I suspect that the question “What is your favourite eLearning tool?” would flummox most folk. Probably asking “What is an eLearning tool?” would furrow many brows. I imagine it would even confuse many of us within the learning industry (however we may define that). Every profession and industry tends to create its own language and labelling systems. Often, these are impenetrable to the outside world. The L&D profession is no exception. What we mean by eLearning I reckon may only be of internal interest though. This list of the Top 100 Tools for Learning for 2014 demonstrates the point.
It is a (really useful and interesting) list of the most highly regarded tools from industry practitioners. It is the industry view. It defines a learning tool as follows: “any software or online tool or service that you use either for your own personal or professional learning, for teaching or training”. A pretty solid definition about which Jane Hart has thought thoroughly and clearly in conducting the research. It asks us what we use as both learner and trainer/teacher/instructor.
All of the entries in this list are immediately and comfortably familiar. They are the tools of our everyday lives. These are the resources with which we find things out and get thing done. We use them to communicate, to organise, to produce and publish, to have fun and to express ourselves. We also use them to learn or, we learn with them. Not until you reach Moodle at number 12 do you find a specialist learning tool. Into the twenties you can see a few specialist production and authoring tools. These, to my eye, are rare across the whole list. I don’t see a single Learning Management System in the list.
I think this is because a tool is in the command of its user, to do with as they wish, whereas a system is in the control of its owner to be followed by a user. That is not a very 2014 way of behaving. We now expect to use our tools as we see fit. Furthermore, these tools are managed and developed by experts in product development, user experience, design and usability. All of these are skills and mindsets the learning industry needs to develop. They are skills focussed on identifying and satisfying user needs. Systems thinking is experiencing an existential challenge as a result. It helps the organisation perhaps but less so the user.
Similarly, the web has yet to offer an eLearning experience. By that, I mean one that looks and feels like a module or course housed within an LMS. In the ongoing experimentation and exploration of the last 18 years of the online world, the web has yet to find a use for that kind of learning. Should it appear now, I reckon it would seem rather unwieldy, unfamiliar and irrelevant. Not the territory of Silicon Valleys and Roundabouts, more the territory of systems integrators and corporate IT suppliers.
eLearning providers have a new standard to meet if they are to regain the higher ranks in the future top 100 lists. It seems now that learning is not so special in technology terms, it is another (vital) use of well crafted tools. Those of us in the industry are already looking to other products to both teach and learn and are measuring suppliers wares by those criteria.