Being Objective

Yesterday I joined sixty or so people in Menlo Park for the Learning Object Symposium, the intended kick-off for a new community of practice at the intersection of design and learning objects.

GeneEd's John Hathaway pointed out that today's learning object standards do not have instructional design built in. We left out the design while focusing on getting the interchange of learning media figured out. Now’s the time to add design back in.

What is a learning object? At Cisco, it may be a 10-minute video clip. At U.C. Berkeley, it could be a single slide in an art history course; or it could be the carousel of slides; or the entire course. We don't have a common vocabulary to describe obejcts. Besides, they are relative. One person's object is another person's assembly.

Several people endorsed the definition put forward by David Wiley in The Instructional Use of Learning Objects.

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 (Dahl & Nygaard, 1966) 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.

Wiley proposes defining a learning obejct as “any digital resource that can be reused to support learning."

Jim Spohrer defined "educational object," as used at EOE. Educational object = online shareable & fashionable knowledge resources for learners, educators, and developers/info architects around the globe.

"Learning objects" are really a whole lot of problems mooshed together. Educators are deconstructionists and constructivists who see the promise of digital media as assembling whatever they want. Publishers want to lock down the content to best protect and monetize.

Harvi Singh echoed this thought, pointing out that Learning Objects are related
to:


    Rapid creation of content
    Management
    Categorization
    Meta-tagging
    Storage
    Reuse
    Distribution
    Personalization
    Tracking reporting
    Collaboration
    e-commerce

NETg's Brendon Towle noted that SCORM is inadquate because, among other things:

  • SCORM only supports single learner/single LO configs
  • No way to produce complex sequences of LOs (yet)
  • No inter-LO communications (sims)
  • No concept of pedagogy at all

What's the relationship of Learning Design and Learning Objects?

  • None, really
  • LOs are packaging
  • Design constraints are more important than the packaging
  • SCORM imposes some constraints

At NETg, a Learning Object = presentation + assessment + objective

Brendon kicked up the emotional temperature in the room when he declared that the reuse of learning objects is a fairy tale. You don't expect a great movie to be made up of recycled bits and pieces; the great ones are made from scratch. We want engagement. Why expect reuse?

From the audience: If objects aren't to be reused, why are we wasting our time at this meeting?

Jim Harriott posits two types of knowledge. There's "what you know." and there's "what you generate on the fly." The spotlight is shifting from the former to the latter, from individual learning to co-creation.

I'll continue in the next post (becuase I want it to have a permalink I can point to.)




Keys on the piano = learning objects
Concerto = bunch of learning objects in context


One of the roundtable sessions led me to conclude that we're missing a piece of the learning object equation. We're going at everything from the object/sender direction but overlooking the learner/receiver end of the deal. After all, I want my learning system to learn about me as we go through this together. Yet I hear no discussion about meta-tagging the humans. And how do I deal with collaborative filtering (the light green lines above)? Or comparing my profile to that of others? How could I inject a rating system for content (as done on Slashdot)?



Follow-up website has presentation slides & references.


Posted by Jay Cross at September 6, 2002 04:33 PM | TrackBack
Comments

I believe Wiley's definition should be modified slightly: “any digital resource that can be reused AND supports learning." This adds Gibson's concept of an instructional event to the LO, eliminates single images as LOs (they are information objects not learning objects) and reduces the granularity "problem" while increasing utility (as Merrill recently observed, "If everything is a LO, nothing is."). While LOs are not necessarily objects in the software sense, in the OO world (of C++), objects require among other attributes discoverability (LOs metatags), runtime polymorphism (LOs adaptibility and the extremely attractive possibilities afforded by collaborative filtering and recommender systems--which could be treated as 3rd party meta-data), and protected encapsulation (with objects, all you can do is send a message, and all communication with objects occurs through its message interface). This latter attribute requires that LOs "talk" which necessitates an assessment feedback loop. Chuck Barritt's model at Cisco, while somewhat rigid, seems practical.

Posted by: Michael Anderson at September 10, 2002 09:54 PM


I too think the OO metaphor could be taken further with LOs. I'd like to add the concepts of classes and inheritance to Michael's list. In the programming world, what makes objects useful is the fact that they package both data and functionality together. So far, we've only used the data portion of the object paradigm for LOs. Abdul Motaleb el-Siddik's book on Interactive Multimedia Learning does a good job of exposing SCORM's weaknesses in this area, as well as workarounds.

The implications of the model for instructional design are profound. ID needs to let go of control, to some extent, and design in such a way that learners find natural and useful paths through the LOs available to them. Sequencing is going to be problematic in this sense if it's coming from the object/sender as you say. In any case, thanks for the coverage of this important topic.

Posted by: Dave Feasey at September 11, 2002 05:48 AM

In talking about learning objects, we have to separate presentation from content. Learning objects are presentational templates (content packages) that can be re-used. How often can content be re-used (especially if we agree that effective content is context-specific)?

Posted by: David Shoemaker at September 11, 2002 11:24 AM

When talking about content re-use it would be a good idea to maybe look at a slightly diffrent model ...as David Suggested --separate the content from the presentation.
This can be done by keeping the content in XML format, this would make it deployable in any template.
As far a context of use ...well content usually is context specefic, but there are areas especially software training scenarious where content can be resued effectively.

Posted by: Joydeep Roy at September 11, 2002 11:30 PM

In the discussion of reuse, I believe one point is being missed. Although reusing finalized object is conceivable, it is quite unlikely, at least according to some of the discussions (and I tend to agree with that).
What we do find is "design reuse", in other words, certain recurring structures that have proven useful in some context. The OO community discusses Design Patterns as being a way to to foster reuse, at various levels, ranging from abstract design to implementation.
I believe Learning Object could be most beneficial if actually understood more as design patterns than as finalized components.

Posted by: Daniel Schwabe at September 12, 2002 07:49 AM

Learning objects are fundamentally flawed. I think we should consider the position of the learner in a more holistic way. Learning is about making connections. People are essentially creatures who like narrative, who like connections, who make sense of their lives from what happened before and by make predictions about what might happen next. They like the flow of learning, the start, the finish and the middle, not a disjointed flight from island to island of information whilst floating about in object land. Objects allow learners or their agents to only choose the learning that they want or need at the right level, which seems to come out of the car production school of education or just in time (JIT) manufacturing. Think back into the midsts of time and consider how you learned things, also consider how you like to learn things. Was it in bite sized manageable chunks or
was there more to it than that? Does anybody learn that way? It’s an extremely Fordist notion that knowledge can be broken down into just enough for a particular task, just enough for a particular skill. It defies logic in the knowledge age society that learning should be so focused that particular items can be segregated out to teach particular skills and that there is no connection between items. Surely the span of a learning object at 15 minutes doesn’t allow enough time for a combination of teaching and learning styles to be addressed so that students can become multi skilled, so that they can both interpret information and apply it so that they can acquire, develop and demonstrate skills and then transfer them to different situations.

Posted by: Karl Royle at October 3, 2002 02:37 AM

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