Academic journal article Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning

Learning Pod: A New Paradigm for Reusability of Learning Objects

Academic journal article Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning

Learning Pod: A New Paradigm for Reusability of Learning Objects

Article excerpt


In 1994 the term "learning objects" made its first appearance in the title of Wayne Hodgins' CedMA working group: "Learning Architectures, APIs and Learning Objects" (Polsani, 2003). This reference is ostensibly made toward object-oriented programming, a paradigm of software engineering where software programs are built using modules that are interoperable, reusable, and easier to maintain than their monolithic counterparts. In a similar fashion, an academic course can be broken up into computer-mediated instructional units that possess these same qualities--portability, adaptability, reusability, and ease of maintenance. Because a single hour of online instruction can take up to 300 hours to develop (Kapp, 2003), reusability is the core return on investment (ROI) message offered by learning object promoters, from the earliest days to the present (Churchill, 2005, 2007; Downes, 2003; du Plessis, 2005; Garcia-Barriocanal, Sicilia, & Lytras, 2007; Hodgins, 2000; Liber, 2005; Liu, Huang, & Chao, 2005; Polsani, 2003; Wiley, 2000). Yet, after 12 years of successive evolution, learning objects are still primarily a collection of stand-alone modules that rarely interconnect outside of strictly controlled regimes, such as those imposed by corporate and military training guidelines.

The lack of reusability does not stem from a dearth of technical and procedural standardization. Groups like IMS Global Learning Consortium, Inc. (IMS Global), IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC), Cisco Systems (Cisco 1999), and, by extension, Griffiths, Stubbs, and Watkins (2007) have published documents that describe in detail process analysis, metadata, sequencing, learning management system portability, test and assessment, and/or interconnection. What is missing from these control structures is the conceptual and aesthetic engineering necessary to promote visual, auditory, and kinesthetic consistency as well as interoperability at the lowest level, from learning module to learning module.

Impediments to Reusability


Several factors coalesce into a collective impediment to reusability. First, the definition of a learning object is devoid of a uniform structure, making the reuse of these nebulous entities difficult. Borrowing from Churchill (2007), here are some example definitions:

* Any digital or non-digital entity for technology-supported learning (IEEE, 2001).

* Atomic or aggregate learning resources (IMS Global, 2003)

* Any digital resource used to support learning (Wiley, 2000).

* Any digital resource used to mediate learning (Wiley & Edwards, 2002).

* A LO can be based on an electronic text, a simulation, a Web site, a .gif graphic image, a QuickTime movie, a Java applet or any other resource that can be used in learning. (McGreal, 2004).

* A collection of 7 [+ or -] 2 components containing content, practice and assessment parts (Cisco Systems, 2001).

* Combined knowledge object and a strategic object representing a mental model to be developed by a learner through incremental elaboration (Merrill, 2000).

* Interactive digital resource illustrating one or more concepts (Cochrane, 2005).

* Interactive visual representation (Churchill, 2005).


Learning objects have been metaphorically described as chunks, nuggets, LEGO* * blocks, Lincoln Logs[TM], atoms, molecular compounds, and crystals (Hodgins & Conner, 2000; Liber, 2005; Mejias & Shoemaker, 2005; Wiley, 1999). Rehak and Mason, 2003 aptly describe this chaotic environment:

   Different definitions abound, different uses are envisaged, and 
   different sectors have particular reasons for pursuing their 
   development. In this environment of uncertainty and disagreement, 
   the various stakeholders are going off in all directions. … 
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