Learning objects

Defintions from a technical perspective



Hodgins (2002) introduced the term “learning object” in 1992, based on experiences with his children playing with Lego™ building blocks, Hodgins realized that his learning-design efforts might benefit from plug-and-play interoperable pieces of learning content that could be assembled and reassembled as needed.

Hodgins (2002[1]) introduced the term “learning object” in 1992, based on experiences with his children playing with Lego™ building blocks, Hodgins realized that his learning-design efforts might benefit from plug-and-play interoperable pieces of learning content that could be assembled and reassembled as needed. The term “learning object” has since been defined in many articles and in various projects. This section gives a short overview of the history of learning objects and definitions used. The section ends with the definition used for the research. Learning objects are commonly viewed as the smallest element of stand-alone information required for an individual to achieve an enabling performance objective or outcome. Learning-object uses include, but are not limited to, online instruction or performance support. Grounded in the object-oriented paradigm from computer science, learning objects are central to instructional theories offered by Merrill, Li, and Jones (1989[2]). These theories support breaking down content to constituent parts, then reassembling that content to meet specific learning goals (Jones, Li, & Merrill, 1990). In the period from 1992 to 1998 the Learning Object Metadata Group from the National Institute of Science and Technology and the Computer Education Management Association (CedMA, 1991) began to address learning-object issues such as modularity, database centricity, and metadata. The Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee (AICC, 2002); the International Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE, 2003); Learning-technology standards Committee (LTSC, 2002); the Instructional Management Systems (IMS); Global Consortium (IMS,2002), and the Alliance of Remote Instructional Authoring and Distribution Networks for Europe (ARIADNE, 2002) started their work in the learning-object arena, paying particular attention to the development of standards. Around this same time, Oracle introduced the Oracle Learning Architecture (OLA), an early attempt at an authoring environment using learning objects (Wagner, 2002). (Oracle later stopped the development of OLA because of the fast changes in specifications in the Microsoft Windows platforms.) The definition used for learning objects by Oracle was the following:


A Learning Object can be defined as a distinct, stand-alone piece of education. It can be taken in isolation or as part of a larger course. This is exactly the same principle behind Programming Objects, where stand-alone components are reused in different ways for different applications. When Learning Objects are fully implemented, it is possible for every user to define their own unique educational experience (Ellwood, 1997)[3].


Barritt who worked on the development of OLA continued these efforts for Cisco Systems (Barritt, Lewis, & Wieseler, 1999) and this resulted in a release of Cisco’s white paper on Reusable Learning Objects in 1998. In this white paper Cisco defines two sorts of learning objects, RIOs and RLOs. At its core is the RIO, a learning nugget that contains content, practice, and assessment components. Each RIO is defined as a concept, fact, process, principle, or procedure, and tagged appropriately. Several RIOs, as few as five and as many as nine, are combined together to create a Reusable Learning Object (RLO). If a RIO can be equated with an individual component of a learning objective, an RLO is the sum of RIOs needed to fulfill that objective. Each RLO, which also includes introduction, summary, and assessment items, is designed to meet a learning objective derived from a specific job task (Barritt, Lewis & Wieseler, 1999). A more holistic definition comes from Wiley (2000b) who worked closely with Merrill and defined learning objects as:

Any digital resource that can be reused to support learning.


Working together does not mean that definitions used are the same. This broad definition of Wiley somewhat contradicts the strict definition of knowledge objects used by Merrill (2000):

A knowledge object consists of a set of fields (containers) for the components of knowledge required to implement a variety of instructional strategies. These components include: the name, information about, and the portrayal for some entity; the name, information about, and the portrayal for parts of the entity; the name, information about, values, and corresponding portrayals for properties of the entity; the name, and information about activities associated with the entity; and the name and information about processes associated with the entity.

Knowledge objects can also been seen as learning objects in terms of reusability and also can be compared with the definition of Barritt, Lewis, and Wieseler, (1999) who id[5]entified: Educational learning objects, Content objects, Training components, Nuggets, and Chunks as terms used in the industry. This broader set of industrial terms includes even a broader pool of definitions. For example from Robson (2001):


The Learning objects are the core concept in an approach to learning content in which content is broken down into “bite size” chunks. These chunks can be reused, independently created, and maintained, and pulled apart and stuck together like so many legos. 

The definition is adapted from that of the IEEE Standardisation Body (2003) which in turn was adapted from the Learning Object Metadata (LOM) (LTSC, 2002) definition that defines an object as:


A learning object is any entity, digital or non-digital, that may be used for learning, education or training.


This definition of IEEE/LOM has the important difference that the “non-digital” kind of material will not be included in the scope. The definition is used because it has been formulated and supported by a large community and can be applied for a large range of learning objects. The members of the community come from academia, higher education, corporate, and military organisations.

See for references Strijker (2004)