With a Christmas market near the hotel, you can nip out for a Gluhwein and Currywurst or try the Florian, a real Berliner restaurant. Behind the venue is the beautiful Tiergarten - you can walk through this to the Brandenberg Gate. I’ve said this before but this is very much a ‘Berlin’ conference. It wouldn’t be the same anywhere else. It has that Berlin vibe. You may, like me, find yourself not going to bed until 2am then 4 am, although I have the ‘it was my birthday excuse’. My son lurched back at 7am after a night of clubbing. Then there’s the museums and art galleries. My own favourite is the Hamburger Hof, with Anselm Kiefer, Joseph Beuys and always a huge contemporary exhibition section.
Berliners can throw a party and the Thursday night bash is an all you can drink affair with a band and folks of all ages cutting a fair few shapes on the dance floor. This year it was my birthday at midnight and as the band struck up ‘Happy Birthday’ the real drinking began. It got messy.
People not speakers
This year - Howard Rheingold, Stephen Downes, George Siemens and a raft of people, some funny, some highly analytic, some passionate about projects and mostly people who have something new and useful to say. Where else could you get introduced to Howard Rheingold and compared notes on the joys of soldering? The ‘Spotlight Stage’, quick 30 min sessions on juicy topics. I did VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality), where Todd Revolt and I compared the two with a raft of educational applications.
Sure there’s a lot of parallel sessions but where else would you get sessions on everything from a hard-swearing, Australian comedienne talking about anal beads to something on learning analytics, then a session on the use of educational technology in the Ebola crisis? There’s an entire ‘business’ stream with some hard-nosed sessions on learning and development.
Small village feel
Big but intimate, you bump into people you know (or don’t know) all the time. I don’t know a conference of this size that feels so much like a small village. You can move from room to room with ease. The Marlene bar is like the local saloon, it’s the place for official meetings and just like the local saloon, it gets pretty lively at night.
Education & business
With delegates from education, government and business, there’s good cross-pollination. It’s a private and public affair, not talking past each other, but maybe keeping each other honest. I like this. It’s easy to stay in your institutional comfort zone and get all anti-corporate of you’re in education or government, and all sniffy about education if you’re in the private sector.
Chaired by the charming Harold Elletson, this parliamentary style debate (which means an open bar) usually ends up as a piece of high theatre, both sides bashing each other over the head with arguments and/or jokes. On occasion, it can get edgy. Aric Sigman wouldn’t speak to me after our ‘cage-fight’ in 2009. And one of my favourite sessions of all time, was the debate with Jeff Staes, who turned up with a full-sized, stuffed sheep. We argued that all diplomas and degrees should be banned to an audience who largely taught and sold degrees and diplomas. Believe me when I tell you that their sister debates in Africa are even wilder!
With people from over 100 countries, you’ll meet all sorts. I especially like the fact that the same organisers do E-learning Africa, so there’s some grounded stuff that’s not just first-world reflection. It’s easy to get stuck in a national perspective and here you can ask what’s happening elsewhere, as well as explore other markets.
This is a sizeable affair so you can get round a lot of vendors between sessions, the ‘demo’ day is also good. I was showing the Oculus Rift this year and so many turned up I had to give impromptu talks to the people in the queue waiting to try it. You’ll see the big boys alongside the little guys trying to launch their products.
If you want to end the year with an event that will stimulate your weary neurons, fill up your boots with new ideas and get your dancing feet twitching, Online Educa should be in your calendar. See you all next year.