Wednesday, March 31, 2004

What Are Learning Objects For?

During the last 2 days I was attending the Learning Objects Summit in Fredericton, NB. Among attendees, both physically and online, were many recognized learning objects experts. Some very interesting topics were discussed such as: DRM (Digital Rights Management), philosophical roots of learning objects, collaboration, search mechanisms and social filtering. As you can imagine, it is very easy to get lost dealing with such complex questions as the future of education and the creation of knowledge. As usual, many questions were raised, but not many satisfactory answers were brought.

My opinion is that people have invested so much time and energy in pushing the concept forward that they have lost sight of the fundamental needs that learning objects are supposed to fulfill. Let my illustrate this with an over-simplification:

Time 1: People realized that learning content is made of learning “pieces” that could probably be reused.

Time 2: Realizing how cool this vision was, people started to determine if learning objects could actually be reused and, if so, what were the tools that we needed to develop.

Time 3: Large R&D projects, such as eduSource Canada, were launched with the goal of giving us the tools that would make the learning object concept work.

Time 4: Projects on learning objects came to an end and suites of tools were indeed made available. Unfortunately, organizations are not really interested in using them because they don’t see the savings as being concrete enough.

Most people are familiar with problem resolution mechanisms. Here is just a reminder of what are the steps used most of the time:
Step 1: Determine what is the problem
Step 2: Establish success criteria
Step 3: Propose a number of possible solutions
Step 4: Select the solution that fits the best with the success criteria
Step 5: Implement the solution

You know what? With learning objects we started at step 5. Millions of dollars later I think it’s about time that we try to go through steps 1-4. Learning objects are an answer looking for a problem. A good indication of this is that during the Learning Object Summit people discussed more about education and collaboration than about learning object technology. We were simply trying to fill the gap left by not doing steps 1 to 4.

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