Sunday Times Education Festival

wellingtonIn between writing, video editing and app programming I have been popping up at various conferences and gatherings to talk about the journey that I took as part of the Learning {RE}imagined project.


This weekend I was invited to Kinnernet Europe that was held in the 12th century city of Avallon in the Burgundy district of France. Describing itself as an “Imagination Festival”, Kinnernet is an invitation only unconference that reads like a who’s who of European innovators.


During the first week of July I will be in Sydney, Australia where I have been invited to present the opening keynote at the Slide2Learn conference.


On Friday June 20th I will be in England giving a talk at the Sunday Times Education Festival hosted at the rather splendid Wellington College.


Russell Prue, who has created the radio station for the festival, interviewed me in advance and this is what I had to say.

If you would like me to speak at a conference or broadcast please get in touch


gbm-faceGraham Brown-Martin is the founder of Learning Without Frontiers (LWF), a global think tank that brought together renowned educators, technologists and creatives to share provocative and challenging ideas about the future of learning. He left LWF in 2013 to pursue new programmes and ideas to transform the way we learn, teach and live. His book, Learning {Re}imagined was recently published by Bloomsbury/WISE and is available now.

vietnam-flag-870x400 photo-1.2

Vietnam – Learning Agility

My visit to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in Vietnam last week was not an official part of the Learning {RE}imagined journey, but what I learned there I felt was both valuable and reinforced much of what I have discovered within the research and writing for the book that will be published in the autumn.


I was invited to design and deliver a learning experience for an international cohort of 40 high potential leaders from a UK FTSE 100 organisation active in the financial services sector. The module I designed was part of a 6 month “Agility Programme” developed by a faculty that included senior representatives from a leading UK university business school and several other leading executive and management training experts. Agility has become a vital area of skill development amongst large corporations facing challenges presented, for example, by sudden changes in regulatory framework or new and unanticipated competitors entering their market. In a nutshell, none of these corporations want to become the next Blackberry. An agile leadership team can successfully adapt to rapidly changing market conditions to maintain the success of their organisation.


Whilst in my past career I have built fast growth start-ups and sold them to large corporations I have not had the experience of a corporate career and so I was initially unsure of the value that I could add to this programme when first invited to join the faculty. My fellow faculty members and the cohort itself were all impressively qualified with MBA’s from leading business schools and degrees from leading universities. This was a very smart, high powered, group that I had found myself part of. The programme consisted of a number of residential periods plus online sessions and 1:1 coaching. Vietnam was chosen as a destination by the organisation to host the final residential week of the programme where the cohort would come to share and learn together.


The focus of my module was “Learning Agility”, what it is to be an agile learner, and in this context my presence made sense. Having not pursued a traditional educational path myself I’m effectively unschooled and have, since the age of 15, identified mentors and directed my own learning. During this time, where I have built and sold several disruptive organisations since my early 20’s, I have had no other option than to be an agile learner. A challenge for me then, was whether I could impart what I knew about learning to a group who, on the face of it, came from a radically different background, in a way that was relevant and useful to them.


The more I looked into the area of learning agility the more I discovered that it was an area flooded with jargon and consultants who could decipher it yet, in practice, it’s something that we’re born with naturally, but we’re almost taught out of. Traditional learning is measured by IQ and grades in tests based on certainty whereas agile learning would be determined by curiosity and quick thinking based on intuition. That’s not to say that you don’t want a balance of both but it’s these latter skills that are now being sought by some of the worlds leading corporations in candidates for senior leadership positions. These highly-prized individuals cope well with ambiguity and complexity, they don’t accept the status quo and they easily learn new functions.


I could be wrong but I don’t think that you can teach learning agility. I believe this kind of agility to be more like a set of “habits of mind” so in designing the module I considered what these habits might be and how I could encourage the cohort to think about them. I was interested in the ways we think about innovating, abstract problem solving or approach risk, how we reflect on our own performance, how we stay present and how we react to feedback. It occurred to me that many of these habits are present amongst children who are playful, curious and open-minded to new experiences that contribute to their learning. Thus a challenge for me was how to create a safe environment for the cohort to re-engage with their childlike state of curiosity in order to explore the habits and embed some of the theory that I was discussing during what was a 4 hour module in their, already, very intense week.


With the help of a colleague in London (Stuart Swann) I designed a set of activities using basic LEGO kits that also could be bought locally in Vietnam and provided to each member of the cohort. I chose LEGO after considering a variety of platforms from iPads to Raspberry Pi’s and even PlayDoh on the basis that the kits were inexpensive, available quickly in Vietnam and had a “low skills threshold” to their immediate usage. By this, I mean that the cohort could immediately work on my exercises without prior knowledge of the medium or any initial “training” in its use. It was also useful because I was hosting the module on the 50th floor of theBitexco Financial Tower in Ho Chi Minh City where I was unsure of technical details like Internet access or power sockets etc. In essence, I could host this learning experience almost anywhere which, given the theme of the Learning {RE}imagined project, interests me a lot.


From the first of opening of their LEGO boxes it was clear that the cohort, who had no prior warning of the impending games, enjoyed the opportunity to return to the kind of experiential learning that they’d had as children. This established a playful environment where we could explore some quite weighty subjects and test them out as a team. It also meant that the formality of the lecture format was changed where the cohort, unprompted, felt comfortable enough to rearrange the environment to be more lounge like so they could continue to build during the talking parts of the module.


Altogether, I really enjoyed the session. The feedback I received from the cohort and faculty colleagues was highly positive. Whilst it was my job to teach I also learned a great deal that made me reflect on how todays leading corporations and employers are now actively seeking ways to energise their leadership to encourage out of the box thinking and agile problem solving in complex situations. It seems to me that what we need to do now is make sure that these skills are valued across the educational spectrum and that, in our quest to measure and standardise, we don’t lose the very thing that makes us valuable.


Graham Brown-Martin is the founder of Learning Without Frontiers (LWF), a global think tank that brought together renowned educators, technologists and creatives to share provocative and challenging ideas about the future of learning. He left LWF in 2013 to pursue new programmes and ideas to transform the way we learn, teach and live. His book, Learning {Re}imagined was recently published by Bloomsbury/WISE and is available now.

Jake Davis

Digital Activism – Jake Davis

You cannot arrest an idea


Jake Davis


LulzSecOn July 27th 2011, Jake Davis was visited at his home in the Shetland Islands, a remote archipelago of Scotland that lie north-east of mainland Britain, by 6 police officers from London and arrested. Aged 18, Jake was accused and subsequently charged with a number of offences including unauthorised computer access and conspiracy to carry out a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack on the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency’s website.


Jake, as it transpired, had been playing with online activist groups including Anonymous and LulzSec, the latter being more akin to a team of digital pranksters sailing the waves of cyberspace rather than the kind of cyber-terrorists that certain parts of the media would have the public believe.


Under his online pseudonym , “Topiary” (@atopiary on Twitter), Jake came to prominence amongst the hacker community after participating in a live radio phone-in discussion with a member of the Westboro Baptist Church whilst their site was hacked and replaced with a message from Anonymous. The Westboro Baptist Church is widely recognised as a “hate group” for its extreme ideologies especially against the gay community as well as picketing the funerals of children and US military personnel. In this regard, whilst illegal in terms of the law, the live hack of the web site could be regarded as an act of protest within the digital domain against the proliferation of online hate speech.

According to Davis, LulzSec was formed during a moment of boredom within an online chat room with fellow users none of whom had met in the physical world nor knew each others real identity. The groups objective was initially to rail against what they saw as the absurdity of online marketing by using the digital world against itself. They launched a number of notable campaigns including the exposure of Sony Playstation’s lack of security for users confidential information, posting a fictitious story on the PBS site about rapper Tupac Shakur being found alive in New Zealand and hacking the site of The Sun newspaper in the UK where they posted a spoof story suggesting that its owner, Rupert Murdoch, had taken his own life as a result of the “phone hacking scandal” that had implicated his own organisation.


Each successful campaign brought the LulzSec group notoriety across global mass-media and, as if to prove the point about digital marketing, their @LulzSec Twitter account managed by Jake Davis accumulated more than 400,000 followers. Legality aside one can only admire the chutzpah of a group of teenagers using their laptops to create mischief within a digital world barely understood by their parents generation.


LulzSec only lasted a matter of months before the arrest of Davis but already there was disagreement within the amorphous group with the suggestion that government hired hackers had infiltrated the group to encourage less whimsical campaigns and more carnage.


After his arrest Jake was banned from using the internet for 2 years, wore a location tagging device that enforced a curfew and was sentenced to 37 days in Feltham Young Offenders Institute, a prison more commonly used to accommodate young people with a history of committing violent crime or narcotic distribution.


The inclusion of my interview with Jake Davis within a book about learning in a connected world is to give voice to the kind of learner whom we almost never hear from in the discourse about education particularly when we discuss digital. So often the young people of Jakes generation are described as apathetic and disengaged from the society around them. Whilst western nations describe the transformative effect of digital platforms within emerging democracies and, for example, the “Arab Spring” the flip side is that they are not prepared for protest or even pranks within the emergent digital economy. The brightest minds of Jakes generation are now actively nurtured and recruited by our respective intelligence agencies to commit acts of espionage and civil surveillance on behalf of their nations. So by interviewing Jake I wanted to understand more about the world in which current and future generations are expected to grow and demonstrate dissent.


My full interview with Jake will be published in the Learning {RE}imagined book later this year but in the meantime here is a short clip where Jake describes his experiences of schools that lead him to cyberspace.



Further viewing – Courtesy of BBC Newsnight



Digital Learning : Tailored or Taylored?


The message I’m trying to send is that technology is political, and that many decisions that look like decisions about technology actually are not at all about technology – they are about politics, and they need to be scrutinized as closely as we would scrutinize decisions about politics.


Evgeny Morozov


They say a week is a long time in politics and the past week has been quite a big one for the UK government who have played not one but two cards in a recent initiative to demonstrate their belief in the role of technology in education.


In one initiative, the Year of Code, the government has positioned technology as an outcome of learning rather than enabler. Although to be fair, it’s not entirely clear what they have demonstrated beyond a woeful misunderstanding of the subject.


The initiatives director, Lottie Dexter, was thrown into the spotlight, like a sacrificial lamb to the slaughter, to explain the project on national television only to expose that she really didn’t know anything about computer programming beyond her scripted conviction that it was now an essential skill like reading and writing. It was regarded by many as car crash TV that also revealed that the, government influenced, committee of yes people behind the initiative also had next to no knowledge of the subject. Fast forward to 5:24 in the video below.



The second initiative, the Educational Technology Action Group (ETAG), seems more promising. A committee of the usual suspects and educational technology evangelists chaired by respected educationalist Stephen Heppell. Set up by UK government ministers Michael Gove, Matthew Hancock and David Willets with the brief


to identify barriers to the growth of technology that have been put in place (inadvertently or otherwise) by the Government, as well as thinking about ways that these barriers can be broken down.


For a government that entered parliament with the mission to close quango’s it is now on a mission to create as many as possible within its own image.


What could have happened to engender this about face and commitment to technology for learning?


Could it be as, open data designer, Adrian Short suggests, a demonstration of the administrations “neoliberal agenda” that calls for economic liberalizations, free trade and open markets, privatization, deregulation, and enhancing the role of the private sector in modern society?


Matthew Hancock MPMy concerns were raised initially by a speech given by UK skills minister Matthew Hancock at a private event in March 2013 to launch an EdTech incubator where he showed scant understanding of the education sector but a good nose for potential business growth which, after all, is his job.


Since then having garnered the support of EdTech start-ups looking for the door marked entry Mr Hancock has grown bolder in his statements. By December 2013 he was going on the record announcing his governments plans for teachers to “take a backseat in the imparting of knowledge”.


This was followed by a speech at the recent BETT EdTech trade show held in London where he said “An algorithm then takes that data, and works out how each child could learn more”.


It’s quite possible that Mr Hancock might have been using a standard issue government algorithm for speech writing given that in 2005, Ruth Kelly, Labour’s Education Secretary said “And in the future it will be more than simply a storage place – a digital space that is personalised, that remembers what the learner is interested in and suggests relevant web sites, or alerts them to courses and learning opportunities that fit their needs.”


Which brings us to these algorithms that are going to enable teachers to take a back seat and for “Technology” to decide what and how much your child can learn. I’m curious about who will own these algorithms, who will write them, how they will work and how they are biased. I say biased because as we should know by now algorithms aren’t neutral, they are designed and written by people, i.e. they are mediated. Suggesting they aren’t biased is like saying newspapers like the Daily Mail or The New York Times aren’t biased. Of course they are.


We know that digital platforms offer the most amazing possibilities for learning and that isn’t the question here. My book and digital resources for Learning {RE}imagined will document many interesting digital deployments for learning from 5 continents. The question relates to the point that writer Evegny Morozov makes in the opening quote of this post that technology is far from neutral, it is political.


In the early 1900’s the American engineer and management consultant Frederick Taylor in a desire to improve industrial efficiency conceived the “scientific management” approach to manufacturing. The underpinning of scientific management is the disdain for tradition preserved merely for its own sake or to protect the social status of particular workers with particular skill set. Its objective was the transformation of craft production into mass production. Whilst Taylor’s management theory were largely obsolete by the 1930’s most of its themes are still important parts of industrial management thinking.


In particular, Taylor’s management approach fetishised data which was collected at numerous points during the manufacturing process that could be used by management to determine what steps to take to improve efficiency. Taylorism, therefore, was probably one of the first attempts to use at the turn of the 19th century that which today we call “Big Data”.


The problem with all this data is that we arrive at what French social theorist, Jean Baudrillard, suggested when he wrote in his work , Simulcra and Simulations, “We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning”. What he means here is that the data tells us what is happening but not why it’s happening.


Stephen_HeppellWhen I discussed some of my concerns with Stephen Heppell he told me that it would be important for educators to remain vigilant in the face of these prospects and, of course, he is right. We need to make sure that digital platforms for learning are not appropriated within a political tactic to introduce Taylorism into our education systems. That is, we shouldn’t believe that technology is an opportunity to de-skill and de-professionalise the teaching profession, to remove the craft of teaching in order to achieve the efficient manufacturing of children to a set of industrialised test standards.


Understanding as we do that algorithms and technology aren’t neutral, that technology isn’t as, suggested by Noam Chomsky, simply a tool like a hammer we should remember that simply a love for technology itself doesn’t breed change. We must, as Heppell suggests, be vigilant and we must, as Morozov implores, scrutinise technological decisions as we would the political.


It seems common today for our techno determinists, evangelists and festishists to simply reject all criticism as being anti-technological & anti-modern but this is unhealthy and stifles an important discourse around the deployment of digital platforms within our education systems. Ironically, the stifling of this debate could mean that technology continues to have little or no transformative effect on learning rather it becomes a management tool for enforcing 19th century ideas about schooling.


“They’ll have that repeated forty or fifty times more before they wake; then again on Thursday, and again on Saturday. A hundred and twenty times three times a week for thirty months. After which they go on to a more advanced lesson.”


“Till at last the child’s mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the suggestions is the child’s mind. And not the child’s mind only. The adult’s mind too—all his life long. The mind that judges and desires and decides—made up of these suggestions. But all these suggestions are our suggestions!


Aldous Huxley – Brave New World


Further reading


Silicon Valley – Open Up (Algorithmic Bias)
Evegny Morozov


Noam Chomsky and Graham Brown-Martin

Noam Chomsky on Technology & Learning


As far as technology itself and education is concerned, technology is basically neutral. It’s like a hammer. The hammer doesn’t care whether you use it to build a house or whether on torture, using it to crush somebody’s skull, the hammer can do either.


Noam Chomsky


For the Learning {RE}imagined book and digital resource project being published later this year I interviewed Professor Noam Chomsky where we discussed the purpose of education, the role and impact of technology and the challenges of assessment with standardised tests.


I thought visitors to this blog would enjoy this 5 minute excerpt from my conversation with Noam where when asked about technology and its impact on learning he argues that:

You have to know how to evaluate, interpret and understand. Let’s say, biology, again. The person who wins the Nobel Prize in biology is not the person who read the most journal articles and those notes on them. He’s a person who knew what to look for and cultivating that capacity to seek what’s significant, always willing to question whether you’re on the right track. That’s what education is going to be about whether it’s using computers and internet or pencil and paper or books


Do you agree?


Have a listen and please feel welcome to add your thoughts and comments below.



Sir Ken Robinson & Graham Brown-Martin

Sir Ken Robinson : The Art of Teaching

That’s why I always say that teaching is an art form. It’s not a delivery system. I don’t know when we started confusing teaching with FedEx. Teaching is an arts practice. It’s about connoisseurship and judgment and intuition. We all remember the great teachers in our lives. The ones who kind of woke us up and that we’re still thinking about because they said something to us or they gave us an angle on something that we’ve never forgotten.


Sir Ken Robinson


One of the many people I met and interviewed during the research tour for #LearningREimagined was my friend and mentor Sir Ken Robinson. The full interview will be published later this year as part of the Learning {RE}imagined book and accompanying app but I thought you would enjoy this 5 minute excerpt.



Let me know what you think in the comments section below and please feel welcome to share with your friends and colleagues.



Seth Godin on Education Reform

Happy New Year everybody and please accept my apologies for being quiet on this blog. After completing my travels and returning to London at the end of November I needed some time for reflection as well as taking care of some family matters as a result of a bereavement. 🙁


My visits to China and India were quite frankly, eye-opening, insightful and enlightening. I regret that I haven’t yet been able to post updates from these visits but will endeavour to do so in the weeks ahead.


If you’re new to this blog the journey starts here otherwise read on.


Things have been very busy behind the scenes however as my team and I have been processing and curating the most amazing treasure trove of photographs (taken by Iran’s most acclaimed young photographer, Newsha Tavakolian), hours of video recorded interviews and case studies, audio recordings, transcriptions and several journals worth of notes.


EDlabs StudioI am now held hostage in my small but perfectly formed study in SE London where I’m carefully crafting the words, editing the videos, curating the photographs, coding the mobile app and working with my publishing team to create what I hope will do justice for all of the wonderful participants in this story.


Some have expressed surprise that I am doing much of this myself imagining a team of programmers and video editors but for me working in this transmedia approach makes perfect sense and chimes with the theme of the book. There are too many books and statements made about digital technology for learning by experts who haven’t used it and I didn’t want to be one of those.


As a New Years treat I thought I would share with you one of the many recorded interviews that will form part of a library of exclusive interviews, films and other digital resources that will be unlocked via the printed book when it is published later this year. My hope is that the printed book, lavishly illustrated, with my accompanying notes, documents, thought pieces and interviews will be an artefact in the physical world that is a delight to hold and explore whilst acting as a spring board into a digital ocean of additional material. Well it’s not like me to aim for the stars is it? 😉


Thanks to Seth Godin for his patience, passion and time. Seth has published a book on education reform that is available free in PDF/eBook format – Stop Stealing Dreams


I hope you enjoy this interview, I have plenty more that contradict it!





By the time you read this we’ll be leaving China from Chengdu and heading to India via Kathmandu.


I’ll be updating you on who we visited, what we saw and what we learned during our stay in China in the next post but for now let me tell you what’s next in our global adventure to find innovation in learning as we travel around India.


India, touted by many as a future superpower alongside the USA and China, is characterised by poverty and chaos on the one hand whilst being a global leader in high technology on the other. It is the worlds leading weapons importer and is also advancing its space programme which includes a mission to Mars. With a population reaching 1.27 billion this year India is the 2nd most populous country in the world and is expected to exceed China by 2030. That’s a lot of people to feed and educate in the worlds largest democracy.


XSEEDOur first stop is New Delhi where we’ll be meeting with the principals of iDiscoveri and learning about their XSEED programme. iDiscoveri is a leadership organisation whose CEO, Ashish Rajpal, we’ll be meeting. His iDiscoveri Education group describes itself as “an education innovation company focused on learning and leadership”. It has developed a programme called XSEED which is based around a proprietary curriculum, training and assessment capability designed to improve learning and teaching capability. The programme has already scaled to more than 700 schools in India with 2-3 times improvement in academic improvement within pilot studies. Of course, this raises questions over what is being assessed and how but with what appears to be such an impressive track record we wanted to learn more and will report back.


After visiting iDiscoveri we’ll be travelling down to Chennai to visit a school that has adopted the XSEED program to see for ourselves.


BBC Media ActionAlso in New Delhi we’ll be meeting with BBC Media Action a charitable organisation via the British Broadcasting Corporation that uses media and communication as a force for positive social change. BBC Media Action in India has been using media to improve health, rights and resilience since 2001 with a strong focus on maternal and child health. Their innovative projects in the states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha help to increase knowledge and improve the health of mothers and children using a combination of TV, radio, online, street theatre, outdoor advertising and mobile phones.


We will be visiting sites in Patna, Baadh and Bhaktiyarpur to meet with frontline health workers, beneficiaries and correspondents related to this vital initiative.


Follow our activities on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook – see you there!



Chairing at WISEWell, the WISE 2013 Summit was epic and I was pleased to meet so many friends old and new who wanted to know about the Learning {RE}imagined book.


As I was filming interviews a lot of the time I didn’t get to spend as much time in sessions or meet as many of my fellow delegates as I would have liked but you know where to find me – virtually at least!


I’ve put some more AudioBoo’s online from some of the people we interviewed including former Australia Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, LEGO Education President, Jacob Kragh, BBC Learning Controller, Saul Nassé and many others. Find them here.


The Learning {RE}imagined team are now heading to China where we will be visiting the RDFZ Xishan School in Beijing, a flagship school for Apple, where every student is equipped with an iPad and where the school actively nurtures personal growth, creativity and innovation.



RDFZ was the first school in China to adopt a 1:1 computing approach based around Apple technology so we are looking forward to learning how this has worked out.


By way of contrast we’re then travelling to Chengdu, capital of the Sichuan province in Southwest China, to meet with Deng Fei, the campaigning journalist who leveraged social media in China in response to the many rural schools in the country that do not have facilities to provide children, many of whom walk many miles to school, with lunch. The “Free Lunch for Children” initiative raised more than $4 million in 8 months as a result of Deng Fei’s campaign largely conducted on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter.



We then travel to Ya’an the site of a catastrophic earthquake measuring 7 on the Richter scale that occurred in April of this year killing nearly 200 people and injuring a further 12,000, some 1,000 seriously were seriously hurt. Many homes and public buildings, including schools, collapsed during the earthquake and the region is still recovering. The Free Lunch for Children programme is actively supporting the community here and we will be reporting back on that.



WISE 2013 – Qatar

The Learning {RE}imagined team is in Qatar attending and filming interviews at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha. It’s the annual summit hosted by the Qatar Foundation that brings together many of the worlds educators to meet, discuss and network around the themes of education, innovation and transformation.


Of all the summits I attend I feel that this one has a genuinely global perspective that isn’t specifically based around policy makers with disposable budget. WISE brings together an engaged and diverse community of policy makers, educators, innovators and thought leaders from over 100 countries all passionate about making a better world through learning. Whilst the summit sessions themselves provide plenty of opportunity for the sharing of ideas it’s the chance meetings and social as well as professional networking opportunities that make it so valuable for me.

If you’re attending WISE then you can discover more about the Learning {RE}imagined book and digital media project by visiting our space on the first floor to the right as you enter the building where you’ll see a sign that says “WISE Books“.


You can contribute to the project by visiting our special video recording booth where you can record your response to the question “how would you reimagine learning”. We’ll be making a special compilation of these video clips so you can be immortalized as a contributor to the project. It will only take a minute of your time so please take part!


I will be hosting a forum session with panelists who have participated in the creation of the book as well as members of the WISE Learners Voice. The session is being hosted on Thursday October 31st at 13:30 in The Forum on the first floor near the entrance. More information here.


If you’re not attending WISE then you can follow the live video streams here


If you’re new to the Learning {RE}imagined project then welcome to this blog and start here to begin the journey.


We look forward to seeing you during the next few days and please say hello if you’d like to know more!