OpenEd: week 11 – On Learning Objects

Four years ago, I co-wrote a book about Learning Objects. It was one of the first to be written in Italian. I and my co-writer mainly grounded on the work of David Wiley and tried to explain to the italian readers the “LO movement” and present a critical point of view on this subject.

Our main criticism, that we also presented in a later article, was about the implicit pedagogical model of LOs. Maybe LOs were misundertood by the “market” but the reality is that they were (and still are…) largely intended as equivalent to SCORM packages, i.e. closed, single-user, self-paced, web-based multimedia content. The recent article by Wiley makes a “checkpoint” on the argument and presents an objective review of this very complicated matter, but I argue that the situation is almost consolidated on this equivalence.

I guess one reason for this difficulty is because we are pursuing an almost impossible goal: an easy, automatic, complete, reuse of content.

If we ask to any experienced teacher, he/she could says us that this “total reuse” is a chimera. Yes, of course, previous year materials could be reused, but near certainly they have to be adapted.

For me, this is the key: adaptation, not reuse!

So, first of all, we should think to LOs as those small units of content of which we talked in week 9 and limit the strong connections with technical specifications: standards are important but not so much important!

Next, if we need to modify them, we need source code, we need openness, not closed packages. It should be clear that if LOs are not open to modification and adaptation, they are not effective.

Even though we can continue to think to LOs as mere content, only if we can adapt them for use in different contexts (for example, we could translate or cut off some parts or add some other) they can be a good base for our work as teachers. It is necessary to abandon the idea of the LEGO metaphor: it’s definitely not working!

So, the OER movement could be important for “opening our eyes” on the real nature of educational content and the real meaning of reuse. Widening the perspective beyond economic advantages of reuse and shifting to think to reuse as sharing for adaptation.

6 Responses to “OpenEd: week 11 – On Learning Objects”


  1. 1 Pierfranco Ravotto Nov 12th, 2007 at 20:47

    Hi Antonio
    I heavely agree with you: the relevant question is the possibility of adaptation.
    In the SLOOP Project we have used the term “free/open LO” to refer to LO adaptable both from the technical point of view and the copyleft one.

    In an article in the SLOOP final booklet we have written: “The re-usability of our LOs is given by the possibility to use/modify them in a free way so that any teacher could adapt the learning object to her/his own teaching context.

    While creating LOs special care has been devoted to the possibility of modifying them. An object can be modified if:
    • the file source is available,
    • the software used to create it is open source or at least widely used in training /educational institutions ,
    … both MetaLOs and subject LOs [we have produced in the SLOOP project] are accompanied by
    • a Readme file containing information on the LO structure as well as on the software used to develop it,
    • a style-sheet,
    • a folder containing the sources of tests or interactive graphics (avi files, being heavy, are kept in a separate folder so that only people interested in changing the LO can decide to download them),
    …”

    You have been a good teacher, as we started reading your book, and asking you to provide us a course 🙂

    Here the address of the cited article:
    “Learning environment and learning objects: a successful sinergy”
    http://bbs.tes.mi.it/pfr/English/pubblications/SloopItsos_EN.pdf

    Some ideas on free/open LOs are also in
    “The SLOOP idea: sharing free/open learning object”
    http://bbs.tes.mi.it/pfr/English/pubblications/SloopPresentation_EN.pdf

    All the best

    Pierfranco

  2. 2 antonio.fini Nov 12th, 2007 at 20:59

    Thank you, Pierfranco.
    Maybe your integration to my post will be useful for my OpenEd friends too!

  3. 3 Elisa Nov 16th, 2007 at 16:44

    Dear Antonio, David Wiley’s himself has recognised the crucial importance of the opportunity of adapting LOs to teaching practice. This is what he says in his recent video http://opencontent.org/presentations/bcnet07/ : LOs are “any digital resource that can be freely adapted and reused to mediate learning”.
    Another very good point has been made by Pierfranco about the importance of using open software to edit LOs, otherwise it is impossible to solve the problem of adaptation. It’s a great idea, I really like it. :-)))

  4. 4 Catia Harriman Nov 19th, 2007 at 1:51

    Hello, there, Antonio!
    Thanks for visiting my blog.
    I noticed that you, other colleagues and I have stressed the importance of adaptation (even if we call it by another name). As you say, adaptation is more important than mere reuse. Unfortunately, I imagine that many “educators” out there do not reflect on the act of using a LO without any type of care or customization.
    Ciao,
    Catia

  5. 5 Rob Barton Nov 19th, 2007 at 7:23

    It all seems to boil down to one sentence:

    Easy, automatic, complete reuse of content is impossible, so although the standards are important, they are not as important as having the ability to adapt existing content.

    I agree that the more closed and inflexible a system seems to be the more difficult it is to adapt to a variety of learning situations.

  1. 1 Smart Marbles » Review of Reviews of Reviews (Week 11) Pingback on Nov 16th, 2007 at 18:43

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