Viva Las Vegas: An Interview with E-Learn Conference Chair Saul Carliner

The 23rd annual E-Learn — World Conference on E-Learning took place from October 15-18, 2018 in Las Vegas. 450 participants from 50 countries, 4 keynotes, 1 panel, 8 workshops, Cirque du Soleil, topic lunches, 250 sessions, 3 SIG meetings, 17 posters and, last but not least, informal discussions and networking opportunities during the session breaks: E-Learn 2018 was a great event.

Which concepts, tools, ideas, approaches and connections stood out? I had the pleasure to talk Saul Carliner, Professor of Educational Technology at Concordia University in Montreal, and new chair of the E-Learn conference.

Saul, what was your overall impression of this year’s E-Learn conference?

It was a great event. A great conference is part educational, part networking, and part inspirational.

For the educational, I attended several sessions and posters during which I learned about a number of important e-learning initiatives. For example, keynote Megan Torrance provided some in-depth material on the Experience Application Programming Interface (xAPI), which is replacing SCORM and provides a broader framework for tracking online learning in formal and informal contexts, and for recognizing learners for their achievements. Keynote Bryan Chapman shared a real-world applications of e-learning in which the American College of Ophthalmology found new educational uses for articles and case studies in its archives and provided an engaging way for its members to maintain and strengthen their professional knowledge throughout their careers. I also appreciated the poster session during which I saw a number of interesting e-learning projects, including a project that incorporates xAPI into nursing education, another project that uses Alexa (Amazon’s voice agent) for language instruction, and another that uses mobile phones to facilitate teacher training in Africa.

But to be honest, some of the most significant learning happened in the conversations that occurred during meals and special interest group meetings. And that brings me to the networking.

For networking, something about Las Vegas gets people into a social mood, which makes the networking with people easier, especially meeting and sparking conversations with new colleagues. I talked to people about work, technology integration in teacher preparation programs, and writing for e-learning programs, among other topics. I also made contacts that will prove helpful to my research.

For inspiration, our Wednesday keynote—Jaime Casap of Google—offered new ways of thinking about our old educational system and, in doing so, ignited new enthusiasm for my work in e-learning.

You have been a part of the AACE community for a long time. What sets the E-Learn conferences apart from other edtech gatherings?

A combination of things.

  • The size: it’s not too small and it’s not too big. That makes it easy to meet people, but also ensures a large enough variety of sessions and speakers that I can easily find something of interest.
  • The program: A great mix of general and elective sessions, presentation of research and workshops, and social events.
  • The locations: E-learn always locates in interesting cities, so there’s always something to see and learn culturally in addition to the conference sessions.
  • The people: This is probably the most important part of the conference. I always meet interesting people doing interesting work at E-learn. In addition, there’s a core group of people who attend every year and, by attending the conference, I can reconnect with them.
  • The ideas and inspiration. I am working on a project to develop resources for faculty and picked up a number of great ideas that I can incorporate into the project.

Are there common themes that stood out to you?

There are always a group of papers that explore ways to push the boundaries on technology. That’s kind of a fixture at E-learn. Robots, big data, voice technologies: what roles do they play in the future of learning?

But some other themes that emerged include:

  • We’re past the early waves of e-learning, so this type of learning is more mainstream. First, what does that mean to those of us working in the field? Second, how do we design more interesting programs, using approaches like simulation, gamification, and augmented reality?
  • Although early e-learning focused almost exclusively on courses, increasingly, it encompasses a broader variety of materials from which people are learning informally. What does that mean for those of us who design e-learning? How do we integrate these formal and informal experiences? And how can help learners receive recognition for their learning?

I missed this year’s conference, but am already looking forward to meeting many friends and colleagues next year in New Orleans.  Are there topics that were not covered (enough) at this year’s venue, that you would really encourage people to submit for E-Learn 2019?

Open Educational Resources continues to grow in importance and I would imagine that, with that growth, will come growth in the number of people working on projects. Of course, it would be great to receive papers about this. Among aspects of this topic are:

  • E-textbooks and digital publishing
  • Curation of content
  • Growth of informal and less formal learning
  • Use of technology and innovative design to make e-learning more engaging, technologies and design approaches such as gamification, simulation, augmented reality, and virtual reality
  • Usability and UX design techniques for e-learning
  • Competencies and credentials, especially alternate credentials that are supported by digital technologies
  • Blockchain technologies, which universities and other education providers are beginning to adopt
  • Impacts of enterprise systems like LMSs and Course Management Systems on the designs of e-learning
  • Digital literacies for all levels of learners, from elementary school to senior citizens


Saul Carliner is a Professor of Educational Technology at Concordia University in Montreal. His research focuses on the design of instructional and communication materials for the workplace.His books include the best-selling Training Design Basics and award-winning Informal Learning Basics. He is a Fellow and past board member of the Institute for Performance and Learning, and Fellow and past international president of the Society for Technical Communication.



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