We present guidelines for designing and developing a repository for the storage and exchange of instructional resources, as well as considerations for the development of the resources to be included in the repository. We elaborate on the constraints that design teams may typically face and the tradeoffs they make to ensure that users utilize the system. The guidelines and decision points we present center around common issues discussed in the learning object literature as problematic and salient to the design, development, and implementation of learning objects and object repositories. These themes are terminology, granularity, reusability, and object sharing. The guidelines we present stem from the creation of an online shareable content support system for faculty within a department of early childhood education. The types of issues and solutions we illuminate are applicable across varied educational contexts and content areas.
While the utilization of learning objects is generally considered to be positive, their development and implementation can pose challenges for designers, creators, managers, and users. How designers address these challenges can impact the use of the repository (Malcolm, 2005). In this section, we briefly present some of the themes represented in the literature that have accompanied the emergence of learning object repositories. Our discussion is not exhaustive of all themes but highlights the ones that were most salient to our context. These central themes relate to terminology, granularity, reusability, and object sharing.
In the context of developing learning objects and repositories, agreement and shared understanding among the specified group of developers and users of terminology is a necessity. The meaning assigned to a term can have different implications for different organizational contexts and can determine the direction of design and development efforts. Nuances in the use of terminology within the field encourage inconsistent and sometimes confusing use of terms that serve to hinder communication about the purpose and intent of objects and repositories. One example of inconsistent use of terminology relates to what is and is not a learning object. As Parrish (2004) points out:
There are as many definitions of learning objects as there are people offering them, which suggests that maybe they are defining the wrong thing. Most have attempted to define learning objects as entities of particular kinds of artifacts, and have inevitably failed in the attempt to make the term both broad enough to encompass all that they might be and at the same time eliminating what they are not. (p. 52)
Another example of a term that sometimes requires clarification in the realm of learning objects is user. In some applications of learning object repositories, the user is a faculty member seeking to integrate an object into instructional materials; in other cases, the user is a learner searching for an object to enhance his or her own learning. The design team may explicitly or implicitly specify who the intended or prospective users are. If the repository is housed on an Intranet and access to it is restricted to authorized faculty and staff, the repository has been explicitly positioned for faculty use. If the repository is publicly available on the Internet, it may be explicitly positioned for both faculty and learner users but implicitly designed for faculty use or learner use (based on interface design, search tools, language, etc.).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Object Repository: A collection of instructional resources housed in a central location (such as a database) from which users can retrieve information about the objects as well as the objects themselves.
Granularity: Refers to the metaphorical size, shape, and scope of a learning object.
Repurpose: Refers to the process of retrieving an object from a repository and using it for a purpose quite different from the original purpose for which the object was designed.
Reuse: Refers to the process of retrieving an object from a repository and using it for a purpose similar to the original purpose for which the object was designed.
Learning Object: Any digital resource that can be reused or repurposed to support learning and can stand alone as an instructional lesson.