Learning Camp – A New Kind of Conference

Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed an increasing dissatisfaction with the kind of technology conferences being run in the UK, or at least in the way they’re run. Some of this has been virtual, such as these blog posts by Donald Clark, Clive Shepherd and Mark Betherlemy, but this has also come up in conversations with a lot of people.

It’s not my reading of any of these conversations that they want to see the current conferences replaced (although I may be wrong), but rather that they want another option (something ‘alternative’ rather than ‘an alternative to’).

Of course it’s easy to be critical of the status quo, and much harder to change it. This quotation from Terry Pratchett says it very nicely.

“So many people tut and say “Someone should do something”, but so few step forward and say “…and that someone is me”

With that very much in my mind, it happened that a couple of weeks ago I was talking with Jane Hart when the topic moved on to conferences and the usual ‘someone needs to do something’ conversation followed. What was different was that we decided we would be the ‘someone’ who did something; and so Learning Camp was born.

We’ve started the ball rolling over at and if you have any desire to take part in or attend the first event, or help shape what it could become in the future, please complete the survey and follow the Twitter account for updates – more information on both can be found on the Learning Camp website. There’s not much on the site at the moment, but I can promise you that more will be happening in the next few weeks.

And finally, if you’re one of those people who has ever suggested that ‘something should be done’ you can expect to hear from us soon. Together we have an opportunity to do something, so now’s the time for all of us to either put up or shut up.

Don’t blame PowerPoint

Jay Cross has written a post called PowerPoint is tyranny, about whether offsite conferences need to change. I’ve not seen Jay’s presentation, but I don’t think we can lay the blame at PowerPoint’s door.

Like everything else in this rapidly changing world, conference organisers need to demonstrate value. It will no longer be acceptable to roll out the same old faces, talking about the same old subjects and charging excessive prices for the privilege of attending.

For example, the eLearning Guild Annual Gathering will cost you $1369.00 for 2.5 days of sessions run by speakers that the eLearning Guild thinks you should see.

Compare that to DrupalCon, where I’ve paid $250.00 for 3.5 days of sessions run by awesome speakers that the attendees voted for.

The differences?

  • The latter is a gathering of open source (and open minded) people there to share their passion for the open source platform we all use. It’s not a commercial event, designed to turn a profit. (Make no mistake though, DrupalCon isn’t some kind of open source love-in. There are commercial sponsors, and there will be many commercial conversations and deals going on).
  • There is a fundamental attitude of sharing what you know, without any expectation of commercial benefit.
  • Many of the DrupalCon presentations talk about the future, whereas L&D conference agendas are filled with what’s been done. Have we not got the message yet that information has a ridiculously short shelf life?

Conferences will have to change if they want to survive, and I think we’ll all benefit as a result.