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

Learning Object Systems and Strategy: A Description and Discussion

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

Learning Object Systems and Strategy: A Description and Discussion

Article excerpt


History of Learning Objects

Less than thirty years ago, computers were mainly used in the areas of business, science, and engineering. The notion of personal computing was still very distant and unlikely--at best a rarity. Today, life without personal computing is the rarity, and the breadth of personal computing has expanded to include education, entertainment, information science, and communication. Computers, the Internet, and other various technologies promise significant improvements in the delivery of quality enhanced education. However, it is fulfilling this promise that is not always easy.

Technology-enhanced education is hardly a new idea in the midst of the information age. It covers a wide range of possibilities--from the use of an overhead projector in the classroom to comprehensive courses fully facilitated over the Internet. With the explosive changes in technology, educators are faced with the challenge of learning and effectively exploiting the available technologies. The theme of this paper is discussing a newer development of technology-enhanced known as learning objects. Learning objects are elements of an approach to technology-enhanced education grounded in the principles of the object-oriented paradigm in computer science and instructional technology in education (Wiley, 2000).

It is very difficult to determine who coined the term learning object and when this occurred, but established credit is given to Wayne Hodgins, a learning and information futurist (Hodgins, 2002). The story says Hodgins was watching his children build things out of Legos while thinking about learning strategies. Wayne experienced an epiphany realizing that the world needed building blocks for interoperable pieces of learning--namely learning objects.

However, the Lego analogy, as explained by David Wiley, is an incomplete analogy in describing the inherent structure and nature of a learning object. The problem with the metaphor is the innate properties of Legos: (1) any Lego block is combinable with any other Lego block, (2) Lego blocks can be assembled in any manner one chooses, and (3) Lego are so simple and fun that even children can assemble them (Wiley, 2000). The presumptuous nature of this metaphor might lead one to believe that learning objects also have these properties. Wiley (2000) suggests that a system of learning objects with these properties is no more instructionally useful than Lego themselves.

Instead, Wiley (2000) presents a more holistic and complete analogy--an atom. An atom is a small component that can be combined and recombined with other atoms to form a larger whole. However, atoms differ themselves from Lego in that: (1) not every atom can be combined with another, (2) atoms can only be assembled into certain prescribed structures, and (3) some understanding is a requisite to assembling atoms (Wiley, 2000). Although the differences between these characteristics of the analogies seem trivial, the implications of the differences are significant in understanding learning objects. This analogy better serves the notion of a learning object for pedagogical purposes.

A Working Definition for Learning Objects

The term learning object surfaced more than fifteen years ago in a paper written by Hodgins, and since then has evolved into many different forms depending on the source. Unfortunately, understanding a learning object is not as difficult as defining it. Since the concept of a learning object is still a relatively new idea, a definition of a learning object is first provided to better describe what a learning object is and what it is not.

A learning object, as defined by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineer's (IEEE) Learning Technology Standards Committee, "is any entity, digital or non-digital that can be used, re-used or referenced during technology supported learning" (IEEE, 2002). This definition is intended to include any form of instructional material that can be used during "technology supported learning. …

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