There is no single definition of the term learning object from a human perspective. Although most instructors probably do not use the term learning object as part of their day-to-day vocabulary, most would be likely to understand the term as something that is used for learning. If that something is digital or not may not be clear, nor is its size
There is no single definition of the term learning object from a human perspective. Although most instructors probably do not use the term learning object as part of their day-to-day vocabulary, most would be likely to understand the term as something that is used for learning. If that something is digital or not may not be clear, nor is its size. Is it a whole Web site or one image in the site? While many university instructors may find a broad definition such as “digital entities that can be delivered over the Internet” understandable (Wiley, 2000a), and some university instructors may relate to a definition such as “elements of a new type of computer-based instruction grounded in the object-oriented paradigm of computer science” (Wiley, 2000a), it is not likely that course designers in corporate or military contexts will respond to such definitions. In the corporate context, learning objects are generally defined in the terminology of the vendor supplying a LMS or LCMS. Chapman and Hall (2001), note that in this context that there is no consistent definition of a learning object; “…each of the companies using the learning object metaphor has their own defined relationship and characteristics for what constitutes a learning object” (p. 9). In their review of LCMSs, they identify definitions as varying as “a structured, reusable learning event” (p. 52) and “a single page or a group of pages, typically they should not exceed about 20-25 pages” (p. 81). Although “typically they should be five to 15 minutes in length (seat time)” (p. 9), they may also be objects such as a single image. Mortimer (2001) shares this impression of confusion within the corporate setting:
“Learning object. Reusable learning object. Reusable information object. Shareable content object. Modular building block. Chunk. Nugget. Lego. Whatever. The list goes on…no single learning object definition exists…there seem to be as many definitions as there are people to ask.”
Chapman and Hall conclude their review by saying “We hope to see better definitions and common standards for learning objects in the future” (p. 9). In the university world differences in definitions also occur. In the CANDLE Project, a distinction was made between c-atoms, c-content, and c-courses, emphasizing the idea that learning objects can be combined to form composite learning objects (Scott & Van Helvert, 2001). Oliver and McLoughlin (2002) discuss a type of learning object called a “framework” which “might take the form of a Web-based database that a teacher could use to create a setting for a particular subject context [for example] a role-playing learning activity” (pp. 96- 97). In this sense a learning object can be a template as well as associated resources that together can be used to “create an overall learning setting for a learning activity” which could then be delivered to students via a course-management system. Others also see learning objects in terms of different sorts of functions involved with a course, such as: knowledge objects, tool objects, monitor objects, test objects, and resourceorganisation objects (Koper, 2003, pp. 47-48); or: instructional objects, individual-activity objects, companion-activity objects, collaborative-activity objects, technical-activity objects, narrative objects, and assignment objects (Weller, Pegler, & Mason, 2003a, b). These terms may be more familiar to instructional practice than terms such as c-atoms, although they will still need some definitions before they can be immediately recognized. (For example, technical-activity objects are defined as objects giving instructions for activities that “require students to explore appropriate technologies, for example instant messaging, blogging, collaborative tools, etc.”). Even more important in these lists of types of objects is the idea that the learning objects are seen to get their meaning from their larger context, including services (Koper, 2003) and “the course as a whole and the dynamic environment created through dialogue [between instructor and learners and discussions among learners] and the assessment structure” (Weller, Pegler, & Mason, 2003b, pp. 4-5). This broader context was also reflected in Oliver and McLoughlin’s framework idea, where the framework object was used to create a resource for an activity that was then integrated within a broader course environment and carried out by groups of learners in face-to-face interaction. While the broader course context is also expressed by the sequencing feature in ADL SCORM™ Version 1.3 (see Section 188.8.131.52), the major issue is if the broader context in the ADL SCORM™ sense (and also the EML sense, Section 184.108.40.206) also includes elements other than digital learning objects, such as the instructors, and the students who are doing activities using the instructions in the “activity object” that was offered to them via their course-management system (Oliver & McLoughlin, 2002). Thus key variations in the definitions that are relevant to human creators and users of learning objects include:
• Should a learning object be explicitly created for learning puposes or just be any digital entity which can have a learning function in a broader learning context outside of the learning objects themselves?
• If a learning object is explicitly created as such, should it be done within a structured framework, perhaps using a template for consistency with other learning objects and for thoroughness?
• Do size and scope matter? Is it sensible to treat a zipped Website with perhaps hundreds of components or a pdf file of a lengthy book or manual in the same way as a single digital image?