This post isn't about Google Gears as much as it is about what it signals to the learning industry. When I get more hands on experience with Gears I'm certain to comment on how its working for me. Please let me know how it works out for you!
So blackboard patents the stupidity of eLearning systems... so what's all the fuss? Isn't everything basically a learning system? Reading a book still works for me at times. Talking to others has always worked well. Reflecting on my "research" (i.e. reading, talking, listening) by writing it down helps organize everything in my mind and allows me to share it and begin to understand it even better. Presenting it to colleagues for differing opinions was also valuable. That was all done pre-web2.0. The only problem is that it took so much more effort...libraries, etc.
Today, all of that can be done on a single topic in a matter of hours: thinking, collaborating, sharing, reflecting, researching, reading, writing, listening, conversing, arguing. AND it can all be done without the use of ANY eLearning system. That's right...sans LMS.
The learning industry has spent much time and effort creating systems that allow developers to create eLearning "courses" that can be "taken" OFFLINE and then critical evaluation information is transferred back to the LMS when the system is back ONLINE. Cool right? Sales people being trained while flying and blablabla.
Well, geez, why not just build that capability right into the browser? Google did. Its called Google Gears and its just another step closer to the browser being the ultimate delivery tool for learning. Actually, it already IS...but some of that critical functionality required in many learning environments sits server side with the browser acting as the conduit through which the other client tool launches. Its not a bad idea, just the current reality. Open APIs give us the ability to add our "learning" features directly to the browser, so why don't we go that route?
One of the only reasons why I tried using client side feed readers was for the offline capabilities. They worked just like email, but of course some people only feed teasers to your reader and force you to the site to read the entire article...not so good for offline work. But now Google Reader functions OFFLINE...bye bye client side readers.
Remember, MOST of what we learn and know (I'd say >98%) isn't from the traditional learning systems (that includes the non-tech industrial era school systems), its from the informal life experiences that shape and mold who we are, and who we are to become.
Your LMS may be adding wiki and blog functionality, but chances are your IT department already has that covered and launched, or plans too in the near future. So, why do they (the learning vendors) even bother? The trick for the learning industry isn't too create and launch the tools but too work closely with IT departments and figure out how to influence and leverage the use of the tools.
I believe MediaWiki is the single greatest learning tool you could implement in your organization. Its editable, linkable, taggable, and social. The learning departments can be more effective to the company by teaching employees how to use these tools to increase their productivity. YES, do the traditional workshop, classroom training, 1:1 training, or whatever it is you do. But, first you MUST learn to use the tools yourself.
Oh yeah, my point! With the release of Google Gears MediaWiki (and ALL wikis for that matter) become infinitly more powerful once they re-code to take advantage of the offline capabilities of Google Gears. Now you can take that corporate wiki with you on your harddrive. Yes, being connected 24/7 is important, but it just became a little less important.