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September 14, 2004

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The Inevitable Cycle of Learning Object Definitions

With some regular motion in the learning space, maybe every other lunar conjunction there is a sharp increase in attempts to define learning objects. David Davies has been at it with echos here and there.

Personally, my attention span goes into day dream mode as the level of definition attempts grows, but I accept that it is the inevitable step one takes on a journey from exposure to this term. Some stay on this narrow road a long time while others get around to saying, it is not the specifications of the road that matter, but the destination (or just a good trip). Me, I am heading for the mountains.

Among the clatter in my RSS I came across "Moving from theory to practice in the design of web-based learning using a learning object approach" from the E-Journal of Instructional Science and Technology:

This paper describes the design of a web-based learning module. The aim in the design was to operationalize the concepts of granularity, reusability, scalability, and interoperability as they relate to learning objects. The prototypical module was designed for contexts where identifying and solving ill-structured problems is relevant. The module consists of an aggregation of learning objects including video segments, a bibliography and discussion forum activities. The module specifies an instructional sequence through reliance on a problem-solving model. Two rounds of module testing using WebCTTM were conducted. The module represents one perspective on operationalizing concepts related to learning objects.

Not to be overly critical (right, eh?) but I find reading this paper a reminder why academic research journals are so, well, "academic"-- the writing is just plain laden with the correct academic words in lieu of plain english. As much as I could distill this project:

* created web content using a variety of media
* put it in WebCT
* had some students try it (they had trouble getting RealPLayer to work, who doesn't)
* gathered some student opinions
* speculated that the module developed from French course "could" be re-purposed

I am a bit overly sarcastic here, but what really got me is that when you peer closely the "learning objects" are JPEG images, HTML, video clips:

The module represents an aggregation of seven objects in HTML format, one object in JPG format that can be embedded in one of the HTML pages and a set of thirty video segments. The description of the problem itself constitutes an object in HTML format. The problem-solving model constitutes another object and prescribes the instructional sequence through a series of phases. The model consists of three phases of Consult, Gather and Act. Each of these phases is represented by one object in HTML format. In between each of these phases is a Reflection. The latter phase is represented in an HTML page that links to an online asynchronous discussion forum.

(my emphasis added)

And there are no linked examples or even screen shots to share what this "module" does. If this is what an example of something made from learning objects is, then I have been doing this for 10 years. In 1994, I created this mini lesson example on Mineral Hardness for a paper at the Association of Applied Interactive Multimedia (AAIM) conference, July 1994.

Mine includes 5 HTML objects, 9 GIF objects, and one JPEG object. Sure, you could easily re-use the Moh's Hardness scale with a little creative effort, into an activity for a French Class or a Sociology class?? And since this has been online for 10 years, surely it has scaled?

Well, shoooooooot. I've been "operationlizing" learning objects all along! I knew it! The web sites I have created for the last 10 years, include likely more than 30,000 learning objects, and just imagine how many more of them are out there elsewhere on the web. Good gracious, they are everywhere! What shall we do?

My point is not to belittle someone's research from my reading of an article, but it just seems to me that you can paint almost anything as made of learning objects, and at that point, they have no meaning at all. After all, my previous research shown that my left big toe is a learning object.

But hey, let the definitions start rolling again. I am ready for a siesta.

blogged September 14, 2004 10:35 PM :: category [ objects ]
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