David Preston

Keynote Speaker

Educator and Founder of the Open-Source Learning Network

That moment just before a talk begins. Nothing has happened yet. Everything is still possible. The audience politely files in and quietly takes their seats. They read the program or stare at their phones – present, but not yet all here, either. If they’re thinking about the talk at all, they’re likely expecting a deep dive into a professional and/or futuristic topic. Which they’ll get. But they clearly have no idea that in just a few minutes they’ll suddenly explode in shared laughter, tears, and a riotous standing ovation.

David Preston is a management consultant, author, and educator who has delivered keynote speeches around the world and transformed learning audiences for three decades. In addition to his organizational development work, David became known as one of the first teachers to encourage K-12 students to use the public internet. He developed the curriculum and practices that would later become known as Open-Source Learning.

David has worked with thousands of students, educators, entrepreneurs, and executives whose life stories and professional adventures inspire the rest of us. Some have run corporations or launched successful startups. Others became the first in their families to graduate high school or college. Many have faced adversity in the forms of poverty, violence, immigration, malnutrition, and lack of housing. A few have given back to their communities by establishing or contributing to nonprofits and NGOs.

In 2021 David wrote Academy of One, which outlines the framework of Open-Source Learning and shares strategies everyone can use.

As our learning technology and culture evolves, David continues to innovate. This includes the ways he engages, inspires, and informs audiences for conferences, schools, and companies. The topics of his talks are both timeless and years ahead of their time.

Speaking Topics

Here are some examples of recent talks. Please contact David for a free consultation. He will tailor a talk to meet your audience’s needs.

Learning to Fly

You think being in a car with a teen driver is stressful? Try stuffing yourself in the backseat of a Piper Tri-Pacer airplane as a high school senior taxis down the runway and launches you three thousand feet up in the air. In 2004 David took a sabbatical from his management consulting practice and teaching at UCLA to teach high school English at one of the nation’s ten largest high schools in Los Angeles. That meant a shift from supercharging small, highly motivated teams of smart, talented people to managing 173 direct reports each day who couldn’t do jobs they didn’t want in the first place. David’s students included gang leaders, teen parents, and suicidal introverts. And lots of perfectly normal, everyday kids who just thought school sucked. Hardly anyone carried a book. No one gave it their all. Over the next few months, David and his students transformed their experience from a converted auto shop filled with trash into a global think tank brimming with great ideas. That was the birthplace of Open-Source Learning. For nearly 20 years now the Open-Source Learning culture has led to all sorts of adventures. In “Learning to Fly” David shares the core principles of Open-Source Learning, along with stories about joining students on explorations through the internet, Yosemite, Mongolia, and even the backseat of that airplane with the student who learned to fly.

Learning to Lead Learners

Leadership in today’s organizations and cultures requires skills that many people in leadership positions don’t have. Most of us first learned about leadership in school, where there is an abundance of structure and rules that tell us to stay quiet and keep our eyes on our own papers. Then we wonder why graduates aren’t motivated to take risks or collaborate in teams. In “Learning to Lead Learners,” David flips the script: Everyone at every level of your organization is an active learner. Lead learners are stewards, guides, and mentors who model the art of learning and transparently practice what they preach. In this keynote every audience member becomes an active participant who immediately acquires new leadership skills, masters new concepts, and curates their learning journey in ways that create value in real time. This talk includes a working demonstration — every audience member will master and demonstrate at least one new leadership practice and tell their story online, which means they’ll also walk out as a leader who can replicate and facilitate elements of the process in their own community. Success is a great feeling — the inspiration and motivation that “Learning to Lead Learners” creates is through the roof!

Build Your Open-Source Learning Network

Your most valuable asset and your most treasured talent is your ability to learn. That goes for the billions of people around you as well. We know that we work faster and more effectively when we learn together. This talk is designed to help you recruit a community of critique and support that supercharges your learning. Students, executives, entrepreneurs and community organizers have all used Open-Source Learning to build their individual capacities and their teams to achieve amazing results. In “Build Your Open-Source Learning Network” David provides the Open-Source Learning framework, entertaining examples, hands-on activities, and a step-by-step guide to help you create your own road map for success.

We the Learning People

It’s hard to watch the news. Every week seems to bring a new crisis. And school – the place where the next generation is supposed to be learning how to think their way through it all – is no longer a safe place for ideas or people. Recent graduates and employers agree that we need to help young people update their mindsets and skill sets for the world of today and tomorrow. David has laid out the road map for learners of all ages to recover, rebuild, and chart a learning course for the next chapter of their lives. It turns out we need the institution of school in our society for lots of good reasons – but real learning isn’t one of them. In “We the Learning People” David answers these questions with the Five Fitnesses of Open-Source Learning. Every audience member will leave with a first draft of their own personal strategic learning plan. David’s research and experience-based insights from his work as a teacher, professor, management consultant and journalist give audiences hope — along with practical strategies and tools for improving our selves, our communities, and our organizations.

David’s Audiences Respond

“It was amazing to watch David not just describe best practices but model them in real time– bringing students and colleagues online from around the world took the promise of learning from ideal to real.”

MacArthur Foundation Digital Media & Learning Conference

“David brings cutting edge research and practice together with humor and humanity to deliver a message of learning, value, interdependence, and hope.”


“Dr. Preston’s energy and compassion brought us into a world of motivated learners who design their own interdisciplinary journeys and create high value networks all over the world. Welcome to the Learning Economy.”

Institute for the Future

“Dr. Preston delivered a vision of Open Source Learning that made an immediate impact. This is the future of education.”

O’Reilly OSCON

“David’s unique perspectives on management, leadership, vision and strategy breathed new life into familiar topics and energized an executive audience who thought they’d seen it all.”

The Employers Group

“Dr. Preston takes collaboration and engagement to a whole new level. Our members loved his talk and took his messages to heart in ways that will help their organizations, communities, and constituents. This is a cultural foundation we can build schools on.”

California Charter Schools Conference