Reusable learning objects (LOs) constitute a promising approach to the development of easily accessible, technologically sound, and curriculum aligned learning resources. Many research forums and scholarly articles have focused on the reusability of learning objects, metadata, and context issues, but few sources describe the economic challenges involved in implementing and sustaining an LO repository. What are the costs of establishing and maintaining a LO repository? Should funding for establishing and maintaining LO repositories come from institutional resources, consortium fees, grant money, LO sales, or other sources? To answer these questions we consider a variety of LO cost factors. We look at economic models used in distance education to see what they can tell us about LO economies. We discuss the relationship of funding approaches and operational scope (of a LO system) through considering a funding matrix that describes possible funding approaches. We discuss several emerging trends that may contribute to the future of learning resources from an economic perspective. Lastly, we provide several practical recommendations for funding LO repositories. In conclusion, we highlight developmental factors for LO repositories as they relate to the scope of operation and funding methods.
What is a “learning object”? There are multiple metaphors: Wiley’s LEGO metaphor (2002), Wiley, Gibbons, and Recker’s atom metaphor (2000), and the film montage metaphor (Parrish, 2004). There are also multiple approaches of defining LOs. In our work, we use the definition proposed by the IEEE: a learning object is “any entity, digital or non-digital, that can be used, reused, or referenced to during technology-supported learning” (IEEE LTSC, 2000). This admittedly broad definition includes a great variety of potential LO types and their respective repositories. A particular repository will specify the type(s) of LOs it supports more precisely. The specific definition may be couched in different ways, but it serves to more precisely define the content and functionality of the system and the types of users and potential supporters. Further specification of the system relate to the form of the metadata and search parameters built into the system. As seen in existing repositories, several approaches are employed. There are repositories presenting their potential users and guests with a list of characteristics (searchable, basic building blocks, etc.) of a learning object (for example, Wisconsin Online). There are also repositories like the Canadian CLOE, where the visitors and users are presented with several definitions on learning objects and are free to choose any of them as a working definition. Various taxonomies have been proposed for learning objects. However, none of them constitutes a recognized standard in the field. Keeping the system definition flexible may facilitate the creation of a LO repository for educational administrators and practitioners. The question remains, however, as to what type of economic model will support the development and sustenance of the repository, whatever form it takes. Consider the following factors.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Reusable Learning Assets (RLAs): See LOs.
Cost of Learning Objects Repository: Includes fixed and variable costs of a start-up and a system maintenance as well as costs of LOs development (in case they are applicable). Cost of LO repository is largely defined by LOs characteristics, such as: granularity, form, curricular scope, as well as repository characteristics, such as linking-only repository or collection of the actual learning objects.
Learning Objects (LOs): Documents, Web sites, simulations, and so forth, on the Web that can be used (and reused) for learning, including metadata and classifiers reflecting their nature and subject area. Learning resources are sometimes used interchangeably with learning objects. Overall, learning resources can include any resources on the Web, not necessarily formatted/containing metadata for including in a course/learning management system, that are used for learning (may not be reusable).
Learning Objects Repository: (1) collection of the actual learning objects on one or several servers with one Web portal serving as an entry, simplifying the search and access to the learning object through the use of metadata; (2) Web portal linking to the appropriate sites, simplifying the search of the learning objects through the use of metadata, with the objects themselves located on Web sites of their creators (in this case some links may be broken if the LO no longer exist or the third party creators of the LO may require access fee).
Granularity: Characteristics of the LOs related to the size of the object; may include a single topic, theme, or the whole course.
Curricular Scope: Characteristics of the LOs related to the depth of the content; may range from a very particular in-depth presentation of a single topic/skill to the general, broad description of a branch of science or a discipline.