In 1934, LEGO founder Ole Kirk Christiansen created the name LEGO by combining the first letters of the Danish words “LEG" and "GODT”, which mean “play well” – unaware that in Latin one meaning of the word LEGO is “I put together.”
Why are learning objects like LEGOs? In 1958, the LEGO brick was launched, with its new socketing system. Children could snap together the bricks to construct different things, limited only by their imagination. LEGO bricks have become the archetype of interchangeable, universal parts.
Similarly, learning objects were supposed to be reconfigurable. String 'em together to build individualized learning paths. Make 'em small enough and they become like wet plaster you can shape by pouring into a mold. Instructional designers wouldn't need to reinvent (or repurchase) the wheel. Learners would get just what they needed.
While learning objects have taken hold in limited applications, their recombinant capabilities have not exactly set the learning world on fire. You can have a boatload of LEGOs but they're not going to assemble themselves. Making something requires intelligence -- the child. Likewise, learning objects need an active component in order to self-organize.
Objects are things. Content can be a thing, but content is not learning. Learning requires context, too. Content + context = a learning process. Processes don't snap together as seamlessly as LEGOs. Processes join with one another in unpredictable ways, with many more variations than one can represent by coupling the male and female aspects of little plastic bricks.
Real-world applications require flexibility. Those of us who are too impatient to await the arrival of nano-objects that conform to the shape of a contrainer can find a better model in intelligent software agents. Agents are always on the make, looking for optimal connections.
Their standards of connection evolve over time. Intelligent agents adapt. Unlike LEGOs with their single way to connect, software agents are like sticky candy. They can come together in any number of configurations.
The learning processes of the future must be responsive, self-maintaining, ever-improving, cost-effective, and malleable.
I'll suggest we start thinking about learning agents instead of learning objects.
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