LEARNTEC 2014 – An industry comes of age

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Lerntec © Karlsruher Messe- und Kongress-GmbH

Karlsruhe, Germany (Weltexpress). Just a couple of decades ago, eLearning was the new buzzword. It was also pretty much the only method available to educators in commerce and industry that could persuade them that a standard classroom environment was not necessarily the only – or even the best – way of passing on learning material from the informer to the potential informee. It gave them a digital choice – and, as we see today, proved to be the thin end of the wedge.
As for schools and universities, they also appeared to be convinced that technology per se was to be feared and avoided – the hope being that if you threw enough chalk at it, it might go away altogether. Apart from anything else, if a system or concept smacked of fun, then clearly it wasn’t going to be a suitable proposition for teaching or learning, because, as was generally accepted, the two were mutually exclusive. The tenet was that learning should only be fun for very small children – but once they start school, students were required to settle down to the serious business of absorbing facts in classic linear fashion, and passing exams.

A welcome sign that these days are rapidly disappearing was once again evidenced at this year’s LEARNTEC in Karlsruhe. Now in its 22nd year, LEARNTEC provides a lively and well-attended forum for the combination of technology with education and training at all levels, incorporating the fields of professional education, training and IT. Across exhibition space of 2 400m², 226 companies exhibited their wares, offering systems and products as ingenious in their technological development as they are practical in their application. From game-based learning and serious games to content and learning management systems, a sophisticated array of technology-driven learning platforms and solutions demonstrated clearly how the commercial world has grasped the significance of these developments. This year, in addition to the concepts Games@LEARNTEC and ePub@LEARNTEC, emphasis was also placed on Mobile Learning and Social Media Learning, taking advantage of people’s interest and involvement in existing platforms and building on that relationship.

The case for further funding on the part of educational authorities was also put during the accompanying LEARNTEC congress keynotes, panels and sessions. More investment must be channeled into developing not only the systems but also the skills of the teachers who use them if the concept of technology in learning is to be materially advanced. The advantages of every child being taught computer science in school were highlighted energetically by Professor Dr. Simon Peyton-Jones of Microsoft Research Ltd., Cambridge. His plea was for coding to be ranked among essential skills, such as mathematics: “…and you wouldn’t necessarily want a geography teacher to teach your child mathematics!” Overall, a general understanding has developed that life-long learning must be made attractive enough to generate the “pull” factor, not just be presented within a “push” framework.

According to Sünne Eichler, executive member of the congress committee of LEARNTEC and a seasoned expert in eLearning and training management, attendance this year was 10% up on the previous year to an impressive 6,685 visitors. As for the exhibitors, the rebooking rate for 2015 is already at a staggering 90% of this year’s exhibition space uptake. “The acceptance of games and other technology is very high, and the concept is gaining in credibility all the time. I find it very encouraging and look forward to developing several new concepts at future LEARNTEC congresses,” said Ms Eichler, with a well-earned smile.

It can be said that an industry has come of age when it has succeeded in generating a bewildering array of buzzwords designed chiefly, it seems, to keep non-industry individuals out. In the learning technology business these include terms such as eCoaching, blended learning, authoring, game-based learning and a slew of ‘system’ and ‘solution’ suffixes. But it doesn’t take much to realize that, language aside, this is an industry that will be shaping the knowledge base of the future, and its relevance is becoming more obvious every year as it moves inexorably towards the centre of a whole new approach to education and training.

In the Serious Games Didactics presentation during the LEARNTEC congress, Head of Studies at the GA Hochschule der Digitalen Gesellschaft in Berlin, Professor Dr. Linda Breitlauch, pointed out that playing games demonstrably makes people smarter. Brain capacity is stimulated, key skills are honed and the gamer’s sense of achievement and satisfaction – and consequently their self-esteem – is boosted. And if they’re learning something useful at the same time, it’s hard to see how it can be anything but a win-win situation. The task now is to teach young people how to create the kind of games that are fun to play and can convey key information while doing so. In these Serious Games, the challenge for the designer is to integrate the central information or “story” into game-play that is gripping and keeps the gamer/learner coming back for more, rather than putting them off with a “goody-two-shoes” game that they’ll only play because they have to.

This will be one of the aims of the GA Hochschule, Germany’s first accredited game design university. Under the motto “Play. Learn. Visualize.” they will be offering B.A.s in both Digital Art and in Media Design: Game Design and Gamification as of April 2014. As part of the growing body of educational experts in this cutting-edge industry, we look forward with interest to the contribution this will make to the German games industry repertoire. And, of course, to their participation in future LEARNTEC fairs and congresses.

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