• Learning Objects: What are they? How can they be re-used?


Table of Contents

• Definitions of Learning Objects
• Discussion: Not Invented Here - Repurpose and Reuse
• Discussion: Hierarchy of Modular Content
• Learning Object Metadata and IEEE-LOM
• Instructional Design: Applying Learning Objects
• Interoperability: Repurposing Learning Objects
• Higher Education: Are Learning Objects Happening?
• Higher Education: Guidelines for Repurposing Learning Objects


This article was compiled by Paul E Burrows, Information Architect & Service Management, Teaching & Learning Technologies, University of Utah 


Definitions of Learning Objects

The concept of learning objects arose in the late nineties driven by the motivation to reduce the development and maintenance cost of digital learning content by means of modularization and reusability. Learning objects promised to offer a new way to create and mediate educational content in terms of smaller units of learning that are self-contained, can be re-used in multiple contexts and pedagogic settings and can be grouped into coherent collections of digital learning content.

Bernd J. Krämer, "Reusable Learning Objects--Let's Give It Another Trial", FernUniversität in Hagen, Germany. Forschungsberichte des Fachbereichs Elektrotechnik. April 2005.


An instructional technology called “learning objects” currently leads other candidates for the position of technology of choice in the next generation of instructional design, development, and delivery, due to its potential for reusability, generativity, adaptability, and scalability. Learning objects are elements of a new type of computer-based instruction grounded in the object-oriented paradigm of computer science. Object-orientation highly values the creation of components (called “objects”) that can be reused in multiple contexts. This is the fundamental idea behind learning objects: instructional designers can build small (relative to the size of an entire course) instructional components that can be reused a number of times in different learning contexts. Additionally, learning objects are generally understood to be digital entities deliverable over the Internet, meaning that any number of people can access and use them simultaneously (as opposed to traditional instructional media, such as an overhead or video tape, which can only exist in one place at a time). Moreover, those who incorporate learning objects can collaborate on and benefit immediately from new versions. These are significant differences between learning objects and other instructional media that have existed previously.

D.A. Wiley, "Connecting Learning Objects to Instructional Design Theory: A Definition, a Metaphor, and a Taxonomy"


Reusable modules of digital information are the building blocks of e-learning content that learners access to achieve the promise of “anytime, anyplace, at-any-pace” learning.

Louis C. Pugliese, The Transformation of Educational Publishing


Learning objects represent a completely new conceptual model for the mass of content used in the context of learning. They are destined to forever change the shape and form of learning, and in so doing, it is anticipated that they will also usher in an unprecedented efficiency of learning content design, development, and delivery. However, their most significant promise is to truly increase and improve human learning and performance.

H. Wayne Hodgins, "The Future of Learning Objects," in the Instructional Use of Learning Objects. Agency for Instructional Technology and the Association for Educational Communications & Technology, 2000.


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Discussion: Not Invented Here - Repurpose and Reuse

Common to higher education for many decades (perhaps centuries) has been the prevalence of the "not invented here syndrome." Unless a media item, an article, research, book, website, or any other type of information resource was created by or was the result of the direct participation of a faculty member or educator, then that piece was deemed to be of less value or importance to the educational process. If it wasn't "invented" by the individual delivering instruction or training, then it was not invited into the classroom or learning experience.

Public K-12 education is somewhat less concerned about "who invented" a media item, possibly because public education and the content conveyed is prescribed by local, state, and national standards and requirements. The educator usually embraces preselected resource materials made available for a certain grade level. In some ways, K-12 lives within a "not selected here syndrome" where candidate materials are evaluated by curriculum committees and offices of education, vetted, then passed along as approved content. If a media item wasn't selected by a curriculum committee, then it was not invited into the classroom to assist the learning process.

With the advent of the Internet and alternative delivery methods of media and content (such as Video-On-Demand, Cable in the Classroom, computer programs and simulations, synchronous and asynchronous courseware delivery, online e-learning, etc.), information resources have infiltrated the classroom in vast arrays. Often, the individual educator, faculty member, or student must gate-keep and filter the barrage of content and select that which satisfies a specific need or requirement.

Economics is breaking down the barriers to "not invented or pre-selected here." High quality materials, as defined by production value or educational worth, are expensive to design, create, and maintain on a local level. As well, the true customer of the educational process, the student, participates in learning today with high expectations for variety and immediacy that must match that of their everyday lives outside the classroom.

Surfacing in the 1980s was the term "re-purpose." The word was applied to informational and media materials created by others, but obtained and incorporated into many learning processes across various educational systems and institutions. The "best of the best" educational content could be evaluated and embraced. A prime example of re-purposable content was the Slice of Life Videodisc Project started by Dr. Suzanne S. Stensaas within the School of Medicine at the University of Utah.

The project began in 1986 when a videodisc was created containing 12,839 images from the combined visual resources of the University of Utah's Departments of Pathology, Radiology, Neuroanatomy, Anatomy, Neurosurgery, Ophthalmology, and the Medical Examiner's Office for the state of Utah. The videodisc became a "one-stop resource" for educators and students alike to access and review high quality images related to the health sciences. Numerous copies of the first edition were made available in the University's Eccles Health Sciences Library.

The design strategy behind the original videodisc was to create a visual databank of images that could be used and reused by faculty and students. The videodisc was a "generic resource pool" from which images could be "re-purposed" depending on the educational needs, learning agendas, and software development taking place at the University of Utah, and later, hundreds of other institutions and departments around the world.

Many editions of the Slice of Life were created in a 10-year period of time since its first version. Each new videodisc added to the growing number of images and contributors. The latest (and last) edition is number seven. It contains more than 44,000 still images and 65 motion sequences related to human medicine, nursing, dentistry and allied health education. SOL VII represents contributions from 63 institutions, two professional societies, a pharmaceutical company, and 240 individuals throughout the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe and Australia. Subject areas on Slice of Life include: cardiology, cytology, embryology, gross anatomy, hematology, histology, microbiology, neuroanatomy, parasitology, pathology, radiology, gastric endoscopy, colonoscopy, dermatology, and ophthalmology.



The Slice of Life Videodisc gathered and distributed educational materials at a base, component level, meaning individual images and pictures of normal and diseased or compromised states of human organ systems and tissues. These are considered raw media items. Metadata about an image was gathered and supplied to end users. However, the context in which the image could be re-purposed was left entirely to the receiving educator, faculty member, or student. No specific pedagogical method, learning objective, or context was attached to an item from the image bank.

Were these images learning objects? Certainly they met the criterion of reusability. With contemporary perspectives on learning objects, the Slice of Life content, as learning objects, exists at the foundation level of a hierarchy of learning object types. At this foundation level are raw media items, whether text, imagery, video, or audio, that have high levels of re-purposability because they are not circumscribed by learning contexts and enumerated educational objectives. The next section explores more in more detail the hierarchy of learning objects types and the context in which they are used.



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Discussion: Hierarchy of Modular Content

H. Wayne Hodgins, Strategic Futurist and Director of the World Wide Learning Strategies group within Autodesk, Inc., likened the hierarchy of objects to the building blocks of the popular toy, LEGOS (TM).

Blocks of content have a fundamental “standard,” ... such that they can be assembled into literally any shape, size, and function. Some people may find the most value in taking a pre-assembled unit and putting it to direct use; others will want to assemble their own, possibly from scratch, but more likely from sub-assemblies. Some will want instructions and guidance on how to assemble the blocks, while others will want to determine their own results.

Hodgins, H. W. (2000). The future of learning objects. In D. A. Wiley (Ed.), The Instructional Use of Learning Objects: Online Version.


The hierarchy of modular content is divided into five layers of abstraction...

The most fine-granular level consists of raw media elements including media types like text, audio, illustration, animation and others.
From raw media elements, information objects are formed. They describe a certain procedure, process or structure, define a concept, present a fact, or provide an overview on some subject.
The third aggregation layer combines information objects circumscribed by a learning objective. The objects at this level are called learning objects.
The fourth layer groups learning objects around a more encompassing outcome or terminal objective to create aggregates like lessons, chapters, learning units etc.
The top layer includes collections of lower level aggregate assemblies to form thematic courses, books, stories or whole movies.


Two related snapshots, one modeling the hierarchy from a "building block view," and the other modeling the hiearchy from more of a "molecular model view" serve to illustrate. These images are slides drawn from a PowerPoint presentation by H. Wayne Hodgins entitled Get R.E.A.L. -- Relevant Effective Adaptive Learning, (web page no longer available).




Threaded through the hierarchy of modular content is a paradox between reusability and the degree of contextualization surrounding content items.

The problem is that in order to allow objects to be reusable, they must be relatively free from context, but we know that contextualization is critical in a learning experience. It is a real challenge to create reusable objects for “course content.” Also, it is extremely difficult for computer systems to assemble learning objects into larger pieces such as lessons, modules, and courses if there is no context associated with the learning object.

(web page no longer available)

This same article adapts Hodgins Building Block and Molecular Models into this illustration, showing the reverse interactions of "Context vs Reusability." With less context, raw media items are free to be easily repurposed. With greater context, learning objects may not be as easily reused in differing learning environments.



Even beyond the ongoing discussions about reusability vs contextualization, the literature offers a variety of competing terms when referring to learning objects. In D.A. Wiley's article entitled Connecting learning objects to instructional design theory: A definition, a metaphor, and a taxonomy, he enumerates a few of the variations...

  • knowledge objects
  • components of instruction
  • pedagogical documents
  • educational software components
  • online learning materials
  • resources
  • shareable content object (SCO)

Regardless of what a learning object is called or how it is defined, the fundamental concept is to craft a component of learning that can be made available for others to incorporate into their own learning environments, inserting the component where it best fits contextually within the educational requirements at hand.



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Learning Object Metadata and IEEE-LOM

A learning object is not particularly useful unless it can be described, identified, and evaluated for its chief instructional benefits as well as being discovered by others to be repurposed in their own learning environments. There are many options for describing media items (see the article Metadata Primer).



Metadata descriptors are available in several broad categories:

  • objective metadata (file types, media types, technical parameters)
  • subjective metadata (descriptions, keywords)
  • rights metadata (copyright, usage rights)

But not until the Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC) of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) tackled the challenge were there additional metadata descriptions to describe the educational utilization of learning objects within a specific instructional setting or classroom. Thus was developed the IEEE-LOM, Learning Object Metadata Standard.

IEEE-LOM is formally known as IEEE 1484.12.1-2002, Learning Object Metadata Standard: LOMV1.0 Base Schema.

• BACKGROUND (taken from the IMS Learning Resource Meta-data Best Practice and Implementation Guide)

In 1997, the IMS Project, part of the non-profit EDUCOM consortium (now EDUCAUSE) of US institutions of higher education and their vendor partners, established an effort to develop open, market-based standards for online learning, including specifications for learning content meta-data.

Also in 1997, groups within the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) and the IEEE P.1484 study group (now the IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee - LTSC) began similar efforts. The NIST effort merged with the IMS effort, and IMS began collaborating with the ARIADNE Project, a European Project with an active meta-data definition effort.

In 1998, IMS and ARIADNE submitted a joint proposal and specification to IEEE, which formed the basis for the IEEE Learning Object Meta-Data (LOM) Draft Standard, which was a classification for a pre-draft IEEE Draft Standard. IMS publicized the IEEE work through the IMS community in the US, UK, Europe, Australia, and Singapore during 1999 and brought the resulting feedback into the ongoing specification development process.

• SCOPE (taken from the IMS Learning Resource Meta-data Best Practice and Implementation Guide)

The IEEE LOM Draft Standard defines a set of meta-data elements that can be used to describe learning resources. This includes the element names, definitions, datatypes, and field lengths. The specification also defines a conceptual structure for the meta-data. The specification includes conformance statements for how meta-data documents must be organized and how applications must behave in order to be considered IEEE-conforming.

The IEEE LOM Draft Standard is intended to support consistent definition of meta-data elements across multiple implementations.
The IMS Learning Resource Meta-Data Best Practice and Implementation Guide therefore includes or references:

  • IEEE Learning Object Meta-Data Working Draft, Version 6.1
  • IMS Learning Resource Meta-Data XML Binding, Version 1.2
  • IMS Learning Resource Meta-Data Information Model, Version 1.2
  • IMS Taxonomy and Vocabulary Lists

The IMS Learning Resource Meta-data Best Practice and Implementation Guide provides general guidance about how an application may use LOM meta-data elements. The IMS Learning Resource XML Binding specification provides a sample XML representation and XML control files (DTD, XSD) to assist developers with their meta-data implementations. None of these IEEE or IMS documents address details of meta-data implementation, such as its architecture, programming language, and data storage approach.


• EXTENSIONS (taken from the IMS Learning Resource Meta-data Best Practice and Implementation Guide)

There has been, and continues to be, much debate on extending meta-data for uses beyond search engine retrieval. At this point, individual developers and implementers must make decisions on how to best extend meta-data.The LOM rule regarding extensions is that they shall not conflict with or alter specified meta-data elements. The intent is to discourage developers from creating new elements that replace or duplicate elements in the LOM standard. For example, a meta-data instance should not have a new element, say TitleAndVersion, that is used as a replacement for already existing elements; in this case the title and version of the meta-data structure.


All of that said, the metadata dictionary and organization of the descriptors in IEEE-LOM is comprehensive. For a schematic overview of the hierarchy of the actual metadata elements of IEEE-LOM, refer to the document located at this URL link--


In general, IEEE-LOM's metadata gathers its descriptors under these aggregations...

  • general subjective descriptions
  • lifecycle factors
  • administrative metametadata
  • technical/objective identifiers
  • rights and intellectual property considerations
  • relationships to other resources
  • annotations
  • formal classifications
  • educational metadata

Of importance to this discussion is the inclusion by IEEE-LOM of educational metadata or descriptions on how an individual media item or learning object is best intended to be used in educational settings. The specific metadata elements are...

  • interactivity type
  • learning resource type
  • interactivity level
  • semantic density
  • intended end user role
  • context
  • typical age range
  • difficulty
  • typical learning time
  • description
  • language

Certainly not all of these decriptors are applicable in all educational settings, whether K-12 or higher education. Importantly, through its educational metadata, IEEE-LOM addresses the next level of reusability for learning objects, which is to identify objects with standardized utilization parameters, where appropriate and informative to educators, faculty, and students. K-12 educators may find similarities to the rubrics associated with specific lesson plans used in the classroom to teach specific topics and subjects, provide learning activities, and conduct assessment.



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Instructional Design: Applying Learning Objects

Is it enough to create a media item that fits into a hierarchy of contextualizations, with specific metadata and utilization parameters? Probably not, because the next level of discussion addresses how the contextualized learning object, wrapped in its guidelines for usage, cannot truly achieve reusability without considering the behavioral aspects of learners and the best practices for applying a learning object. The discussion turns to instructional design.

Instructional design variously includes...

  • pedagogical methods for teaching
  • selection of best media types and instructional components
  • best sequencing of presentation materials and learning activities
  • accommodation to and personalization for learning styles
  • enumeration of specific learning objectives and anticipated outcomes
  • testing, assessment, and achievement methods

Various instructional design theories offer prescriptions, sometimes proscriptions, to teaching, learning, and best practices in educational processes. Instructional design, when applied conscientiously and practically, begins to answer the "so what" questions surrounding reusability, elevating the learning object from "set dressing" to "critical component."

...technology or software that does not support an instructionally-grounded approach to learning object sequencing...sets the stage for learning objects to be used simply to glorify online instruction, the way clip-art and dingbats are used in a frequently unprincipled manner to decorate elementary school newsletters...Obviously, instructionally grounded sequencing decisions are at the heart of the instructionally successful use of learning objects.

D.A. Wiley, Connecting Learning Objects to Instructional Design Theory: A Definition, a Metaphor, and a Taxonomy

In one short paragraph, D.A. Wiley reminds us that just because something can be re-used, does not necessarily mean it should be re-used. There must be direction and rationale to the re-purposing of media items and learning objects within specific teaching and learning contexts.



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Interoperability: Repurposing Learning Objects

Plug-in and Play

The discussion of learning objects can be observed from yet another, circumscribing layer that defines reusability. The issue is how best to package learning objects so they can more easily be plugged into learning management systems across multiple institutions and organizations without having to customize a learning object for every runtime environment in which it could be applied.

A definition is offered from an article in the Wikipedia entitled Virtual Learning Environment...

A Virtual learning environment (VLE) [Course Management System] is a software system designed to facilitate teachers in the management of educational courses for their students, especially by helping teachers and learners with course administration. The system can often track the learners' progress, which can be monitored by both teachers and learners. While often thought of as primarily tools for distance education, they are most often used to supplement the face-to-face classroom.

These systems usually run on servers, to serve the course to students as Internet pages. Components of these systems usually include templates for content pages, discussion forums, chat, quizzes and exercises such as multiple-choice, true/false and one-word-answer. Teachers fill in these templates and then release them for learners to use. New features in these systems include blogs and RSS. Services generally provided include access control, provision of e-learning content, communication tools, and administration of the user groups.

Probably one of the best articulated overviews of the disconnect between learning objects and their systematic incorporation into e-learning and course management systems was written by Claude Ostyn in his updated book In the Eye of the SCORM--An Introduction to SCORM 2004 for Content Developers.

For many years, one of the major problems with e-learning has been the creation and deployment of quality e-learning content. E-learning content is actually software. Its development has typically been subject to the same issues as other software projects. In other words, e-learning content is expensive and time-consuming to develop.

To deliver and especially track results from the use of the content, it typically had to be custom programmed to work in a specific delivery environment. Different learning management systems had very different delivery environments. If an enterprise wanted to upgrade a learning management system or change vendors, often that meant abandoning very expensive content and starting over. If a content vendor wanted to distribute content widely, it was very expensive. A completely different version was often required to accommodate each different learning management system. Big content vendors, on the other hand, specified their own delivery environment and forced each learning management system to implement different delivery modules for each large content vendor.

As learning requirements changed and overlapped within enterprises and government agencies, the importance of reusable content modules became apparent. In education as well, the usefulness of content objects or "content nuggets" to support all kinds of learning activities was demonstrated by various projects.

There has thus been a strong market incentive for content that is durable, portable between systems and reusable in a modular fashion. In other words, content that is interoperable.

With interoperable content, content developers win because the same content can work in more different systems without modification. LMS vendors win because they can focus on the management aspects of learning, without having various content libraries. Enterprises and agencies using the learning management systems and the content win because instead of wasting money and time on integration of different libraries of content, they can easily mix off the shelf content with their own custom content using the same delivery environment.



SCORM--Shareable Content Object Reference Model

One solution to interoperable learning objects emerged from an initiative launched by the Department of Defense and the Department of Labor around the turn of this century called the ADL--Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative. The ADL...

...was tasked with leading a collaborative effort to harness the power of information technologies to modernize structured learning....employs a structured, adaptive, collaborative effort between the public and private sectors to develop the standards, tools and learning content for the learning environment of the future. The vision of the ADL Initiative is to provide access to the highest-quality learning and performance aiding that can be tailored to individual needs and delivered cost-effectively, anytime and anywhere.


Organizations playing a role in the formation of the next-generation learning technologies with the ADL include...

  • Aviation Industry CBT Committee (AICC) (one of the original standards-based initiatives for shareable learning objects)
  • Alliance for Remote Instructional Authoring and Distribution Networks for Europe (ARIADNE)
  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC)
  • IMS Global Learning Consortium, Inc.

Key functions of the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative include...

  • Reusable learning content that can be delivered over a network.
  • Technical standards and guidelines that make this possible.
  • Research and development on technical issues that stand in the way.
  • Ensure that such learning is cost-effective and that it can be developed and marketed in a way that allows industry to make a profit.
  • Provide an ADL forum that allows the public and private sectors to identify and address their common interests in developing and transitioning to the ADL environment of tomorrow.

Emerging from the ADL work was the specification of an over-arching framework to enable the sharing of content across courseware management and e-learning systems. This specification is known as SCORM-- the Shareable Content Object Reference Model. As defined by the ADL/SCORM website, http://www.adlnet.gov/overview/ ...

SCORM is a collection of standards and specifications adapted from multiple sources to provide a comprehensive suite of e-learning capabilities that enable interoperability, accessibility and reusability of Web-based learning content.

More specifically, as outlined in Claude Ostyn's In the Eye of the SCORM, SCORM establishes these requirements for content shared across courseware management and e-learning environments...

Content should last long enough to amortize its cost, and be usable as long as it is relevant.
It should be possible to move the content easily from one delivery environment to another. The same content should work without modification in different delivery environments, as long as the delivery environment includes a web browser.
It should be possible to build the content in small, reusable modules that can be recombined in different ways. Different communities of practice should be able to share reusable content.
The same content should work the same way when it is deployed in different environments.
It must be possible to find the content in a repository. This requires that some standard cataloguing data be associated with the content.>

SCORM enables content to be shared by bundling the actual learning object within a package. Along with the content is a manifest or file containing metadata about the package itself, descriptions about the structure of the content as well as sequencing and navigation (organization) when in use, and an inventory of the resources within the package. It is this package that is shared across e-learning environments. A runtime environment is required to launch and display the package, According to SCORM, the content should be compatible with any web server, and also run in an offline environment without requiring the installation and configuration of a web server (such as CD-ROM content that runs within a web browser).

Certainly a learning object does not have to be SCORM compliant to be shareable. SCORM attempts to standardize the reusability and interoperability factors within e-learning and courseware management environments in a plug-in and play fashion. Many industry standard management systems, such as Blackboard (WebCT), will accommodate SCORM compliant shareable content objects (SCOs).

Within K-12 and Higher Education, repositories of learning objects can always be built, metadata attached, and search capability enabled, in order to allow educators, faculty and students to discover and review learning materials, regardless of their placement within the hierarchy of modular content (raw content, information objects, learning objects, lessons, courses). SCORM compliance is not necessary, but may assist in plugging learning objects into an educational setting or specific learning management system.



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Higher Education: Are Learning Objects Happening?

Are They Happening?

In her report, Learning Objects in Higher Education, Rosemary Griffith surveys the conditions found in a selected group of higher education institutions with regard to the use of reusable learning objects (2003). One of the more interesting survey results concluded that...

Somewhat surprisingly, respondents reported that there was little faculty resistance to sharing learning objects once they were created. More than 75% indicated that their faculties do not see ownership issues, or lack of collaboration to be a barrier in the adoption of learning objects for use in instruction on college campuses. These responses somewhat refute commonly held notions of guarded and proprietary behavior exhibited by faculty when it comes to collaborating or sharing materials and pedagogical strategies ["not-invented-here syndrome"].

Some recommendations to Higher Education for embracing reusable learning objects were offered in this same report...

Education as a discipline has come through a long period of relative stability, but now the new information and communication technologies offer attractive enhancements to most educational activities. Embracing these new technologies can be inhibited by a number of personal and institutional factors that can be slow to resolve. Institutions of higher education must take into account the potential stress generated by embracing the new technologies when change is not well informed and/or well paced.

For those institutions that are ready to explore the potential of these new technologies there are some early practices that can ease the transition to the development, tagging and storage of reusable learning materials.

  • Developing content in small “chunks” using universal technical specifications and meta-tagging are good first steps in creating sharable content.
  • Copyright and other legal issues must be taken into consideration during this development stage as well.
  • Exploring opportunities to collaborate within and outside departments, and across disciplines and institutions can help to create “communities of practice” (COP). These “communities”, can provide a rich and economical source of learning materials, generate new pedagogies and provide a supportive and challenging collaborative network.

A follow-up report was published a year later (2004) by the Educause Center for Applied Research (ECAR). Metros and Bennett, in their paper Learning Objects in Higher Education--The Sequel, cautioned that...

...there is a worrisome disconnect between the research disseminating from the major professional educational technology organizations that sponsor conferences brimming with sessions on learning objects and their use and the everyday teaching practice of faculty. For the most part, the academic community remains unaware of and unmotivated to adopt the new paradigms and pedagogy that accompany the practical use of digital repositories.



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Higher Education: Guidelines for Repurposing Learning Objects

Returning to the authors of the ECAR paper on Learning Objects in Higher Education--The Sequel, Metros and Bennett conclude that within Higher Education, the creation and reuse of learning objects is expanding, but many questions remain. Consult their paper for a complete enumeration, but notable among their questions are...

How can institutions of higher education traverse the turf-bound, discipline-based silos for the purpose of developing, sharing, and reusing educational content?

What role should the faculty member play in designing the delivery of educational content? Who should be tasked with creating, tagging, and preserving learning objects; managing and maintaining the repositories; and promoting and assessing use?

Another looming issue is the development of guidelines for the creation, evaluation, and submission of learning objects into repositories and courseware management systems. At what point can potential end users be assured of the sufficiency and quality of learning objects? Do the seekers of learning modules gate-keep and filter what they consider to be worthy or applicable? Or do we rely on a vetting process for learning objects by knowledgeable referrees or peer review committees?

An attempt to address evaluation criteria has been made by J.C. Nesbit, K. Belfer, and T. Leacock in their Learning Object Review Instrument (LORI). The principles and pedagogies are drawn from the experience of the MERLOT Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching. MERLOT outlines a Peer Review Process with four guiding principles...

  1. Quality of content and how well the content models the skills of the subject discipline
  2. Potential effectiveness as a teaching/learning tool
  3. Ease of use with regard to design, user interface, navigation and technological features
  4. Reusability, portability, and interoperability

Learning objects are classified into a possible 17 categories of pedagogical technique (e.g., simulations, lecture-presentation, discovery learning, drill and practice, assessment). There are nine different evaluative criteria with free-form commentary that are used to review a learning object or package of objects.

Would an individual university engage in its own peer review of learning objects or rely on the evaluative processes in place through national or international repositories? Perhaps. Regardless, at the higher education level, it is most likely the individual faculty member would prefer to determine the quality, effectiveness, usability, and applicability of a learning object for his or her own teaching and learning requirement, whether for traditional classroom presentation or through a web-based learning management system.


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This article is compiled by:
Paul E Burrows
Teaching & Learning Technologies
University of Utah