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

A Model for the Effective Management of Re-Usable Learning Objects (RLOs): Lessons from a Case Study

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

A Model for the Effective Management of Re-Usable Learning Objects (RLOs): Lessons from a Case Study

Article excerpt

Introduction

There has been a massive increase in popularity of on-line and flexible learning. This use of digital media to support on-line learning is ubiquitous, from the most basic to the advanced, and in subjects ranging from basket weaving to nuclear medicine. In the US alone, figures for the forecast of internet-based training for the year 2003 in both 'soft skills training' and 'IT training', approach $US12 billion, a growth of almost 100% from the previous year (Clarke & Hermens, 2001; Taylor, 2002). Traditional educational institutions are extending beyond their classroom walls, using on-line and flexible learning to meet market demand for anywhere, anytime education.

The management and reuse of these digital learning resources has become a major business. Organisations are increasingly seeking a means to achieve shorter production times, better use of resources, reduced costs, and improved quality of content for developing and maintaining educational resources, by developing re-usable learning resources, known as Reusable Learning Objects (RLOs) (Kostur, 2002).

RLOs are units of content and educational structure divided into reusable objects and modules. The IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee defines smaller objects linked together to form learning materials as Learning Objects. Their definition of a Learning Object is "any entity, digital or non-digital, that may be used for learning, education or training." (IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee, 2002).

Many organisations in different spheres of business are evaluating the benefits of RLOs. In organisations where the core business is education, RLOs are frequently considered an integral part of distance and flexible learning strategies. Distance education pre-dates on-line learning, and is defined as any approach to education that replaces the same-time, same-place, face-to-face environment of a traditional classroom (Volery & Lord, 2000). Distance education is a major user of online learning, but distance learning does not encompass all the ways in which online education can be employed. Online education may be used as an add-on to traditional classroom presentations, as a stand-alone asynchronous program, or as a synchronous class where all students are on line at the same time (Taylor, 2002). Therefore, online education can be defined as education that utilises Internet technologies to distribute and display materials and relies on a self-learning environment. Education that uses a combination of traditional classroom presentations and online components is known as flexible learning and is an increasingly popular model, especially in the tertiary sector. All of these models are increasingly common in the education sector and have the potential to benefit from use of RLOs.

A learning object strategy allows organisations to achieve shorter production times, better use of resources, reduced costs, and improved quality of content for developing and maintaining educational resources (Freeman, 2004; Kostur, 2002). While a RLO strategy promises potential advantages, there are many potential pitfalls when developing a successful RLO strategy. In this study, we focus on organisational and management issues. Issues associated with the technologies of reuse, for example, XML, have been extensively discussed in other contexts.

For our study, we have chosen a large, mature distance education organisation with 50 years of experience in the structured production and reuse of educational material and a history of successful adoption of new media. In the last three years, our case organisation has adopted a RLO strategy. The aim of this research was to study an exemplar organisation, with the aim of extending existing understanding of effective management practices for RLOs. The research questions are: "What are the management issues involved with developing and maintaining re-usable online educational materials to maximise speed of development, cost of development, and reliability of the completed content", and further, "What insights into the effective management of RLOs can be made based on an exemplar organisation? …

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