What is the obsession (paranoia) with trying to define (exegesis) learning objects (no definitions)?

It is certainly useful to have understandable definitions for tightly constrained concepts like triskaidekaphobia, but when trying to introduce faculty new to the concept of learning objects, it seems almost unavoidable to stop them from wanting to labor over finding or writing yet another definition. Can’t we just move on to doing things with objects?

Last month’s Syllabus column by Philip Long, “Learning Object Repositories, Digital Repositories, and the Reusable Life of Course Content” (I will not elaborate on how I loathe the “R”-word) features a sidebar of “Learning Object Definitions” worth lobbing a few tomatoes at:

“…a learning object is defined as any entity, digital or non-digital, that may be used for learning, education, or training.”

From IEEE P1484.12.1/D6.4, “Draft Standard for Learning Object Metadata.”

That helps- so this means that anything and everything is a learning object, from a PowerPoint file to a pencil to a bunsen burner to… well you get it.

Dalziel (2002) describes a learning object as “an aggregation of one or more digital assets, incorporating meta-data, which represents an educationally meaningful stand-alone unit.”

Actually this one is almost palpable, yet is the door open on whether meta-data is strictly required for an object to be a learning object? I can fall either way, as meta-data to be honest seems to be needed to categorize, find, use, etc, but aren’t there re-usable digital learning units that lack meta-data?

The JORUM+ project adopted the following definition: “A learning object is any resource that can be used to facilitate learning and teaching that has been described using metadata.”

Ahh, the combo of numbers 1 and 2- a learning object is nearly anything, as long as it has been described with a meta-data. So slap some Dublin Core on Mr Fike the math teacher (actually, he was my math teacher in 2nd grade, but lacked meta-data… we had our own meta-descriptors for him) and he is a learning object, or toss some IMS over the Librarian’s hair, and she is meta-data….

Do any of these alone or all of these combined make the whole soup easier to sip? Gag….

The search for a single, encompassing definition is futile as you end up dividing camps between the “it must be digital” vs “it is anything”, to the notion that you need metadata or assessment, to some feeble attempt to quantify how big or small it is…., well definitions end up being what individuals or groups want them to be.

Could we just move off the definitions for a while and come back to it in 20 years and write a retrospective??

Now about this number 13, that is something worth worrying about…

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


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