Object Objections

Three Objections to Learning Objects
Norm Friesen ([email protected])
Athabasca University
April 13, 2003

Norm Friesen has three philosophical problems with learning objects but offers no solutions. The term learning object is meaningless and a learning standard can be either neutral or relevant but not both. These are academic arguments. His third objection is that the bull leading the charge into object standards is the U.S. military, and they’re the wrong people to do the job. This is a real problem, but if not they, who? I’d hate to the team behind “No Child Left Behind” work on standards.

The game as Friesen sees it:

    Strike One: Bad name. Learning Object, the combination of learning, a concept so vague that people can read almost anything into it, and object, a technical term so precise that it’s hard to describe without technobabble - principles such as abstraction, concurrency, encapsulation, hierarchy, persistence, polymorphism, and typing.

      In order for the positive potential of learning objects to be realized, they need to be labelled, described, investigated and understood in ways that make the simplicity, compatibility and advantages claimed for them readily apparent to teachers, trainers and other practitioners.

    Strike Two: Flawed concept. SCORM purports to be pedagogically neutral. But there are many pedagogies — tailored to specific situations. SCORM favors the single, self-directed, self-paced learner; that’s not neutrality. Neutral or relevant: take one, not both.

    Strike Three: Do you really want educational systems defined by the Department of Defense? Not all education is mil-spec, nor all learners soldiers, nor should they be.

Thanks to Stephen Downes for the pointer to the original item.

Posted by Jay Cross at April 14, 2003 09:20 PM | TrackBack

In January 2002, the Spencer Foundation published a very thorough "Survey of International Investment in Educational Technology Research and Investment" (fas.org/learn/intl_rev/intlsurvey.pdf) which identifies agencies that invest into EdTech R&D. In 2000, the US Dep't of Education budgeted $20 million. The Dep't of Defense budgeted $165 million.

Federal budgets for 2000 were set before the current military frenzy and "No Child Left Behind". The Dep't of Defense's budget this year for EdTech R&D is probably significantly higher, and the Dep't of Education's budget lower than in 2000.

There is no other corporate or government entity which rivals the military's commitment to elearning. There probably won't be for years. The European Commission has some interesting programs, but in aggregate they invested only $65 million (US) into EdTech R&D in 2000.

What other agency is there that might rival the military's leading role in setting learning standards? ASTD?

Given these realities, and others that dampen R&D expenditures in the enterprise elearning sector, I think questions about the legitimacy of the military driving learning object standards are mute.

Posted by: Alex Gault at April 15, 2003 10:15 AM

Moot, it's moot

sorry, pet peeve.

See the adj. definition here:

That aside, the various branches aren't the only institutions involved in setting learning standards. I'm encouraged by European involvement because of the different perspective it offers.


Posted by: David Carter-Tod at April 15, 2003 01:32 PM

Alex, I realize that the military has its nearest rival in education R&D spending outgunned (couldn't resist) by 8:1, but I don't think it's something for us to forget about or willingly accept.

The post before this one, on John Taylor Gatto, links to the tale of the creation of America's dysfunctional school system (borrowed from the Prussians to serve the industrialists) that the citizenry bent over for.

I don't trust Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon to draw up the blueprints for the future of education. God I love the smell of napalm in the morning.

Posted by: Jay Cross at April 15, 2003 09:31 PM

Here's a thoughtful rebuttal to the original article. Military? SCORM's so limited, we need not worry; it's not going anywhere.

Posted by: Jay Cross at April 17, 2003 11:16 PM

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