Scott Shot Object

In Executing Learning Objects, Resurrecting Sharing and Reuse, Scott Leslie takes some well thought shots at the sacred cow term of “learning objects” (and his animation of the “execution” could use more blood, guts, and squeals).

As part of a workshop for the BC Educational Technology Users Group, Scott has nicely posted his materials in wiki fashion (he is now an alumni of the Brian Lamb School of Wiki Presenting, I signed up more than a year ago and the thought of “power” and “pointing” has never reached any proximity)…. as Scott writes:

I began the session with a formal execution of the term “learning object” which you can see at the link above (feel free to reuse this – maybe if it’s played enough times the term will finally die off)…. As I go on to explain, it’s not the concepts the term was supposed to foster that I object to so much as the term itself, as it has left many an instructor panicked and struggling to understand what it means, as if it were something radically different from the learning content they are already producing.

How succinctly and clearly said! Bravo!

My own quibble is with his line:

Though I do actually disagree with Alan that LOs are simply links and all we need is referatories, but that’s likely another post

Since Scott’s blog appears to lack comment function (another roach roach victory?) I disagree with his summation of my position, and I think we are in the same camp. I never proposed or advocated that learning objects should only be links in a referatory (heck, I built my own non-referatory)- I was observing that when I visited a number of said “learning object” collections, the vast majority are not those little re-usable plug and play chunks of content, but simply links to web sites. I do not see objects, a see hyperlinks.

While I find interesting content and technology via those links, I hardly consider them “objects” and really struggle with seeing how a web site “object” (I even found a reference once to “HTML objects”, yikes!) really has much or any “re-use” capability besides linking.

The bottom line is that even with Scott’s workshop list of learning object examples— they are singular content chunks, can any of them be pieced together? (I realize he wanted to have participants look at different objects and ‘evaluate’ them)… beyond the Connexions project, I fail to find any compelling learning content that has been constructed by non-technical people by assembling together so-called objects, be they web sites, Java things, or “any digital asset used for learning”.

I am waiting, but still see the picture of useful learning content built from learning objects as nothing more than fuzzy photos of Sasquatch. I’d love to be wrong, I really would.

I just do not believe that labeling every digital asset a “learning object” enables anything beyond creating piles of digital assets, no matter how intricately meta-tagged they are. If I were king, any project for fostering learning objects must have a larger proportion of its scope be on the content creation from objects, not the cataloging of the iddy biddy pieces.

Anyhow I went of the deep tangential end. There are not enough blog words to describe how much I respect and appreciate the thoughtful work of my colleague up in Victoria.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
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.


  1. Hey Alan, you are right, the lack of comments right now is a result of comment spammers; I promise to recitfy this when I get time.

    I don’t think we disagree at all; I can really get behind your statement that “any project for fostering learning objects must have a larger proportion of its scope be on the content creation from objects, not the cataloging of the iddy biddy pieces.”

    I also agree with your citation of Connexions as an exemplar of reuse, but I think it raises as many problems as it solves. I will try to repond to this and to Stephen’s urging for more details on my vision in upcoming posts over the next weeks. But apologies for the “straw man” argument if in fact your argument isn’t against the need to store content but instead is against implementation models that don’t have that content reused in any meaningful way beyond being pointed to.

  2. I must admit talking up Connexions w/o having doing much of anything in there, so shoot a few of those bullet holes my way. I do know it has some issues with authoring and XML editors, though the new beta version we saw demo-ed here a month ago is supposed to have a tool for authoring the CNX version of XML directly from MS Word. It is on my mile long list of summer projects to play more with Connexions.

    It is astounding though that after all these years of tossing up papers and meta data specs that there are so few creation tools.

    And on your last point, I do not advocate on either side of the storage versus referring only. I think a system should do both. A referral system is full of the issues of content disappearance, version control, etc.

    And yes, it is my harping about the lack of demonstrated reuse or even plain old singular use. He post these things, tag ’em, but do we really know how they are bing used? If they are? I did wonder if I was too heavy on the need for “reuse” in terms of support learning objects, but while there are many out there who focus on the objects, I am much more interested in the contexts in which they are used. That is really the philosop;hy in mind when we create the MLX, that it could be as simple as a description of a practive, and that re-usable ideas are just as valuable as re-usable objects.

    I eagerly await new posts! Cheers from down south…

  3. I agree that a lot of the so-called repositories are in fact referatories, and while such resources are needed, from my point of view, these aren’t learning objects. They aren’t made up of small bits I can reuse independently and merge with small bits from other objects to make new ones; I can’t download them and add them seamlessly into lectures or lecture notes; I can’t use them if I dont have an internet connection. These are just digital resources, not neccessarily learning objects in my mind. ‘Reuse’ becomes more an issue of how many people have used this resource (for example, linked to it from a referatory), rather than how can this learning object be used as-is or parts of it used in different contexts for different learners.

    I’m having to build my own ‘bits’, since finding these is almost impossible for what I want to do with them. I want bits that learners can pull together themselves to make a learning object, be they complete novices in the subject area or advanced learners – its going to require a lot of implementation and careful tagging, but these will be independent stand-alone resources, that can be downloaded and used offline or burnt to disc, that will create many different learning objects when different bits are combined according to learner needs, and will be equally suitable for learners who are, for example, third year computing degree or first year business degree.

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