Academic journal article Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia

Institutional Use of Learning Objects: Lessons Learned and Future Directions

Academic journal article Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia

Institutional Use of Learning Objects: Lessons Learned and Future Directions

Article excerpt

A learning resource catalogue (currently LRC3) that comprises records of learning objects has been used by members of the Universitas 21 Consortium for three years. Five conceptually useful classes of learning objects are employed. While almost all faculty who were introduced to the LRC appreciate its value, need, and ease of use, few are willing to use the system for themselves. There are issues such as time to complete a record (possibly several minutes) and reluctance to make teaching materials public. Although there are acknowledged efficiency gains made by sharing and reusing learning objects, one reason for the slow uptake is the lack of a reward system that parallels rewards for publicising research. While improvements to the LRC continue to be made, including collaborative tools and in record creation, cultural changes in the adoption of educational technology and the recognition and reward for teaching seem to be the main reasons that the utilisation of learning objects will take time.


Three years ago at ED-MEDIA, Koppi et al. (2000) described how Learning Objects could be made part of an institutional learning environment by including a learning resource catalogue (LRC). The idea of learning objects was seen as the key concept that could influence the authoring of learning resources and the subsequent development and use of an LRC. Learning objects were defined as discrete chunks of reusable learning materials or activities that can communicate with other learning objects to build a learning environment. This is consistent with the definition given by the IEEE (2004). Other examples of database systems that address learning objects are given by ARIADNE (2004) and MERLOT (2004).

There are many definitions of learning objects (Rehak and Mason, 2003) and the meaning is still open to debate. Reusability seems integral to the concept (unique developments hardly seem worthwhile) although it is conceivable that some learning materials or activities are so contextual that they are only used once. The notion that learning activities are not learning objects and are disposable (Wiley, 2003) is not a concept employed by the LRC. We hold that learning activities, while they may be contextual, nevertheless may represent considerable and painstaking instructional (learning) design input and, as such, the ideas may be useful to others. In a recent development at the Open University (Weller et al., 2003), the notion of reusable learning activities was extensively employed. The LRC has a class of learning objects called task or exercise and several such learning activities are described in the catalogue.

The ability of a learning object to communicate with other learning objects (articulation) is not a necessary property of the learning object; rather, articulation is something that the teacher does with the object by placing it into a context. The same learning objects in different contexts can be combined in different ways as the teacher (and/or learner) decides. Therefore, recontextualisable seems to be an integral part of the property of a learning object. The more inherently contextual an object is, the less reusable it may be; something already loaded with context may be difficult or impossible to reuse in a new context (Hodgins, 2002). The notion that a learning object needs to contain some learning ingredient (as advocated by Bradley and Boyle, 2003) is also debatable; for example, a plain X-ray of a chest can be considered to be a learning object in a raw sense, and it becomes a different kind of learning object once it has been annotated. In the LRC, we include both of these categories; hence a learning object need not inherently contain learning material but it is capable of being used in a learning context.

The essential part of the LRC was a system for enabling the description of learning objects in standard metadata terms through a Web application (IMS, 2001-2004 and superseded by the more recent IEEE 1484. …

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