Given the nature of global change, transforming education around the world is one of the deepest, most urgent challenges we now face. With his open but penetrating gaze, Graham Brown Martin is an ideal guide through the complex terrain of ideas and innovations that might just create the new forms of education that we really need.
— Sir Ken Robinson
Graham Brown-Martin

The short version

Graham Brown-Martin is a leader in the field of foresight and anticipatory research, bringing together social, political and technological trends to consider how we might prepare ourselves for the future. He is the author of Learning {Re}imagined, the best selling book on global education published by Bloomsbury. He has enjoyed a 30 year career spanning the education, technology and entertainment sectors. He was the founder of Learning Without Frontiers (LWF), a global think tank that brought together renowned educators, technologists and creatives to share provocative and challenging ideas about the future of learning. He left LWF in 2013 to pursue new programmes and ideas to transform the way we learn, teach and live.

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The longer version

It’s perhaps no surprise that Graham initially pursued a career in the technology sector given that he was born in England during the 1960s near Bletchley Park, the site of Britain’s code-breaking effort during World War II led by Alan Turing. 

Leaving school early he pursued a successful 30-year career that spanned the digital, education and creative sectors inventing and building new businesses that challenged the status quo. Always too early, he designed mobile computers in the 1980s, interactive digital music systems in the 1990s and cloud-based storage systems in the early 2000s.

In 2004, he founded the global think tank Learning Without Frontiers, that brought together renowned educators, technologists and creatives to begin a new global dialogue about the future of learning. Responsible for some of the most provocative and challenging debates about education, Graham left LWF in 2013 to pursue new programmes and ideas to transform the way we learn, teach and live.

 

The epic version

School and I didn't really get on so I left at 15 to pursue other opportunities.

My first proper job was working for the Open University in the early 80s initially as a research assistant in the genetics lab and then transferring to the Academic Computing Service where I worked on mainframe and minicomputers such as the DEC PDP-11, HP-3000 and Sperry Univac. These computers were super-powerful in their day but have less computing power and storage than your mobile phone today. Here I cleaned tape drives, exchanged disc packs and ran punched tape programmes. We worked on versions of Arpanet (the pre-cursor to the Internet) and supported the worlds first online digital learning programmes via teletype terminals hosted throughout the UK and overseas.

It was around this time that the UK government introduced the "Micros in Schools" scheme to put computers in every school. Having had a bit of experience coding maths intensive software for the genetics group on a RML 380Z computer and programming video games on a Tandy TRS-80 I got involved with writing some educational software.  I then left the OU and went to work for a small computer manufacturer in Oxford called Research Machines Ltd (RML). I was employee 49 where I initially worked in the technical support group. The company grew fast in the 5 years I was there and I developed with it taking the lead on a number of exciting projects including The Domesday Project, a nationwide initiative that resulted in a unique interactive video experience. A chance meeting with, AI pioneer and educational theorist, Seymour Papert in my teenage years proved to be spark that ignited my career.

I co-founded my first company with Lauretta Hill when I was 22. Next Technology, was one of the worlds first multimedia design companies focused on an emerging technology of the time called CD-ROM. We were so far ahead of our time that associations such as BIVA (now know as BIMA) wouldn't let us join because we weren't using Laservision Discs and they didn't see a future in video compression. Bringing software engineers and artists together we created some of the first educational and entertainment titles for the CD-ROM format with companies such as Apple, Microsoft, RM, Acorn, Commodore, Sun Microsystems and SEGA. We designed and built Europe's first recordable CD-ROM facility that cost us circa £100,000 and paid for itself within 6 months as we disrupted the CD manufacturing industry burning discs for almost every company that needed rapid prototypes. The same technology can be bought today for less than £20.

By the early 90's we had perfected some early video compression algorithms that we were licensing and were also attracting the interest of the music industry after inventing a new way of hiding computer data on regular CD audio discs. Further, we had become involved in the emergent internet via projects such as "The Well" and had predicted file sharing networks that would disrupt the music industry. Some of the technology assets of Next were sold to a Dutch consumer electronics company and I started a new enterprise called "Electronic Sound & Pictures" (ESP) to capitalise on our global lead in redesigning the music industry. ESP was wildly successful despite upsetting almost every record industry executive with our developments in new music distribution techniques. In 1994, 5 years before Napster appeared, I gave a keynote address to music industry executives at MIDEM. They didn't entirely like what I had to say and I became "l'enfant terrible" of the emergent music sharing sector. The Face magazine described our development studio as an "electronic kinde-bunker". To raise investment to take on the music industry ESP was sold to Virgin and relaunched as EXP.

Here is a video from 1994, people say that it reminds them of "The Matrix" but then I remind them that The Matrix was made in 1999 😉

It was fun while it lasted and I managed not to get sued like Shawn Fanning did with Napster but corporate pressures from now Viacom-owned Virgin Interactive, who didn't believe that streaming media would be a thing in the music and television industries, ultimately shut us down. 

I then embarked on a creative partnership with Buggy G Riphead, one of the creators of Stakker Humanoid and visual collaborator with the Future Sound of London, where we designed and created numerous digital landscapes, concepts and promotional music videos that finally culminated with a commission to design the ships computer for the feature film "Lost in Space".

In the late 90s I took the helm of Digital Arts, a well known digital animation house based in Soho, which I transformed into one of London's foremost digital design studios for web-based projects in the era that is now known as "dot com 1.0". Raising more than £5 million of investment the company grew from 4 people to over 200 in less than 3 years where we were designing enormous  platforms for organisations such as Adidas, Volkswagon and Swiss Re whilst also working with many of the digital start-ups of the time.

In 1999 we created Ammo City, an alternative news and entertainment network that foresaw social and streaming media as a disruptor of the traditional television and print publishing industries. Like a yachting flare from the future Ammo City burned brightly for more than a year, broadcasting an eclectic range of online radio shows, video compilations, news, views and social pages before it got destroyed in the dot com meltdown of the early 00s.

This is how we saw the web in 1999. If you ask me I think we got it right.

I was distraught after losing Ammo City and, believe it or not, as a digital technology entrepreneur in the early 00s you couldn't even get arrested as the money that was rushing into the dot com boom just evaporated. I worked for a while as the UK editor for the US urban lifestyle magazine "Trace" whilst consulting on various projects before having the opportunity to move to Jamaica to help develop a residential recording studio called "Gee Jam".

Jamaica was an incredible experience where I met so many incredible artists as well as some scallywags which meant that I returned to the UK in 2004. Back in London and in a career reboot I realised that I had established quite a unique address book of people across the education, digital and creative sectors. Having spent nearly 15 years in the roller coaster of the entertainment industries I re-engaged with the education sector - specifically how could it be positively disrupted to reflect the emergent digital world in which our children would be living.

I formed Learning Without Frontiers, a beyond profit organisation, that brought together people from across sectors to reimagine what the future of learning and education could be. Within a few years LWF was the one of the worlds largest global summits focused on new learning in the digital age.

To help me grow the organisation I took on new shareholders late in 2011. Unfortunately it was an unhappy marriage as the new owners sought to reinvent LWF as a trade show. I resigned from LWF early in 2013 and began work on the Learning {Re}imagined project some months later.