Learning Object Reuse Acknowledgment (an idea, an acronym, and not much more)

One of the theories (myth?) for learning objects is that their cataloging is there to support re-use. But just making piles of objects in repositories does not intrinsically motivate re-use. About a year ago (BB before blogging, so the first mention was after the fact) I tinkered one afternoon with adding the MovableType Trackback mechanism to every item in the Maricopa Learning eXchange.

We have presented this idea and a few scenarios to the LOVCOP, Merlot 2003 Conference, NMC Online conference. but not seen any traction out there. So I am pitching this again, as an idea, and an acronym, Learning Object Reuse Acknowledgment (LORA) (did you really think that I chose a name for a fictitious faculty member out of the big book of names! I had a plan! Now try and guess what BORIS stands for 😉

The concept is this. Billy grabs an a 3D molecule object from your collection. When Billy re-deploy it in another context (e.g. publish with some futuristic, Jetson-like learning object constructor, as opposed so so-called learning object “ingestors”, yuck), the system automatically sends a short electronic “acknowledgment” to the object’s home in the “repository.” In MovableType, this is a “ping” message that sends a weblog a title, URL, date, and brief blurb of this external mention of a blog post.

A bit more detail….

Every MLX item (example, scroll down to “Trackback”) has embedded RDF tags that allow it to be “autodiscovered” by weblog tools (namely the MovableType bookmarklet editing tool)- this simplifies the TrackBack process by extracting the info from the MLX Packing slip, and automatically sending a trackback ping to the MLX when a blog entry is published.

Realizing this was limited, we also added a pop-up form to every MLX package that allows TrackBack information to be manually sent; not quite the future I imagined, but at least a gateway to allow more “ping-ing.” Most of the pings we are recording in the MLX are from me, but see this example. We also have a summary of all trackbacks in the MLX (note in our server move, many of the trackback data files got munged, or at least they are no longer being picked up. To replace the data, I am having to manually resend the TBs using our pop-up tool, and then go into the cryptic binary ****.stor file and copy/paste the original date from the old *.stor files— these are funky files to work with, and it would be nice for someone to develop a better data gathering structure for TrackBacks).

This is rather important in my mind. The object is now registering where else it is being used. It proves re-usability, one of the holy LO grails!

But how to make this catch on? Get Back to trackback? How to get in the minds of the systems builders to add this functionality? Is Trackback the wrong mechanism? Do we need a standard for LORA? Who would create that? Would other repositories use the mechanism? Where did I leave my car keys?

I have no answers– standards and that stuff are not my game. But I am hoping that someone out there in learning object land agrees that we need a simple communications mechanism to connect LOs from their “home” to their “re-used and deployment places”. Otherwise, it will continue to be just piles of objects scattered across the net, all brimming with hope of being re-used, or at least used.

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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.


  1. Alan,

    I agree with your notion of developing the ability to track who is re-using the learning objects residing in a repository. During his presentations to member institutions, Kevin Harrigan, the director for the Co-operative Learning Object Exchange (CLOE), found that they were interested in being able to determine who was using their learning object. The members see this as providing some indication of the value of a learning object, akin to the number of citations that can be attributed to a specific author. More importantly, I think it would also be valuable if the trackback could record how the object was being used and in what instructional context.


  2. I am continually surprised that there is not MORe clamor for some sort of tracking tool- for all the technical effort being tossed into meta-data and standards gobbledy-gook, some could surely be put towards some tools to link together discrete objects.

    however, I would argue against trying to put too much information into a trackback such as you mentioned- it has to be simple and almost transparent, otherwise it is another long series of data entry.

    The answers would be in following the trackbacks.

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