There has been a clear lack of rigorous empirical evidence on the effectiveness of learning objects (LOs) in education. This chapter reports the results of four experimental studies that investigated the effectiveness of drill-and-practice and simulation-type LOs in comparison to more traditional teaching methods. Results suggest that a simulation LO that works as a tool to support students’ exploration process can be especially helpful to students’ inquiry learning, but drill-and-practice LOs are less effective than traditional teaching methods in procedural learning. Findings also strongly suggest that we should not see LOs and traditional methods as rivals but as being complementary to one another. The authors hope that the results can inform teachers, instructional designers, and content producers as to what aspects they should consider when designing and implementing LOs in different educational contexts.
High expectations have always been placed on new learning technologies, and the worldwide enthusiasm now directed at learning objects (LOs) presents no exception. Over the last few years, vast amounts of resources have been dedicated to the development, use, and standardization of LOs and LO repositories, in both the public and private sectors (e.g., McCormick & Li, 2006; Rehak, 2006). Several books (e.g., Littlejohn, 2003; Spector, Orchazda, van Schaak, & Wiley, 2005; Wiley, 2002a), special issues of journals, (e.g., Educational Technology, 2006; Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 2004; Learning, Media and Technology, 2006), and symposia (Duval, Hodgins, Rehak, & Robson, 2003; Visser & Amirault, 2002) have been devoted to LOs. Some authors, from educators (e.g., Gibbons, Nelson, & Richards, 2002; Urdan & Weggen, 2000) to corporate leaders (Hodgins, 2006) believe that the LO approach offers the potential to transform education and enables it to reach a new level. Wiley (2002b) goes even further, claiming that technological innovations such as the LO approach can result in a paradigm shift in the way people learn and the ways in which educational materials are designed, developed, and delivered to the learners.
Even though there is no consensus about the definition (McGreal, 2004), learning objects (LOs) are generally understood to be digital learning resources that can be shared and accessed through the Internet and reused in multiple teaching and learning contexts. The core idea behind the LO approach is to make educational materials broadly accessible, searchable, and reusable beyond their original contexts (Nurmi & Jaakkola, 2006). Although sharing and reusing of digital and nondigital instructional materials has been a goal of different educational practices for a long time (e.g., Collis & Strijker, 2002; Parrish, 2004), reuse has been difficult with traditional digital resources, since they have been designed with one target audience or context in mind. LOs, in contrast, are specifically designed for reuse, flexibility, and interoperability (McGee & Katz, 2005). This is the true beauty of LOs—they can be used by different people, for different purposes, and in different contexts (Bennett & McGee, 2005). In an ideal situation, little if any customization would be required to reuse LOs in a new environment (Richards, 2002). In these situations, a teacher could pick and choose from among the available LOs, simply aggregating them into the new entity. This requires that LOs have no tight contextual dependencies because contextual dependencies limit possible audiences. However, in most cases the original design context of an LO and its contexts for reuse do not correspond, and the LO must be contextualised. This contextualisation is vital, because without a context, an LO (like any learning resource) has very little educational value (Parrish, 2004). LOs can be contextualised by being embedded within various instructional activities (Nurmi & Jaakkola, 2006).