What are Learning Objects?

Learning objects are assemblies of audio, graphic, animation and other digital files and materials that are intended to be reusable in a variety of ways, and easily combined into higher-level instructional components such as lessons and modules. The primary purpose behind the development and use of learning objects is to increase access to quality content, and to avoid wasteful replications of effort by making that content usable in a variety of contexts. The most common view is that a learning object is a collection of digital materials — pictures, documents, simulations — coupled with a clear and measurable learning objective or designed to support a learning process. This definition is built on the assumption that by combining learning objects in different ways, higher-level learning goals can be met, and ultimately, entire courses constructed.

The National Learning Infrastructure Initiative (NLII) had adopted a broad definition for learning objects, drawn from the work of David Wiley. Wiley defines a learning object as any digital resource that can be reused to support learning. NLll adds that learning objects are “digital resources, modular in nature, that are used to support learning. They include, but are not limited to, simulations, electronic calculators, animations, tutorials, text entries, Web sites, bibliographies, audio and video clips, quizzes, photographs, illustrations, diagrams, graphs, maps, charts, and assessments. They vary in size, scope, and level of granularity ranging from a small chunk of instruction to a series of resources combined to provide a more complex learning experience” (NLII, 2003).

This view distinguishes a learning object from an “information object” (akin to a simple fact) — which might have an illustration or other materials attached to it — or from “a content object” such as a video or audio clip, picture, animation, or text document. The key distinguishing feature between these kinds of objects and a learning object is the clear connection to a learning process.

Reusability is a key attribute of a learning object, and means the content can be accessed and used in a variety of settings and for a variety of purposes. The concept of standard deviation, for example, is important to a wide array of disciplines. A welldesigned learning object that illustrates the concept would be useful as part of an economics curriculum, a psychology course, a statistics course, a course in epidemiology, or any one of a number of other courses that require understanding of the concept. A library of such objects would make the job of assembling a web-delivered course much simpler, and students could use the resource to explore topics or self-remediate.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • Would love to be able to do more dissections online which would allow students more experiences to understand the anatomy of various animals. Also would like to have 'learning objects' that allowed students to mix chemicals/molecules online and see the interaction of these compounds. This would certainly allow students to experiment freely, reduce danger and minimize costs. (- michael.lambert michael.lambert Feb 22, 2011)
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(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Access to Learning Objects have been around in Australia via a nationally funded initiative for many years now, but have not gained a great deal of traction. The opportunity for learning objects to be incorporated in a variety of platforms needs to be highlighted. Also, teachers don't always have the technical knowledge to utilise these. Often learning objects can be too simplistic, which sometimes 'turns off' the kids from using them anyway. Learning objects need to be challenging and robust points of cognitive engagement, not drill and practice. - judy.oconnell judy.oconnell Feb 26, 2011
  • David Wiley, who you already mentioned in the introduction has also written about the "Reusability Paradox". The basic problem is that the larger the learning object is -- the more context it has -- the better it conveys the message. However, larger learning objects have less reusability so these two goals are at odds with each other. Conveniently, Wiley has created a Learning Object on this very subject that explains it much better than I do. It's posted on Connexions, a learning object repository at http://cnx.org/content/m11898/latest/.- brandt.redd brandt.redd Feb 27, 2011

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative expression?

  • This idea goes along with the movement toward digital textbooks. Embedded objects within educational reading materials can enhance the learning experience for the student and help them visualize the concepts being taught. alice.owen- alice.owen alice.owen Feb 19, 2011
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(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

Please share information about related projects in our Horizon K-12 Project form.