As we look to the future, we are poised at the edge of an ever-expanding universe of opportunities to learn. The Internet has opened the door for access to a vast amount of knowledge available to different users in different locations at the same time. The educational landscape is also changing to expand opportunities to learn at any time and any place through distance education. Additionally, Internet access is opening doors for a new population of learners who previously could not continue their education due to location, work, and time constraints. However, without new instructional design processes and standards, the time and effort it takes to utilize disparate resources for learning inhibits the ability to utilize the resources available. In this article, shareable learning objects will be presented as a way for sharing information in standard ways that will allow the design of learning events that fit the needs of learners and provide just-in-time opportunities to develop skills and knowledge.
Many definitions of learning objects exist, forming a definition continuum from any digital or non-digital entity used during technology support learning to only digital entities that are delivered to support learning (Wiley, 2000). According to Gibbons, Nelson, and Richards (2000), instructional objects refer to any element that can be independently drawn into a momentary assembly in order to create an instructional event. In this definition a learning object can exist in any form, digital or non-digital. In Connecting Learning Objects to Instructional Design Theory: A Definition, a Metaphor, and a Taxonomy, Wiley refers to the definition from the Learning Technology Standards Committee that supports the definition of a learning object as being digital or non-digital. Wiley writes:
“The Learning Technology Standards Committee chose the term ‘learning objects’ (possibly from Wayne Hodgins’ 1994 use of the term in the title of the CedMA working group called ‘Learning Architectures, APIs, and Learning Objects’) to describe these small instructional components, established a working group, and provided a working definition: Learning objects are defined here as any entity, digital or non-digital, which can be used, re-used, or referenced during technology-supported learning.” (p. 4)
This definition upon examination was too broad and failed to exclude anything including a person, place, thing, or idea referenced during technology-supported learning. Wiley summarizes different definitions of a learning object and then settles on the following definition: “any digital resource that can be reused to support learning” (Wiley, 2000, p.7). He chose this definition to include anything, big or small, delivered across the Internet on demand, including digital images, video, audio, animations as examples of small objects, and larger reusable digital resources such as Web pages that combine text and multimedia or any large instructional event such as a unit, module, or course. The important difference is that in this definition, all learning objects are digital, which provides greater opportunities for reusability and interoperability in different learning systems. For the purpose of this article, the Wiley definition of a learning object as “any digital resource that can be reused to support learning” (Wiley, 2000, p. 7) will be used.
Despite the disparate definitions of a learning object, there is little argument that credit can be given to Wayne Hodgins for coining the term “learning object” in 1992 (Jacobsen, 2002). It is important to note, however, that David Merrill’s instructional design theory, Component Display Theory (CDT), is one of the earliest expressions of objects as components of instruction. CDT uses the term “knowledge object” when referring to a unit of instruction (Merrill, 2000).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Metadata: Part of the content aggregation model in SCORM. It is used to tag leaning object content for ease of retrieval and maximum reuse. Learning object metadata can include different types of information that are objective and subjective. Objective data are factual data including title, author, version, costs, technical requirements, and date created. Subjective data are determined by individuals who create the objects, and include such things as educational intent, competencies, learning styles, and user opinions.
Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM): Incorporates many of the standards for Web-based learning systems into a single model for sharing content across different learning management systems. SCORM consists of a content aggregation model, a run-time environment specification, and most recently a sequencing and navigation specification.
XML: A markup language used to develop learning objects and metadata.
Data Model: Part of the run-time environment described in SCORM. The data model specification is needed to standardize what is communicated to the learning management system about the learner (i.e., score on quizzes, name, ID, time in content).
Learning Object: “Any digital resource that can be reused to support learning” (Wiley, 2000).
Application Program Interface: (API): Part of the run-time environment described in SCORM. It provides a standardized way for content to communicate with the learning management system.
Reusable Learning Object (RLO): Another term for a learning object.
Content Aggregation Model: Specifies how to combine learning content labeled as SCOs in a standardized way for reusability and interoperability. Includes a metadata for describing content, XML binding to define how to code metadata tags using XML so they are machine readable, and an IMS content specification that defines how to package a collection of SCOs and defines the design of the learning event.
Mosaic Effect: Occurs when learning objects are developed using HTML and the style presentation is tagged within the HTML document, rendering content with different presentation styles, thereby causing the appearance of a “mosaic effect” when aggregating learning objects from disparate sources.
Shareable Content Object (SCO): A standard form of a learning object used in a learning management system.
Granularity: Refers to the size of a shareable learning object. The smaller the learning object, the greater the granularity it has. Smaller learning objects have a greater opportunity for reusability.