Learning technologies – should the tail wag the dog?

I’ve been well chuffed to see the amount of discussion that last week’s blog post on using reflection as a central concept in training people how to use the Mahara ePortfolio system – really didn’t think it would be something people would be overly interested in.

What made me particularly happy was to hear a completely dissenting view from mine. I’ve always liked it when that happens, as it makes me think through the assumptions I’m basing my argument on.

In this case, long time ePortfolio user Ian Knox made the following comment as a retort to my ideas on reflection:

If reflection is the main reason for ePortfolios I think they would already be dead in the water

Now although this wasn’t something that necessarily agreed with the training session I’d just delivered (which was about as good as I’ve done by the way), it was food for thought. It made me go back and connect with Mark Smithers’ post on the quality of online content in Higher Ed in particular, where Mark lamented many existing LMS practices, and certainly got a response from his readers – but fell short of getting lynched, which was good :)

It also made me think about the raft of responses I’ve had to my post on Moodle 2′s file management paradigm – without a doubt the change which has caused the most angst for many long term Moodle users, and made me realise, or possibly re-realise, that there is a big gap between the philosophical underpinnings of some online learning tools and what many educators want to use a learning tool for.

It is with tongue firmly planted in cheek that I then introduce a short, sweet presentation on a couple of the gaps that I see regularly, and that I think sums up Ian’s frustrations in how people use Mahara.

So what?

I wonder if the tensions between the theoretical need and the brutal reality will mean that we are heading for a significant showdown in tools like Moodle between where teaching practice should (according to Those Who Know Better) be heading, particularly in Higher Education, and where many would prefer it to remain. I wonder how much of the current user-base were previously attracted mainly by how well it managed files, and now that this feature has been degraded (or vastly improved depending on who you talk to) if we’ll see people starting to look elsewhere for a place to ‘do online learning’ (read: manage files online). Perhaps in the ePortfolio space with Mahara is less of an issue, since Mahara still does allow individuals to manage their files neatly and keep them all private, even if they don’t engage with any reflective thought at all.

Which all begs the question with any learning management tool (open source or otherwise) – should popularity rule over progressive teaching practice?

Should the tail wag the dog?