Reuse of Learning Objects – Human and Technical Aspects

Summary of the dissertation Strijker, A. (2004). Reuse of Learning Objects - Human and Technical Aspects.



The reuse of electronic learning material has been a goal and a problem for more than two decades in the educational sector. Already in the 1980s a number of initiatives occurred with the aim of promoting the reuse of educational software outside of its original market. These initiatives came to little success for a number of reasons. One certainly was the technology of the time, with incompatibilities in operating systems and storage media forming major barriers. In addition, there were problems in awareness and access. Potential users had little opportunity to be aware of what was available or to see or try it out. Since the 1980s some progress has been made, but there are still many aspects that can be studied.

The dissertation focuses on the application of learning technology standards for learning objects and the differences in reuse in university, corporate, and military contexts. This is addressed from two different perspectives: the technology involving learning objects and the human aspects that influence the (re)usability of learning objects.

Learning objects are defined as digital entities, available for use or reuse in different learning settings. These objects themselves may or may not have been originally created as learning objects; it is their use for learning purposes that makes them learning objects. Each learning object has a life-cycle. Stages in this lifecycle are obtaining an object, labelling an object, offering an object, selecting an object, using an object and retaining an object.

Technical aspects of reusing learning objects include the technology of the objects themselves; technology related to the repository in which the objects are collected; technology for services related to the use of the repositories; and technology to support the sharing or interoperability of learning objects between systems and repositories.

As complex as these technical aspects are, human factors involved with the use and re-use of learning objects are even less easy to deal with than technical issues. An example of such an aspect is the instructor’s perception that material created elsewhere does not fit well enough with the situation in his own instructional setting. This relates to another human aspect that influence the (re)usability of learning objects: not only must they be available and findable, but the instructor must be motivated to look for them, supported in making decisions about how to not only find them but more importantly integrate them into the rest of his course and instructional planning, and then must have easy-to-use tools that help him make this integration.

Through the combination of technological and human considerations, a number of the barriers limiting the potential reuse of digital resources are addressed in this dissertation, particularly those that relate to fit with the local context: the research positions the study of metadata requirements and standards within a broader context that relates to the situation in which potential learning-object use occurs. Therefore the research focuses on the application of learning technology standards for learning objects and the differences in reuse in three different contexts: university, corporate, and military. Within the three contexts the human and technical perspectives will be key elements for the responses to the research questions which are:

  1. Human perspective – What human aspects are important to support the different stages of the lifecycle of a learning object?
  2. Technical perspective – What tools and technologies are important to support the different stages of the lifecycle of a learning object?
  3. Combining human and technical perspectives – What are key dimensions to guide the selection of tools, technologies, and human procedures to support the different stages of the lifecycle of a learning object for users in different usage contexts, particularly university, corporate learning, and military training?

A series of projects over three years provides answers to these and related sub-questions.

Chapter 2 gives a conceptual overview, analysis, and literature review focused on the human aspects. From the human-aspects perspective, key elements include the definition of learning objects, the organizational contexts in which the humans function, the actors and their roles, pedagogy, and usability. It appears that there is no single definition of the term learning object from a human perspective. Key variations in the definitions that are relevant to human creators and users of learning objects include the questions whether a learning object is be explicitly created for learning purposes or can be any digital entity which can have a learning function in a broader learning context. And if a learning object is explicitly created as such, should the creation be done within a structured framework? Key aspects in answering these questions relate to the nature of the course and of reuse of learning objects within it, to the course delivery and technology, to ownership, and access to learning objects. These aspects are addressed in Chapter 2 and a first comparison between the three contexts is made. Both the organizational cultures of the contexts and the actors that are somehow related to learning objects play an important role in these comparisons. Each of these actors have different roles (such as content specialists, instructors, support staff, managers, and learners ) and different perspectives.

Chapter 2 also addresses the way learning is structured by the institution and its influence on the reuse of learning objects. For instance, in traditional higher education, courses often involve lectures by the instructor, supported by objects such as PowerPoint presentations or self-made lecture notes. These can serve as reusable learning objects for self-study outside of the lecture setting. In this context, digital learning resources are not often used to replace the instructor or the textbook but to complement them in some way. In contrast, in the corporate and the military context, when electronic learning objects are used this is generally in the context of e-learning defined as self-study or anytime, anyplace learning. The presumption is that no instructor or classmates are involved, although there may be access to tutors or human coaches available, and thus the learning objects in combination must carry out the instructional role.

Another key element of learning objects from the human perspective relates to usability characteristics. Key features of usability relate to consistency, learnability, friendliness in terms of helping the user to avoid errors or in responding to errors, ease of remembering how to use the object once it has been used before, and attractiveness. Attractiveness involves presentation style, appropriate language, appropriate tone and style of communication, as well as visual engagement.

With regard to the issue of metadata, metadata has different meanings within each context setting from the human perspective. In the university setting, metadata are likely to be related to the individual instructor’s own way of managing files. In the corporate sector, metadata are likely to be focused on the organization’s competence framework. In the military setting, metadata often relate to the technical features of images and specifics relative to the place of an object in a handbook or manual.

In Chapter 2 a number of issues that relate to learning objects from a human perspective are identified that expand on the general research questions presented in Chapter 1. Therefore six secondary research questions from the human perspective are identified, underpinning all of the three overall research questions presented in Chapter 1 and related to the organizational context, learning scenarios, object creation, user support, and metadata which will be answered by carrying out the projects as described in Chapters 5, 6, and 7.

Chapter 3 gives a conceptual overview, analysis, and literature review focused on the technical aspects. From the technical perspective the key elements are the definition of a learning object, issues related to granularity, metadata and standards, and tools and technologies are described. Starting with the definition from a technical perspective, a learning object is described as any entity, digital or non-digital, that may be used for learning, education or training. This definition of IEEE/LOM is used for this research but with the important difference that the “non-digital” kind of material will not be included in the research. Discussing learning objects from a technical perspective includes taking into account aggregation levels and the granularity of a learning object, because the definition of a learning object does not prescribe the size of learning objects, but the granularity of material plays a role during the exchange of material and the size of the objects.

In relation to metadata from a technical perspective two definitions of metadata are given that are both used in the research:

Metadata is information about an object, be it physical or digital. As the number of objects grows exponentially and our needs for learning expand equally dramatically, the lack of information or metadata about objects places a critical and fundamental constraint on our ability to discover, manage and use objects (LTSC, 2002).

The purpose of metadata (data about data) is to provide a common nomenclature enabling learning resources to be described in a common way. Metadata can be collected in catalogues, as well as directly packaged with the learning resource it describes. Learning resources that are described with metadata can be systematically searched for and retrieved for use and reuse (Dodds, 2001b).

Next to metadata standards are an important element from the technical perspective. Standards are developed for exchangeability and interoperability between platforms. Different organizations work on the development of these standards related to learning technologies, which are defined as a set of technologies related to learning that includes the development of learning objects standards. Many organizations that focus on learning technologies are working together in some form. Two main standard-setting bodies are the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) working group called the Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC), and the Advanced Distributed Learning group developing ADL SCORM – the Sharable Content Object Reference Model.

Standards can be developed in two ways: (a) development by an official standardization body, like the International Standardization Organization (ISO) or Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc (IEEE); or (b) development of the standard without the help of a standardization body. The success of the standard can be measured by how many people use the standard.

Four different sorts of technologies in terms of systems and tools can be identified to create, edit, manage, maintain, and use learning objects in different organizational settings. To obtain or create learning objects authoring tools are used. These authoring tools vary in complexity, features, and the skills needed to use. Once the learning objects are created they can be stored in the Learning Content Management System (LCMS). A LCMS can be compared with a repository that holds a large set of learning objects that are structured in such a way that users should be able to retrieve every learning object based on metadata. A Course Management System (CMS) can be used to structure and organize so that the learning objects have a logical order, sequence, and consistent behaviour in a course, lesson, or module. The learning objects used can be selected from the LCMS or taken directly from an authoring tool. The interaction between learning objects that can be part of a course and users is regulated and managed by a Learning Management System (LMS)

In Chapter 3 a number of issues that relate to learning objects from a technical perspective are identified that expand on the general research questions presented in Chapter 1. Therefore three secondary research questions from the technical perspective are identified, underpinning all of the three overall research questions presented in Chapter 1 and related to granularity and standards, tools, and systems which will be answered by carrying out the projects as described in Chapters 5, 6, and 7.

Chapter 4 describes a methodology that supports the three main tasks that are carried out during the research: validating the views from the literature in practice, explaining experiences from practice, and testing prescriptions for procedures and requirements that will lead to successful use of learning objects in different contexts. The methodology chosen to carry out these tasks is the Action Research paradigm. Action Research (AR) belongs to the case-study family of methodologies, but they are intentionally treated as separate forms: Action-Research studies likely include cases, but a case study can certainly avoid using an action-research approach.

AR aims to contribute to both the practical concerns of people in an immediate problematic situation and to further the goals of social science simultaneously. This means that there is a dual commitment in action research to study a system and concurrently to collaborate with members of the system in changing it in what is together regarded as a desirable direction. Accomplishing this requires the active collaboration of the researcher and the client. Consequently the main characteristic and strength of AR is that it suggests intervention carried out in a way that may be beneficial to the organisation that is participating in the research study. Therefore AR is used in real situations, rather than in contrived, experimental studies, since its primary focus is on solving real problems. It is often the case that those who apply the AR approach are academics who have been invited into an organization (or other domain) by decision-makers aware of a problem requiring (action) research, but lacking the requisite methodological knowledge to deal with the problem. This is also the case in the research described in this dissertation. The researcher’s role was to “implement the AR method in such a manner as to produce a mutually agreeable outcome for all participants, with the process being maintained by them afterwards”. To accomplish this, AR may necessitate the adoption of many different roles for the researcher at various stages of the process. In this case the researcher fulfilled the roles of developer, designer, analyst, and interviewer.

Action Research allows for several different research tools to be used. In this research several methodologies were used for data collection in the projects, such as a literature study, a structured interview with a questionnaire, an unstructured interview, log-file analysis and course material analysis. The most important method for data collection in all three contexts was the questionnaire and the structured interview.

The questionnaires were filled in during a face-to-face interview schema. The questionnaire was accompanied by a demonstration of the reuse functionalities in the TeleTOP® CMS. During the structured interview, the different functionalities were shown when relevant. The TeleTOP® CMS and reuse support tools were used to give the users an idea of what was meant with the concepts such as learning objects, reuse, labelling, and learning material. Also the use of taxonomies, searching, and LOM were addressed with the demonstration as the purpose of the demonstration was to show some practical examples and to make the users aware of their own reuse possibilities. Besides the possibilities also problems and issues were addressed with the demonstration. The structured interview took over 90 minutes because of the demonstrations involved. The results of the questionnaires are grouped around themes that were seen as important issues. Every theme was mapped against a set of questions used in the questionnaire. The results of the AR-approach, including the interviews and questionnaires, are described in Chapters 5, 6, and 7.

Chapter 5 describes the projects and preliminary results within the university context. Three projects were object of research. The focus in two of the projects which were carried out at the University of Twente is on the reuse and exchange of material. The other project related to the development of a guideline relating to metadata for the Digitale Universiteit (Dutch Digital University).

Two of the projects within the university context took place at the University of Twente (UT), an internationally-oriented institute of scientific education and research. It has stressed the interconnectedness of technical and social sciences since its foundation in 1961. The UT aims for knowledge transfer to society and has a part of its mission to make a contribution to technological and societal innovation, in close co-operation with public and private parties in society. In the Netherlands the UT is at the forefront of innovations in terms of ICT, infrastructure, and research and is a member of the Digitale Universiteit.

The first project that is described is the Project TeleTOP® at the University. This project describes how tools for reuse within the TeleTOP® CMS were developed, where the use of metadata and ADL SCORM specifications was part of the TeleTOP® development. The project describes also the implementation of the TeleTOP® CMS in the University of Twente and how reuse within this context was organized.

The second project in the university context was the SURF project Alpha Beta. This project focused on reuse and implementation of learning technology standards and was carried out in the context of the Faculty of Educational Science and Technology because the development of the TeleTOP® CMS took place there. The developed functionalities were also tested in this context. The project mission was twofold. The first was the test if the TeleTOP® course-management system developed for a particular faculty in a technical university also could be used in a social-sciences university like Leiden in the Faculty of Law. The second part of the project focused on reusability of course material within course-management systems based on standards. Different tools were developed for the TeleTOP® system during the project that could support reusability of learning objects using standards. The support system built for the Alpha Beta project was based on the ADL SCORM 1.1 specifications. Although the implementation of the specifications was a success, no actual reuse with other systems took place because no other “SCORM compliant” systems were available to test reusability possibilities.

The third project in the university context was the project Digital University Metadata Guideline. The Digitale Universiteit (DU) of the Netherlands initiated a project to define a metadata guideline for their consortium members. A guideline of how metadata can be used in a certain setting is also called an application profile. The term application profile is used as a more general term in various systems and contains sets of vocabularies to be used for meta-tagging learning objects. For several metadata fields a set of predefined values is given. The project focuses thus mainly on the third stage of the learning-object lifecycle. The project delivered a manual explaining how to metatag learning material using the vocabularies. The guideline was intended to be a manual for content developers in different projects and was developed to support these content developers in creating consistent and interoperable metadata.

Chapter 6 describes the projects and preliminary results within the corporate context. Three projects were objects of research. These projects were carried out at the Shell EP Learning Center in Noordwijkerhout in the Netherlands. In 2000, a wave of change in the delivery of learning occurred when the Shell EP Learning Center began offering a new range of services to meet learning needs, through a combination of employee profiling in terms of the Shell EP Competence Framework and provision of both time- and place-independent e-modules or blended learning in addition to classroom training all anchored in the competence gaps of the learner. The projects at this Centre are used for the study of the corporate-learning context.

The first project in the corporate context is the Implementation TeleTOP® at Shell EP Project. This project involved the use of the TeleTOP® system and how the reuse of learning material within this system influences the strategies used for learning. How the implementation of the TeleTOP® CMS took place and the possibilities offered for creating learning material were questions addressed in this project. The need for reuse, the tools offered, and how the curriculum is structured all had an impact on reuse aspects. The tools and reuse possibilities are mainly developed to support the Course Directors. The project focused on the needs of the course developers during the implementation of TeleTOP for blended learning. This included also the redesign of several TeleTOP® functionalities for the corporate-learning context. For the use of e-learning modules specifications for external course-material developers were defined.

The second project in the corporate context is the TeleTOP® Conversion Project. This project was based on the project to move the TeleTOP® CMS from a university-based version to a commercial version for use at the Shell EP Learning Center. The development of the (commercial) Version 5 of TeleTOP® started in January 2002 and was initiated by the ITBE of the University of Twente. The TeleTOP® CMS used until then at Shell EP was developed according to a rapid-prototyping design approach with relatively little time available for documentation. Because of the interest of several third-party organizations such as Shell EP a new version of TeleTOP® was built to make it possible to give professional IT support based on documentation. Another reason for rebuilding the system was to solve inconsistencies and small interface problems that were raised during the prototype-design phase of the TeleTOP® system. The new version was reprogrammed from scratch using the functional design from the original system. An inventory of the functionalities of the existing system was made including interface aspects relating to the layout of the screens. Because the whole system was reprogrammed, also the data model changed from the first four TeleTOP® versions which were all based on the same data model. The differences in data models made the conversion a difficult task because all fields had to be mapped from the old design to the new design. An important role for exchange based on standards was found to be the key in this process. Another problem was the fact that some courses had to be migrated while they were active because no timeslot was available for the conversion when all courses were finished.

The third project in the corporate context is the Shell EP Knowledge-Sharing Project. This project focuses on a broader scope than the TeleTOP® implementation and is much more related to a greater context where different locations such as NAM in Assen, Rijswijk, as well as the Shell EP Learning Center in Noordwijkerhout are involved. This project describes the Knowledge-Sharing Project and focuses on the integration of knowledge management and learning that occurred at the creation of the LLD unit in October 2003 and will be intensified in practice when the Shell EP Learning Center moves to a new location in Rijswijk in early 2005. This integration started with merging the learning and knowledge-management departments in the new LLD organization and the Knowledge-Sharing project was a direct result of this merger. For the integration of knowledge management with course-based learning, reuse of material is a key aspect. Material from real practice needed to be digitised and is seen as highly valuable and reusable in the near future for learning activities. The materials used in the different knowledge-management activities have the same high potential value for learning and are also candidates for reuse purposes. The project focuses on strategies to make reuse possible between different current systems using standards. An inventory in the organisation was made to see if existing tools for knowledge-sharing among systems can be used and if material from different repositories can be reused, and what is needed to achieve this reuse.

Chapter 7 describes the project and preliminary results within the military context. Four projects were objects of research. These projects were carried out at the Royal Netherlands military and were part of projects initiated by TNO (Nederlandse Organisatie voor Toegepast-Natuurwetenschappelijk Onderzoek, The Dutch Organization for Applied Scientific Research). The main focus of the projects was the implementation of and building experience with the current learning technology standards.

The first project in the military context is the ADL SCORM Pilot RNLAF Project. This project focused on two aspects: building experience with an ADL SCORM based LMS and building experience with the implementation of the ADL SCORM™ in existing computer-based training (CBT) course material. Because of the lack of experience with ADL SCORM LMSs and the expected interest in the future for these systems, the functionalities of such a LMS were tested. Building up experience with a learning management system was also one of the main focuses of the research. The ADL SCORM™ compliant material tested in the LMS came from two sources: Example courses distributed by ADL and the air force’s own redeveloped CBT. The project was initiated to see how an ADL SCORM™ compliant system works within a military setting addressing the following items during the research:

·                                Technical implications

·                                Security of data for classified material

·                                Possibilities for data retrieval

·                                Possibilities for integration in a large company

·                                Connection speed

·                                Report possibilities

·                                Behaviour of ADL SCORM™ compliant courses.

For the project two courses were selected to see if ADL SCORM™ could be applied. The selection of the two courses was based on their complexity and structure. The course “Military Ranks” was selected as a simple course with little interaction, almost no use of multimedia, and a total running time of 4 hours. A more complex course in terms of structure, interaction, use of multimedia, and a total running time of 20 hours was found in the course “Aircraft recognition”. The LMS was tested with then already existing courses that were redesigned according to the ADL SCORM specifications.

The second project in the military context is the LCMS Project. This project was initiated to discover the use of LCMS functionalities in CBT development. The main aspects of the LCMS project that were important for the research are:

·                                The development of a LCMS for the RNLAF and RNLA and tools to make material accessible for the course developers.

·                                The implementation of the ADL SCORM™ specifications in the LCMS. The development of classification paths and the construction of a set of keywords.

Because of future developments related to learning technologies and reuse of material using learning objects the RNLAF and RNLA required a LCMS for an inventory of possibilities of a repository for learning objects. The requirements for developing a LCMS based on both the SCORM specifications and the requirements of the RNLAF and RNLA were based on the learning scenarios used in the RNLAF and RNLA, where computer-based training (CBT) is used within their internal training and learning processes. To get a grip on the widespread developments in CBT production and to get optimal benefits for its undertaken efforts, the Royal Army is standardizing methodology and content for producing CBT. Standardizing methodology and content creation involves a focus on tools that can support the course developers with developing and reusing learning materials. Template-based authoring tools for the development of multimedia content and the use of learning content management systems (LCMSs) for the management of available e-learning/CBT material are also used for standardization. Related to the implementation of the standards, aspects related to functionality, usability, and technical issues of these tools and systems were researched. Therefore one of the focuses of the LCMS research was the metadata labels that would be needed, were in terms of searching and storing material in a LCMS.

The third project in the military context is the Implementation of ADL SCORM in IMAT Project. The goal of this project was to describe how well the ADL SCORM specifications can be implemented in the existing IMAT system. IMAT is a system that makes it possible to convert technical manuals to tagged fragments for learning purposes. The project was initiated to see if the outcomes of the IMAT system in terms of fragments could be used as learning objects compliant with ADL SCORM. The IMAT data model was compared with the ADL SCORM specifications and the IMAT data model was mapped to the ADL SCORM data model. Within the research the IMAT elements were also mapped or converted to the required ADL SCORM data model. Missing elements were constructed from other similar IMAT elements. Also the use of the ADL runtime model was researched and recommendations were given to implement such a runtime model. Besides tools to support reuse also a repository has been developed in the IMAT Project to store and exchange material. The material was obtained from technical manuals as delivered by the manufacturers of equipment. The manuals are divided in small fragments of homogeneous content. The content is stored in the developed repository in such way that it could be retrieved to create computer based training (CBT) using an authoring environment. An inventory was made of IMAT users during the project. The inventory of the IMAT system was a substantial part of the project because the IMAT data-model was much too limited for a full implementation. The inventory gave insight and information on the interpretation of the elements in the IMAT data model. The inventory focused on the type of users, the characteristics of the material, and the learning scenarios used.

The fourth project in the military context is the KIM Project. The KIM (Koninklijk Instituut voor de Marine [Royal Netherlands Naval College]) project describes another setting within the military context, this dimension focuses on learning in a higher-education setting. The KIM is based in Den Helder and its main tasks are the training of Navy officers and carry out Navy related research. Although the KIM is a military context, the educational developments and organization are closely related to the Netherlands university context. The development of the KIM at the beginning of the nineteenth century was already at a scientific level. The formal equalization of KIM with civil universities has never been established but the current scientific basis relies on a Royal Decree from 1950, which has been adjusted in later year. In 1963 the KIM was granted a university status by law. The courses in the education on KIM vary from practical training to scientific education. The academic part of the education is organized within faculties. The practical training focuses on competencies required for the first functions in the fleet and the military aspects within operational entities. These different components within the training require for each aspect an appropriate didactical set-up. All this means that the tools and type of education differs in the KIM from the other military settings. One of the tools used as a pilot in the KIM one year during 1999 was the TeleTOP® CMS. Based on these experiences with TeleTOP® and potential reuse possibilities the KIM instructors were interviewed and an inventory of their educational approaches and support systems was made.

The results of the research in the projects in the university, corporate, and military contexts are described in Chapter 8. Based on the human perspectives and technical perspectives and the related research questions, this chapter gives the synthesis with answers to the research questions based on the framework used within the three contexts.

The first main research question focused on the Human Perspective: What human aspects are important to support the different stages of the lifecycle of learning object? The results of the research show that a similarity can be seen in the different contexts in the approach for a reuse strategy. All three organizations think that reuse is important and decision makers support research in this area. The approaches of the research programs however are fundamentally different with various results. This means that the culture underlying any specific context determines the value system for the reuse.

The organizational strategy in all contexts is strongly focused on renewal of learning scenarios. Although renewal  of learning scenarios in the different contexts is highly stimulated, support in terms of reuse and tailoring tools for the instructors, course developers, and course directors is not much available. The tools needed for reuse to support the new learning scenarios on the instructor level are not yet implemented on a large scale. Reuse is still a local activity managed by the instructor or course developer. Tools to exchange material in a broader perspective are still not available. For these results it can be concluded that the level of learning objectives is determined by the context and the learning scenarios underlying reuse are determined by the context.

In the university context, as well as partly in the military context and partly in the corporate-learning context material is gathered from different resources. Material is selected by the instructors and course developers. The subject-matter expert and course developer determine the pedagogical structure of the course and the quality of the selected material. From this it can be concluded that the roles of those involved with learning objects is determined by the context.

The user support in the university context and in the corporate-learning context is centralized. The user support is more likely to be available during the implementation of a new system focused on several aspects of e-learning such as technological support and development of other learning scenarios. The support in the military context focuses on the course developers in terms of research projects. The type of human support given for training and services depends on the resources and incentives of an organization and is therefore determined by the organization. The designers of course material also decide about the quality of material used. The type of support for human interaction depends on the learning scenarios that are appropriate for a certain context. From this it is concluded that the need for human interaction is determined by the context and those who control the quality of learning objects are determined by the context.

All contexts are working on metadata specifications and the application of these specifications. Also the use of classifications was used in the different projects. The use of metadata for reusing material in the various projects depends on organizational strategy or personal incentives and the incentives for reuse are determined by the context.

The second main research question focused on the Technical Perspective: What tools and technologies are important to support the different stages of the lifecycle of a learning object? The results of the research show again that the approaches of the different contexts for reuse vary. For instance, the granularity of the learning objects depends on the authoring systems that are used. The use of the authoring systems prescribes what the sizes of the objects are and how they can be reused. The need for the implementation of learning standards is seen as useful in some settings, but in most cases the corporate organization defines the requirements that are seen as “the standard”. The current learning-technology standards are seen as not mature enough and not able to fulfill the needs of such a sophisticated organization. It is also expected that standards such as ADL SCORM™ are implemented by the software vendors for future use. From this it was concluded that the “instructional packaging” of learning objects depends on their origin, the reusability of learning objects is determined by their specificity, and the reusability of learning objects is determined by the adaptability of the objects.

In all contexts similar tools are used to obtain and edit source material in the form of assets and office tools are used to create these. Within the different contexts the specifications of the learning objects are closely related to the available tools. The available tools depend on the type of course material that is required for a certain context. The type of material developed depends on the learning scenario that is chosen. From this it is concluded that the specifications of learning objects are determined by the context, the role of the learner is determined by the context and the characteristics of the tools that support reuse are determined by the context.

The three different contexts all use a CMS with facilities to reuse material. The CMSs which are used in the university context and corporate-learning context can be seen as large repositories which contain large sets of valuable material. Using the standards it is possible to exchange this material between other courses, universities, and interested companies. Where the material is stored depends on the organizational strategy. When reuse is part of the strategy a learning content management system (LCMS) can be installed that can be used to store material based on predefined taxonomies. Based on this the following conclusions were made: the place where the learning objects are stored is determined by the context, taxonomies are determined by the context.

The third main research question focused on the different contexts and their specific characteristics related to the perspectives: What are key dimensions to guide the selection of tools, technologies and human procedures to support the different stages of the lifecycle of a learning object for users in different usage contexts, particularly university, corporate learning centre, and military training? In answering this question it appeared that the learning-object lifecycle is an important component in all the research questions. The lifecycle helps to compare and contrast the contexts and projects. However using a rigid linear model for all projects made clear that the model did not fit all projects in the various contexts. It has been showed that there can be differences in how reuse occurs and that there can be different types of learning scenarios and learning objects. Because of the differences in reuse also the sequence and stages within the learning-object lifecycle can be discussed. The sequence of the stages may not always be the same and some stages may not be relevant for certain settings. It was found that the most important change in the model is the sequence of the stages and the implication this has for the metadata. For example, labelling course material before it is used once is sometimes difficult and time consuming. When material is used in a certain educational setting a large set of metadata can be extracted from the type of use, the user, the related tasks, the target group, the learning scenario used, the platform used, the related categories, description, title, and closely related other material. Another interesting remark can be made about quality control. The control of quality is not a separate stage in the learning-object lifecycle. Quality control is one of the tasks of the course developers and involves actions in all of the different stages.

In the previous chapters context was defined as an organizational setting, such as a university setting, a corporate learning setting, or a military setting. The results in Chapter 8 showed that for the application of reuse strategies not the organizational settings as a whole are different but rather dimensions that are present in all three contexts vary. In other words: For the application of reuse strategies a context depends on various dimensions more general than “university-corporate-military” dimension. This is further elaborated in Chapter 9.

In Chapter 9 it is argued that there are differences and also similarities between the university, corporate learning, and military contexts but broader relations can be identified in terms of context. A new set of 16 dimensions was proposed as a model, each sharing bipolar end values which define two new extremes of context, identified as “System oriented’ and “Personal oriented”. The broader relation can be found in each of the endpoints of the dimensions. The researcher proposed that these endpoints be aligned so that the left extreme is related to a context that can be Systems oriented and the right extreme can be Personal oriented. The Systems orientation focuses on technical specifications, rules, policy, and procedures as the key identifiers and a Personal orientation is related to human interaction, personal needs, personal incentives, and personal values. The two orientations can be seen as the end points of each dimension where also values between the endpoints can reflect the involvement of both orientations. Based on the initial full set of 16 dimensions a combined set of five dimensions was extracted that can be used as a tool if the dimensions are expressed as parallel lines each with a scale of 1 to 5. Figure 191 shows the tool based on the five overall dimensions.

















Cultures within the context

The industrial world

The Domestic world

The Civic world

The world of Opinion

The Merchant world

The world of inspiration







Learning scenarios













Incentives for reuse













Work processes

Formal workflow





Personal habits







How learning objects are stored







Figure 191 The five overall dimensions presented as Learning Object Context Profiling Model

The tool can be used to describe a certain context where reuse occurs, it can be used to explain why reuse in a certain context is a problem, and it can be used to predict how reuse in the future will occur. Reflections on the model and tool were made using the key issues as discussion points.

Chapter 9 concludes with a reflection on the research and the methodology used and a view on the semantic web as a new development that can support course development in the future.

Reflecting on the overall results through the frame of reference of the Model has led to the following general observations. The results of the research show that reuse may not be focused on a wide exchange of all available material but on a small level within departments and particularly on the reuse of one’s own course material. The use of specifications such as ADL SCORM™ may not have the expected impact on adaptive learning and building courses based on learning objects from large repositories as expected by many. Also the runtime specifications for tracking and tracing may not be suitable for the required learning scenarios in a certain context. Also the complete set of metadata to select material from a large repository may not be required or efficient. Reuse of material is important for individual users or for knowledge management Reusing material from colleagues that move to another job can be very efficient and time saving. The fact that knowledge of instructors is stored in courses that can be (partly) reused can also been seen as a form of knowledge management in large companies such as Shell EP or the military.

The use of CMSs can be compared with the use of e-mail as a tool that can help work processes related to learning objects and reuse. Instructors use CMSs as a tool to provide course material in their own ways, supported by a Personal oriented system. The ease of use of the systems and the freedom offered to the instructors make such a widespread use possible. In contrast, the use of courseware-development tools such as Authorware™ and Easygenerator™ is very much limited to a group of specialized users, likely to represent a Systems orientation. The complete specification bundle of ADL SCORM™ seems to focus on this small group of courseware developers. The strength of the specifications will be found in the extent they become taken up in the frequently-used and flexible CMSs to make exchange and reuse of material possible under the control of the individual instructor and with a Personal orientation.

Chapter 9 also describes how well the descriptive task, the explanatory task, and the prescriptive tasks of the research have been carried out. It can be asserted that these tasks have been done, carefully and systematically (as well as, occasionally, from a Personal orientation). Within the dissertation the different tasks can be clearly identified. For each project in the three contexts the aspects are described using the common Why?, Who?, What?, How?, and Where? questions. The learning-object lifecycle and secondary research-question summaries explain what aspects are key for reuse strategies and the implementation of learning-technology standards for that particular project. The Learning Object Context Profiling Tool is part of all three of the descriptive, explanatory, and prescriptive tasks in the research. The five dimensions in the short form of the Learning Object Context Profiling Tool can be used to predict if a reuse strategy within a certain context will be successful. Thus yes, the three tasks guided the research from beginning to end.

Thus the dissertation is over. But the issues and challenges will remain, as well as controversies related to how to interpret and deal with them.