GLOBAL: Non-stop learning conference

A non-stop 48-hour online conference spanning the globe began at the University of Leicester in the UK on Wednesday, with the focus on innovation in teaching and learning in higher education. The conference, "Learning Futures Festival Online 2011, Follow the sun", covered three countries and three time zones.

It began in Leicester at 0900 on Wednesday and followed the path of the sun to Seattle on the West Coast of America, on to Toowoomba in Australia and back again for another cycle of sessions in the UK and US, ending with a final session in Australia at 0900 UK time on Friday.

The online conference included keynote speakers, debates, workshops, audience participation and a poster gallery, as well as tours of successful education locations in the virtual world of Second Life. The non-stop event aimed to mirror the modern 24-hour digital society with web hosts handing over to their counterparts in the next country every eight hours.

The conference was organised by the University of Leicester's Beyond Distance Research Alliance in collaboration with the Australian Digital Futures Institute at the University of Southern Queensland. More than 200 delegates took part from around the world.

Recordings of each session have been posted on the conference's Moodle site.

Delegates were able to take part in asynchronous discussion forums, and even attend the entire conference as avatars in Second Life.

Simon Kear, senior learning technologist at Leicester and organiser of the conference, said: "This is very much part of how we see our learners today. They want 24/7 access to learning. They want to be engaged with other learners around the world all the time, which is different from the traditional bricks and mortar nine-to-five university."

Kear said the conference was as much about the future of education as about technology. One highlight was a debate between Donald Clark, an e-learning entrepreneur and blogger, and Stephen Downes, a senior researcher for the National Research Council of Canada, on the future of the lecture.