What's the single most important thing about elearning? Simple, without a doubt it's learning. When we looked at our (Kineo Pacific's) vision and mission statements a while back I was insistent with the other managers that we used the expression learning in everything we do. I think sometimes we think this is obvious, maybe a given or just plain old-fashioned thinking, but the rule is in the name itself. I dub it the 90/10 rule (not to be confused with 70/20/10 which I can't be accused of spearheading) - although as usual the irony is not lost on me that actually the word elearning is only 9 letters long so I probably should dub it the 8 out of 9 rule or the 88.9% rule, but that just sounds silly so the 90/10 is what I'm going with. (note if we include the dash e-learning could fit the 90/10, but I'm all for losing the dash so I have a clash of ideals here).
It's a pretty simply philosophy really, if you focus on the 'e' too heavily you're going to neglect the learning; and what would be the point of elearning if it wasn't for the learning part? My advice is to focus on the learning, the e (which just stands for electronic in case you were wondering) is merely the medium. In reality this means if you put all your efforts into a system that looks good but has no focus on the learning you set out to achieve, you'll probably end up with a nice looking technical manual or a gimmicky piece that you can show people, but that doesn't really achieve your objectives (yes you need some of them in a learning piece). Don't get me wrong, I'm not a great fan of 'by the end of this module you will' and then a straight testing of those, but if you don't have some objectives for your learning then you could quite fairly question why you were forcing people to do it all. How you go about sharing those with the learners is another story for another time.
So on to learning technologies too - for a distinction I look at learning technologies as being the systems and frameworks upon which your elearning sits and operates in (the environment if you will). Several times recently I've heard people say that there's no learning in an LMS. I have to say that the only reason to agree with this is that you don't have a decent LMS or you're not using it the right way. Now of the LMS, learning accounts for a third of the acronym for a good reason; yes it's there to manage and yes it's a system, but a good LMS is ALL about learning. It's sometimes said that the LMS is just the classroom for you elearning, this is simply just half the picture (I'm getting confused with halves, thirds and 90/10/88.9% but stay with me). A great classroom can make quite a difference, with smart boards and multimedia tools, but an LMS goes so much further; how about the ability to use those asynchronous tools in a way that is more than just as a place to post? What if your forums could automate actions, send reminders and prompt your learners in the way a good trainer would? What if your LMS could provide assessments that were not just assessing but actually providing a learning experience and giving feedback and learning opportunities along the way. What if your LMS provided access to further learning, even selected and pointed you in the right direction and showed you what you need to progress? What if your LMS became a social learning platform too - grouping and assigning you more than one trainer could on there own?
Hopefully the above gives you some idea - it's not about just providing the environment, it's about providing a learning environment that can actually promote, initiate and help you to increase the learning. Yes it's a tool, but to a certain extent it's a facilitator just like a good coach or trainer - to me that makes it a major part of learning and not just the classroom. If you apply that thinking when it comes to selecting your next LMS, perhaps I'll hear from you...