Instructional Technology/Learning Management Systems/Learning Objects
What are Learning Objects?
Design a package of information that can be reused, reconfigured, adaptable to many environments, found whenever needed, and works right out of the box - then you have just designed a reusable learning object.
This is where the majority of the confusion begins. There are many definitions around the idea of what a package of information consists of, which makes up the reusable learning object. Due, in part, to the nature of the object itself, the data required to make it searchable by others (metadata), and varying standards of the creator, reusable learning objects may vary greatly.
In an attempt to clear up this confusion, definitions were offered to define exactly what a reusable learning object is. As with most things, multiple definitions have been created, each varying slightly. The Maricopa Learning Exchange defines learning objects as "discreet pieces of content that are electronic, interactive and include a form of assessment that relates to an educational goal." Cisco Systems, Inc. defines a reusable learning object as a combination of reusable information objects. "An RIO is granular, reusable chunk of information that is media independent." Cisco Systems, Inc. then goes on to say "individual RIOs are then combined to form a larger structure called a Reusable Learning Object (RLO)" (Cisco Systems Inc., 2000). A third definition is "any entity, digital, or non-digital, which can be used, reused, or referenced during technology-supported learning (Barritt & Alderman, 2004).
Where agreement seems to be shared is in the purpose of a learnign object. Learning objects are instructional units designed to help learners to reach a single instructional objective. This singularity of purpose means that learning objects are self-contained, so a learner does not need supporting information to use a learning object.
Learning objects are also reusable. This means that a user can access a learning object repeatedly, and that different users can access any learning object as a part of different curriculums, regardless of delivery the method. Delivery options can include e-learning, intructor-led, a mix of the two, or witten documentation.
Learning objects are searchable. Each learning object is embedded with metadata that describe the subject covered in the learning object. This metadata enables users to easily locate specific learning objects by performing a simple search for a specific subject.
Learning objects are also known by the following names:
- Reusable Learning Objects (RLOs)
- Educational Objects
- Content Objects
- Training Components
Characteristics of Learning Objects
Barritt and Alderman (2004) identify seven main characteristics each reusable learnign object should have. These are;
- Objective-based - Each should accomplish a single learning objective.
- Context free - Each learning object can stand alone.
- Interactive - Keep the interest of the learner.
- Self-descriptive - Contain enough metadata for successful searching.
- Self-contained - Ability to stand alone or in unison with other objects.
- Single-sourced - Can be used in multiple formats and environments by multiple authors.
- Format free - Formatting the look and feel should be done during delivery.
Wiley (2000) describes three characteristics that define learning objects;
- "Modular digital resources, uniquely identified and metatagged,that can be used to support learning."
- "Digital resource that can be reused to support learning..."
- "The main idea of 'learning objects' is to break educational content down into small chunks that can be reused in various learning environments, in the spirit of object-oriented programming."
Attributes of learning objects are further represented with the mnemonic aid, "RAID".
R - Reusable
Learning objects should have future compatabilities for a longer usable lifetime.
A - Accessible
Learning objects should be easy to locate, access, archive, and reuse.
I - Interoperable
Learning objects should smoothly migrate as platforms evolve.
D - Durable
Learning objects should have a long lifetime of materials.
Learning objects with these attributes have a greater potential for providing the following benefits:
- Benefit education in general
- Expand to use by a larger audience
- Commercial value, i.e. learning objects can be marketed singly or in sets.
Using Learning Objects
Once you've found the right learning objects, it is vital to understand how to use them effectively to achieve your learning goals and objectives. Finding learning objects to use is one aspect of instructional development, making sure that the learning object is used effectively and appropriately within the course context is another.
An online book that consists of a collection of writings around the instructional use of learning objects can help to connect learning objects to instruction and learning.
The Instructional Use of Learning Objectsis a combination of material from respected authors in the area of instructional objects and theories.
This website also permits visitors to participate in discussions of the book's chapters with the authors and others. Readers may also submit any corrections or errors found in a chapter, or discuss other issues related to learning objects, instruction, and learning.
If these pages have not fully defined what are Learning objects? and you require a different kind of learning strategy,click hereto play a game, as presented by Sandy Mills at the 2003 Distance Learning Administration Conference in beautiful Jekyll Island, Georgia, and learn all about learning objects.
Creating Learning Objects
The Cisco System Corporation proposed a four phase system for RLO’s creation. Each of these phases interacts with each other. This system has built into it a blend of traditional ISD steps as well as newer computer instructional elements. The phases were:
- Design- The design phase is where the foundation of the learning event is created. There are four stages included in this phase: Needs Assessment, Task Analysis, Learning Objectives, and RLO Types. When designing learning objects, it is pertinent to consider how many objectives should be included. If too many are included, the object may become large, which will limit its ability to be reused by other individuals.
- Develop- The development phase is where text, graphics, video and supporting content are built. This phase would be complete when alpha, beta testing and review stages are complete.
- Deliver- At the beginning of this phase, the RLO's are complete and produced. The RLO would be stored in a database and are ready of use. Packaging of the RLO for delivery to the user must be decided. Three common types of delivery are: Dynamic Web Packages, CD-ROM’s, and Instructor-Led Training Materials.
- Evaluate- The evaluation phase is built off of Kirkpatrick’s four levels of evaluation. According to Cisco using these four levels will allow the author or organization to be able to make judgements about the effectiveness of the RLO.
Finding Learning Objects
Now that you have realized the potential and advantages of Learning Objects, where do you find them? Learning object discovery may be conducted through a content catalog managed by a learning object repository.
For learning objects to be used they must be found. It is not easy to find anything in a large distributed online environment like the World Wide Web or a large intranet. The solution is to store not only learning objects but also descriptions of the learning objects. Thinking of the learning objects as data, the descriptions are data about the data, or metadata. Learning object metadata potentially includes information about the title, author, version number, creation date, technical requirements and educational context and intent. Learning Object Metadata is compatible with the metadata used by the digital and online library community. A large amount of metadata can be input for each reusable learnign object, making this task somewhat labor intensive. A balance between inputing enough data to find the object and time spent inputing data is usually determined by the size and importance of the reusable learning object.
- Merlotonline resource of educational content is available for instructors to upload or download sharable materials.
- Wisc Onlineis a project managed by the Wisconsin Technical College System around working with internal faculty to produce learning objects.
- CAREOis a project supported by Alberta Learning and CANARIE that has as its primary goal the creation of a searchable, Web-based collection of multidisciplinary teaching materials for educators across the province and beyond.
- Splasha Learning Object fedearated search of several repositories
- ECL Interoperability Centera resource that helps you to learn, participate, contribute and benefit from the open network of Learning Object repositories, services and tools.
-  The Wikipedia page for learning objects.
When data characteristics are attached, or associated with a particular Learning Object, it can now become a Shareable Content Object. Also known as a SCO, it is the smallest logical unit of instruction that can be delivered or monitored by a Learning Management System.This attached data is contained in a special file referred to as the manifest file. This file is in a special XML language, that is placed in the top-level directory of a Learning Object and labeled "imsmanifest.xml." This data or metadata inside the manifest would describes course content and asset meta-data and data that can be maintained on the LMS for and about each student.
Each object should have enough material to be able to function as a stand alone module, without links to supporting material; the sequence in which the SCO appears is controlled through the learner management system. A SCO can conform to any of the more traditional instructional material roles, for example it could be a lesson, a module, a unit of a course, or a learning objective for a lesson. A well constructed SCO might contain all the "assets" needed to present a single lesson or learning objective.
It is shareable because it is usable in more than one course; its content consists of assets, that is the graphics, text or other multimedia that make up a Learning Objective, and it is treated as a single object.
Combine all the attributes of a SCO and what is now created is an object that is compliant with set standards to make it suitable for the acronym described earlier as RAID. The Shareable Content Object is now said to be SCORM compliant.
SCORM - Shareable Content Object Reference Model are the necessary specifications set-up by the Advanced Distributed Learninginitiative for improving the education and training of the workforce and the military.
The stated goals for the ADL include:
- providing access to high-quality, tailored education and training materials
- making these materials widely available whenever and wherever they are required
- accelerating large-scale development of learning software
creating a vigorous market for these products
The ADL has created its strategy for achieving their SCORM goals by proposing;
- to facilitate development of common standards for educational technology
- to pursue emerging network-based technologies
- to promote widespread collaboration based upon common needs
- to work with industry to influence commercial product development
Because the Learning Object supports the instructional transaction theoryof bringing many learning interactions together to acquire a piece of knowledge, many uses can be found throughout education for them such as in; distance education, special education, and project based learningenvironments.
Data information containted within a Learning Object has three characteristics that are tracked. Course Description, Course Sequencing, and Course Resources are all placed in a single file called imsmanifest.xml. The imsmanifest.xml file is organized into four sections, the preamble section, the metadata section, the organization section, and the resources section.
- Preamble section:- This section is virtually the same in every imsmanifest.xml file. This section contains the information used by the LMS.
- Metadata section:- This section is where the course is described.
- Organization section:- This section describes the sequencing of the SCOs in the course.
- Resources section: This section lists all the files that are used with the corresponding SCOs.