As 2019 marked the 5th anniversary of InnovateELT, we made time for reflection and celebration in equal measure. We enjoyed the sessions and the socialising, and took away loads of practical ideas. From the advice and mentorship in our masterclasses and workshops, to mountains of learning opportunities the keynotes and drop in sessions, attendees had plenty to get stuck into.  

Daniel Barber also called for some serious changes in the industry in his plenary – which you can read about in his summary blog post. As a result, and thanks to your growing passion towards environmental issues in ELT, we’ve seen the birth of a new Facebook group ELT Footprint. It looks like it’s the beginning of a movement.

But what did our team think of this year’s conference and what were the biggest takeaways? Katy, Jo, Alex, Berta and Laurie share their thoughts below.

1. It’s the conversations that count

Katy giving a workshop at InnovateELT 2019
Katy Asbury, Learner Experience Designer, tells us why she thinks conversation is key to a good conference and why social issues need to be given a platform.

As is often the way at events like InnovateELT, some of the most interesting moments happen post-conference, when you’re most relaxed and speaking freely. With this year’s conference bookended by two passionate plenaries from Nicola Prentis on Women in ELT and Dan Barber on the environmental impact of ELT, I noticed a slight shift in my normally informal post-conference conversations.

While I take these issues seriously in my personal life, they are sometimes checked at the door when entering a professional setting. However, this year many of my post-conference exchanges were honest discussions, openly reflecting on gender and debating the impact of our industry on the environment.

It’s a timely reminder that although potentially uncomfortable, giving social issues a platform like a plenary slot, helps to encourage more honest conversations between delegates, moving them forward and giving them life beyond the ‘conference graveyard’ to inspire real change to happen.

2. 2019 is a year to reflect

Jo's opening speech at InnovateELT 2019
Jo Sayers, Director & Head of Product, tells us why this year’s InnovateELT was about personal reflection.

This year was about reflection for me. In planning the event and the welcome and thank you speeches, I thought a lot about the different themes we have had over the last five years and how the event has evolved.

A big part of that evolution is the feedback we have had from attendees, and the ways that we’ve tried to adapt based on that feedback, and it was really interesting for me look and reflect on the changes we have made and the core things that make iELT what it is.

It was great this year to see plenary speakers come back and reflect on what they had said at previous editions, and how things have changed, or otherwise. And finally, it was really powerful to see the impact of the Saturday evening plenary from Dan Barber, and be reminded of the fact that the event has the power to bring about some meaningful change in the industry.

3. Language is about making connections

Alex listening to plenaries in the Oxford House garden
Alex Walters, our product strategist, tells us why this year’s Innovate was a good reminder of his own motivations for learning a language and how and why it’s not just about communication.

Being at Innovate in Barcelona reminded me that teaching and learning a language really is a ticket to explore the world. I studied French and Italian at university and spent most of those four years thinking of how I was going to use my new language skills to do exactly that.  

Over the course of a year or so, I lived in France, Italy, Spain and Morocco  – and it was one of the best years of my life. And then, for better and for worse, I made London home.

Fast forward 15 years, and I now follow the advances in technology that are changing how and why people are going to use language in the future. Natural language processing is moving forward at breakneck speed and much of what we might think of as science fiction really is happening right now. Whether it’s machine translation or even speech to speech translation, the barriers of understanding a different language are being broken down all the time.

But if learning a second language taught me anything it taught me this: language is not just about communication, it’s about connection. And spending time with that teachers, educators and language learners really reminded me of that. So long live the mistakes we make as we learn to connect, I still think a second language is the most powerful tool a young person can have.

4. More attendee-centered than ever

Berta Rojals, Product Designer, explains how we used attendee feedback to design the conference experience and make things better than ever.

This year we applied design thinking and user-centered principles to the event organisation more consciously than ever.

Thanks to the feedback we gathered from past events and the experience of running the conference for several years, we were able to understand our community better.

We ran internal workshops and put the attendee’s needs and desires at the center of the conversation. As a result, we were able to find out key areas of improvement and make tweaks and changes to respond to those needs.

For example, in previous events, some attendees stated that they found Friday evening ‘light’ on content. This year, we gave the content a boost by scheduling drop in sessions. Attendees were able to participate in interactive and hands-on input sessions that matched with the Friday evening vibe.

What I love most is that the iELT community has shaped these changes – and thanks to this feedback loop InnovateELT can only get better every year.

5. It’s time to challenge stale assumptions

Laurie at InnovateELT talks about making an impact
Laurie, Co-founder & Director, explains how small events like InnovateELT can have a big impact by raising awareness of key issues in the industry.

It was wonderful to see the Innovate atmosphere and good vibes present and correct – better than ever, in fact. Even though every year at least half the attendees are new to the event, it’s consistently collaborative, fun, open-minded and keen to challenge stale assumptions.

It’s also great to see how a small event like this can still help to make a difference by raising awareness and starting conversations about important issues such as gender equality and the environmental impact of our industry.

In terms of content, it was fascinating to hear themes being addressed that we’ve often discussed within ELTjam but not heard being talked about widely within ELT. For example, whether advances in automated translation mean the imminent end of language learning altogether and, if language learning does survive, whether teachers are going to be replaced by robots.

There does seem to be widespread nervousness, particularly about the latter – something I found slightly surprising, as I don’t believe that automated translation is going to remove the need for a global lingua franca any time soon; and in the age of robots, real teachers are going to more in demand than ever before.

Were you at innovateELT 2019? What were your top takeaways?

If you weren’t lucky enough to join us, we’ve shared some of the presentation slides on Padlet.  

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