In the learning business there are plenty of enabling technologies. First, we had a few learning management systems, like WebCT, which were developed at academic institutions. There wasn’t much choice then, and most in the field were cheering these advances. Then we had the elearning bubble with hundreds of LMS, LCMS, CMS & VLE. Now we have personal learning environments (PLE) and eportfolios vying for the spotlight.
When I worked for a technology vendor I soon learned that it was more important to sell licenses than to enhance performance & learning. Licenses paid the bills. That’s why I still urge my clients to separate their technology provider from their learning services. You cannot serve two masters.
Is it the same situation with open source learning applications? If I develop a platform, will I offer independent advice, such as switching to another system? Once we get attached to our favourite system, or one that we helped to develop, then it may be hard to pack up and leave. However, being open to adopt new systems is in the client’s best interest. On one recent project we went through three major content management systems before settling on Elgg Learning Landscape, which didn’t even exist at the beginning of the project.
As much as I like Elgg, I have to keep on the lookout for other products that may meet my clients’ needs. I believe that in this constantly changing web environment, there is a need for third-party service providers who are technology neutral. There may be a temptation to affiliate with only a few select technologies, and perhaps earn a little extra cash, but that doesn’t serve the client. For instance, a new system can come along and give your client a quantum leap in performance. You have to stay current in your research in order to give the right advice for the current situation. Being technology neutral is the difference between a vendor and a consultant.