ELT conferences are great. They’re an opportunity to learn, to network, to make new friends. They’re also a chance to enjoy a few nights out where it’s acceptable that ELT is the only thing on the conversational menu! But having attended a couple of conferences already this year, with IATEFL on the way, and with my memories of past years still fresh, I increasingly feel that the ELT conference scene could benefit from a bit of a shakeup. On May 8–9th this year, ELTjam and Oxford TEFL Barcelona are hoping to do just that with our Innovate ELT Conference.

Here are a few of the things about ELT conferences that we felt were due an update and how we’ve decided to address those things for our event in Barcelona.

1. Where are the students?

Students and learners inform everything we do, so it seems odd that they so rarely feature at conferences (2011’s Unplugged Conference, also held in Barcelona at Oxford TEFL, being a rare exception). I know that most of us see students every day, but involving them in our professional development seems appropriate given how integral they are to the profession itself. At Innovate ELT we’ve decided to have a range of sessions, some with learners and some without. We feel this allows delegates to get a really good idea of how innovative methods, technologies and materials work in their intended environments.

2. Where are the tasks?

It’s important that people who attend a conference are free to go to whichever sessions they want. But all that input and no real tasks? It’s definitely not how we’d set up a lesson. So at Innovate ELT we have little tasks and activities for the delegates to do during the event which will help everyone to process the information and think more about what innovation means to them and how it might impact their work.

3. Why do the delegates do all the work?

There’s a lot of moving around for delegates, especially at big events like IATEFL, so it would be nice to see a bit of role reversal. At Innovate ELT we have a whole session called Speaker Speed Dating, where the speakers come to you! So if you’ve always wanted to ask Scott Thornbury something but have been too shy to approach him, you’ll now have the chance! The idea is for small groups of delegates to ask questions and discuss things which have come up throughout the event.

4. Why can’t I join in?

At most conferences, speaking is for speakers while delegates listen or talk amongst themselves. At Innovate ELT, though, there will be opportunities for delegates to work together and report back what they’ve learned. The final session of the conference is going to be an opportunity to share what we’ve learned and what we predict we’ll see in the future of ELT.

5. And finally, who ordered the craft beer?

We did!

At most conferences, nobody gets any exciting beers in, but anyone who knows ELTjam knows we never like an event to run dry. Barcelona brewery Espiga is sponsoring Innovate ELT so naturally delegates will get to sample a bottle … or two.

Here at ELTjam, we’re all really excited about IATEFL too, and, as I’ve said, we think ELT conferences are generally great;  however, we also feel that it’s the right time for the format to get a bit of a shakeup. We’ve got a great lineup of speakers, including Scott Thornbury, Nicky Hockley, Lindsay Clandfield and many more, plus talks on a whole range of topics, from mobile to methodology and coursebooks to CLIL.

If you’ve got ideas of ways you’d change the traditional conference, let us know in the comments below or come along and tell us on the day in Barcelona!

Tickets and more info can be found on the website.




  1. It’s worth inviting people from outside of elt: passionate non teachers. They bring the necessary freshness to the otherwise hermetic environment.

  2. Looking at Point 1 (Where are the students?), I can’t help thinking that we may need a second, related question answered: who are the students? The website states: ‘Watch teachers and learners interact in the classroom and learn about new and exciting ways of delivering content and lessons.’

    Am I correct in thinking that there will be lessons with Oxford TEFL students involved – that we will be doing lesson observations? And, could I, as a speaker, have requested, for example, a room with a laptop, projector, WIFI (the usual kit), and a dozen eight-year-old learners?

    Another question that I think could/should be answered at all international conferences is: Where are the local, non-native, state school teachers (and learners)? This under-represented demographic will be the main engine of future change (or stagnation), and in a conference about the future of ELT, we will desperately need their voices. Some data on the profiles of the delegates would be very interesting.

  3. Looks great, Jo – I’m always amazed when advocates of communicative teaching methods, multiple learner styles and active learning choose to stand in front of a powerpoint and lecture for 60 minutes! This event sounds interesting, I wish I could attend.

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