ALT-C Manchester 2015

ALTC is one of the biggest learning technology conferences in the UK. This year over 500 delegates – technologists, academics, software designers and policy makers met in Manchester University to act as a collective weathervane pointing at current learning technology trends. One of the presenters – David Kernohan – said his research demonstrated that ALTC presentations were at least as good if not faster at telling the future, or at least picking priorities from the present, than NMC Horizon report, Google trends and other headliners.

From the start of the conference #altc trended on Twitter, demonstrating the ubiquity of multiple mobile devices in the main theatre plenary. If you want some great nuggets from conference ideas, you could do worse than searching the hashtag and copying to preserve some useful stuff.

Learning analytics scored high on the collective agenda, as did peer to peer learning, various versions of classroom flipping, crowd-sourcing (policy, problem solutions and archives rather than money), MOOC-bating and “active” learning (variously defined but about doing, experiencing, task and team-based learning). This delicious mix was underpinned by debates on whether learning technologies are fit for purpose and whether shiny stuff or boring routine stuff is more valuable. Connectivism and constructivism were assumed to be the prevailing theory paradigms, though just to keep our feet on the ground, one student survey was still complaining of academics’ rubbish use of PowerPoint! Diverse platforms were seen to belong to the past, the future being cross-platform (such as WebRTC offering a browser-based plugin and installation-free environment for all devices ) and synchronous plus asynchronous communication rather than either/or.


We were entertained by a historical journey to now and beyond in learning technology by Steve Wheeler from Plymouth, who also conducted a quick tutorial interview on stage with two of his trainee teacher students.

On the second day Jonathan Worth, expert photographer and teacher of massively attended online courses (PHONAR, PHONAR NATION) convinced us of the gulf between the photo and the image and drove home his view of vulnerability, not just in relation to photojournalist’s subjects but also every young child’s digital exposure through well-meaning parents and schools.

The final day gave us Laura Czerniewitz from Cape Town who delivered not only a sincere set of concerns about diversity online from the perspective of sub-Saharan Africa but also an object lesson in how to prepare and deliver a well-argued, well-referenced, logically structured and beautifully illustrated presentation.

Our last keynote, Philip Long, delivered a virtual livelink presentation from Texas, asking troubling questions about why online learning design rarely seems to take account of what we know about cognitive science, learning and performance, meta cognition and self-motivation in learning.

Keynote presentations can be found at


Great to meet good friends, particularly Sandra Huskinson, with whom I presented our and Asher Rospigliosi’s work on the Student Social Media Showcase in Brighton Business School, and to meet elearning activists when there’s time to talk and provoke. Proactive discussions with Ibrahim, PhD student with Dr Patel and myself at Brighton, at his first research conference. Always good to confirm current thinking and know that our journal, Interactive Learning Environments, is well-informed and (at least through e-first publication) up to date. JISC presentations remain less exciting but building a necessary foundation for the field. I had plenty of opportunities to reflect and prepare for my keynote in Roznov next week on technologies for collaborative learning. And I got lots of exercise walking between the Premier Inn in Manchester Central and University Place, and hailing taxis…

Next year ALT-C is 6-8 September 2016 in Warwick. Website for conference is at

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