between FE, HE and schools, will the barriers continue to exist?

MB: For as long as our policymakers and all of us allow them to. We’re the only things standing in the way between primary, secondary, FE, HE working together. They technology exists, the desire from students exist, the funding models and credit models exist. But our courage to get it done isn’t there.

Debbie Cotton from Plymouth: Interested in SocialLearn. Some of our research suggests students switch of Facebook when they’re trying to learn. Do you imagine them flitting between social and learning activities? Students found that distracting.

MB: Those who want to turn it off mode; the net generation can live in a multi-stumulus mode. The real value of SocialLearn is that it’s a platform architecture, they can pull in things as and when they want to bring them in. It’s not designed to take them somewhere else, but be a layer that lets them work within an environment structured with informal learning environments. In closed beta, the UI is key at the moment. I’d rather be the one to figure all that out.

Doug Clow
11:54 on 9 September 2009

(Edited version of my liveblogged notes)

Martin Bean’s title is ‘A journey in innovation’. This refers both to his journey to this point and to the journey involved in educational innovation. We at ALT-C are custodians of a small but important part of this journey.

Education can no longer be regarded as  a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it is a lifelong experience. It is no longer about the 18-year-old cohort getting a one-off experience and then going on to prosper

It is increasingly an international experience. 2.5 million students are currently studying outside their home country.

If we stick with bricks and mortar, the world cannot supply enough HE places to satisfy demand. We need to move to clicks and mortar.

Tax-funded HE worldwide is in retreat mode. The private sector is the fastest growing sector of higher education. The private sector’s  motivation is very difficult to that of traditional universities. It is concerned with shareholder value, not necessarily with social justice.

We need to educate citizens for new types of work. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics(STEM) are key if we are to have a competitive workforce.

Sustainability is also increasingly important. One of the roles of HE is to make people feel uncomfortable in order to bring about the sort of change that is necessary.

Our collective challenge is to transform information into meaningful knowledge.

Currently, school is like being on an aeroplane. You sit down for a long period of time, put your trust in someone at the front - and hand over all your electronic devices.

We need to blend digital lifestyles and digital workstyles. Learning in the workplace needs to becomes integral because people can’t stop their lives in order to get more education. Higher education must remove artificial barriers between formal and informal learning and must become more learner centred. We need to nurture powerful communities of learning. We need to enable relevant, personalised, engaging learning. We need to build agile, efficient and connected learning systems.This is more about the people and the process than about the technology. We spend all our time thinking about hardware and software and very little time thinking about brainware.

The Internet is somewhere we can extend our brand and be visually attractive. We must recognise that we have to produce a whole new generation of engaging, innovative content. The Internet allows us to reach out to users where they live. Over 50% of the people who download Open University material from iTunesU are based outside the UK. This is a very cost effective way of reaching out to people.

SocialLearn is being developed as a place where social networking meets education.

Rebecca Ferguson
19:14 on 9 September 2009

Embedded Content


Gráinne Conole
11:44am 9 September 2009

Wow exciting times for us at the OU - if Marin means what he says suggests we are in for some BIG changes!

1:06pm 9 September 2009

Many thanks, Martin and Doug, for the notes. 

What would you - or anyone else - pick out as highlights from what he said?

Reading your notes, one thing that caught my attention was:

"One of roles of HE is to make people feel uncomfortable to bring about change that is necessary - sustainability/climate change is one of these times"

I think that is an important reminder of one aspect of HE, our role in challenging society. And maybe it is something that you wouldn't get from the commercial sector, so is a particular responsibility of ours?

Gráinne Conole
1:10pm 9 September 2009

Good point David

The thing that struck me was that the wider contextual context of modern education, coupled with the subtle changing practices and ways in which users are co-evolving with the technologies means that we really need to change and change big time. The other point for me was about the complex inter-relationship between people, processes and technologies.

Cristina Costa
3:48pm 9 September 2009

WOW - what an inspiring soul. I liked the fact M. Bean put a great emphasis on people and on te social bonding, because I truly believe that is what will trigger the most successful leraning experiences. It's more about the humanware than on the softwaere or hardware, isn't it? It is about how we show we care about the people we mentor...

We need more people like VC M. Bean to promote an education based on dialogue and meaningful learning bonds! ;-)

OU - you have a great leader ;-)

Gráinne Conole
3:54pm 9 September 2009

Thanks Cristina I would agree. There was a lot of food for thought in his presentation. I and many others are really looking forward to working under his inspiring leadership.

Gráinne Conole
7:39pm 9 September 2009

hi rebecca great can u add a link to your life blog too?

Paul Lefrere
9:45pm 9 September 2009

About MB's response to Debbie Cotton from Plymouth: Martin Weller's notes say "... they [users of SocialLearn] can pull in things as and when they want to bring them in." 

This is impressive work, and I surmise from MB's comments that he will be seeking synergies with other great projects at the OU, eg in the Knowledge Media Institute, to reduce the time before such projects can be used on a large scale. In this connection, I guess that MB will pay close attention to a complementary project ( ) that aims to make it very easy for people to use their own ICT environments, at home or at work, and add learning-focused elements and content from many sources including OpenLearn.

Debby Cotton
8:08am 10 September 2009

Like many others, I found Martin Bean's keynote most interesting. However, I was left with some residual concerns about the potential aim of bringing academic work into the students' social sphere. This has, to me, two risks:

1. That students will leave the space entirely and move onto pastures new because they don't want academics in what they perceive to be their personal (non-work) space; and/ or

2. That students will be unable to focus on their learning owing to distractions which interfere with their work environment (even more than is currently the case!)

To some extent I believe that we should encourage students to build stronger boundaries between their work and social spaces - so that they have an effective space to learn - rather than encouraging them to blur those boundaries still further. However, I'd be very interested to hear others' views on this.

Debby Cotton

Gráinne Conole
8:14am 10 September 2009

Hi Debbie

Good points. This issue about boundaries between work/home/learning is crucial. The fluidity of new technologies enables interconnectivity in ways that weren't possible before, but that also brings with it challenges. In part i think it is about each of us finding a way of managing the mix in a way that works for us.

Re: "invading" social spaces - again I have mixed views on this, as I think it depends on the students and their attitudes to learning and the ways in which they like learning. I am an odd mix - I quite like the formal structure of traditional education, partly because deadlines motivate me and help ensure I get things done, but I like to mix that with learning  by serendipity. I have had some great "ah ha" learning moments via Twitter, I use facebook and a social networking site called to make connections with others interested in Spanish learning. I am not phased by "the tutor"/"teacher" being in my space, but perhaps that is because I don't see them as superior and hence there is not a power balance. I am sure others have their own stories of their personal mix which will be different - oooh think I might start a cloud - what is your personal learning mix? ;-)

Kevin McConway
5:46pm 10 September 2009

Hi Debby and Grainne,

I think this issue of boundaries is crucial to, but I agree with Grainne that it's up to individuals to find a way to manage this themselves. I guess it's a consequence of having been at the OU for so long, in many roles (student, teacher, academic manager), but I found it a bit odd to read of a student's "work" space as being where their studying "lives" --- with many of our students the problem is keeping the "work" (i.e. what they are paid to do and often do most of the time) sufficiently separate from their study space; some conceive their study as being part of their social space (indeed in some cases it dominates their social space, and they're happy with that and it works for them), some have sepate spaces for work, for study, for home, and for social (or indeed more spaces than that), and while we can give general advice to new students (as the OU have done for ever about the virtues of having a bit of physical study space) about things that might help, I think the key thing is that we keep well away from appearing to impose any particular one-size-fits-all categorisation, though up by us, on them. (E.g. MB saying students don't want to hang around in your VLE --- good point, but we've also got to take into account (judging by some past OU experience) that some small proportion of them /will/ want to hang around in our VLE and camp in bits of it as their social space, and we've either got to make that possible for them or annoy and possibly lose them.


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