Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Do learning objects really exist?

Twenty years ago, learning and development professionals were preoccupied with concerns about not reinventing the wheel. This was the time of the creation of National Standards (NVQs and all that), and the idea was that a lot of work was going into defining generic job roles, and training and assessment routes – work that could be picked up and re-used almost anywhere, with a little tweaking. This made some sense, especially if there were opportunities for learning through sharing ideas.

Ten years ago, e-learning pursued the same obsession when it introduced the concept of learning objects.

illustrated by this diagram (click to enlarge):

A college lecturer of my acquaintance, well-versed in teaching National Certificate modules, was puzzled as to how much further courses could be broken down beyond the modular level, and suggested to me that these objects were no more than “facts”. Of course, learning objects come in many other forms, but whatever they are, they haven’t caught on in the same way.

The truth is there’s a lot to be said for reinventing the wheel, in terms of the learning process you go through when you try it. And in reality, many learning designers have preferred to start from scratch, especially when the technology represents no barrier to doing so. So the vision that never materialised was that all courses could be disaggregated (clumsy term, but is ‘chunked’ any better?) into components that could then be re-assembled into other courses.

I suspect the most workable solution lies somewhere between the vision and the everyday reality (the latter is often at least partly driven by "Not Invented Here" syndrome). Certain objects may indeed be stored in a databank for frequent re-use, such as diagrams, pictures, video clips, audio clips and reference documents. But the elements of learning that bring these resources together are probably best reinvented for each use.

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