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WOLCE Conference 10th/11th October – Review


The recession has hit. This week the WOLCE conference at the NEC in Birmingham run by Venture Marketing Group was quieter than expected. There were over 60 stands, and more than 2000 pre-registrations, but it was obvious that there was some belt-tightening around. The large flashy stands from major vendors were missing, as were good indicators – the “freebies” given away in better times. Some of the vendors shared stand space with others, and in general the displays were aimed at solid working demonstrations or discussions, rather than marketing hype. “Quiet, but we have some really good leads”, said one vendor. The attendees were also behaving in a different way compared to shows in the first half of the year. They were targeting specific vendors and making a beeline for those stands that provided a service they needed, rather than aimlessly wandering around window-shopping. There is nothing wrong with this more practical approach by all, and signals the expected reality of the current business climate.

This year the WOLCE event is in its eighth year. E-learning was a major focus area, both in the exhibitors and the conference sessions. There were four conference tracks: e-learning, effective implementation of open learning, standards and best practice, and management development in HR/Training. Both the e-learning and management tracks were a new innovation for this event. Topics ranged from collaborative learning, through industry standards, measuring the effectiveness of learning, and knowledge management to creating a people-centric organisation. Sessions were well attended, and organisation of the staggered entry to the two rooms went smoothly. Most of the sessions had three presenters, which encouraged different perspectives on the same topic. As at any conference, feedback was varied. “They didn’t cover it in the depth I needed”, was one comment, but another claimed, “They have given me some good ideas. Seeing real examples always helps me to compare the case studies to our work”.

On the other side of the conference hall the “Presentation Theatre”, an open area on the edge of the stands seating about 50, was home to the opening address by Professor Bob Fryer, assistant vice-chancellor from the University of Southampton on the future of open learning, followed by a series of well-attended product demonstrations, mostly by those vendors with newly launched products or upgrades. Again the focus on the practical elements drew good crowds.

Another special feature was the British Association for Open Learning (BAOL) Providers’ Forum on the first day, which was a networking opportunity for those suppliers of open learning to discuss their concerns and ideas.

A much-anticipated part of the conference was the awards dinner on the evening of the 10th October to celebrate achievement in open learning, with award categories for the year including Bespoke Product, Generic Product, Online Product, Learning Resource Centre Manager of the Year, New Learner Award and Outstanding Contribution to the Open Learning Industry.

There has been some shake-out in the players in the e-learning world over the last year and in the spending capability of the participants, so the organisers of conferences such as WOLCE will have to continue to innovate to attract a good audience.


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