A solution looking for a problem? What’s wrong with that?

It’s fashionable to sneer at the idea that a particular technology is merely a solution looking desperately for a problem to justify its existence. But I’m not so sure that a rational process always has to start with a problem and move dispassionately to a solution – the process is more dynamic and interactive than that. At the eLearning Network‘s Showcase last week, I had time to reflect on a number of technologies that were under discussion – the iPad, interactive PDFs (if you haven’t spotted these, then these are next generation Acrobat documents that can incorporate interactive multimedia elements) and good old Second Life. The advocates of each of these could be accused of hunting for problems to solve in the world of learning technologies. As I contemplated these three technologies, I scanned all those problems currently and historically faced by any of my colleagues and clients to see whether I could find an application. Essentially, I had a bunch of solutions and I was looking for problems.

You do not have to wait until you have a new problem to solve and then sift through each of the currently available technologies to find the most appropriate solution. What about all the current solutions you have in place? Would any of these new technologies do the job better? That’s why it pays to take a keen interest in each new technology and to remain as open minded as possible. It doesn’t matter that the technology is launched as a solution looking for problems. And vendors often seriously misjudge what the applications for their products will be – they need the collective wisdom of many thousands of customers to come up with ideas that really work. Of course, some solutions never find problems and they disappear from view. But don’t be put off because applications aren’t instantly obvious – it can take quite a while for the great ideas to come forward.

So, checking existing problems to see whether new solutions will fit is fine with me. But inventing or reshaping a problem to fit a fashionable solution, now that’s another thing completely.

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