This paper presents a case to reposition theory so that it plays a pivotal role in learning technology research and helps to build an ecology of learning. To support the case, we present a critique of current practice based on a review of articles published in two leading international journals from 2005 to 2010. Our study reveals that theory features only incidentally or not at all in many cases. We propose theory development as a unifying theme for learning technology research study design and reporting. The use of learning design as a strategy to develop and test theories in practice is integral to our argument. We conclude by supporting other researchers who recommend educational design research as a theory focused methodology to move the field forward in productive and consistent ways. The challenge of changing common practice will be involved. However, the potential to raise the profile of learning technology research and improve educational outcomes justifies the effort required.