July 04, 2004

COURSE DESIGN: What are Learning Objects?

Learning objects (LOs) -- also called reusable learning objects (RLOs) -- are small, self-contained "chunks" or "blocks" of learning content designed to be used in multiple courses and course contexts.

Just as building blocks can be reorganized and recombined to create new structures, the individual learning objects stored in a database can be "mixed and matched" to create a variety of courses. Each learning object is tagged electronically with a description and key words (called "metadata") that allows for targeted searching within the database.

How is a learning-objects approach different?
Traditionally, course designers look at each course as unique -- tailoring content, objectives, and interactions very narrowly to suit the specific course purpose, context, audience and/or specific performance goals. Individual course elements are designed to flow naturally within that course’s structure and in accordance with a particular sequencing strategy.

When developing reusable objects, however, the goal is to create modular units of instruction for use in a variety of courses. This requires that each object be:

  • Self-contained. Objects must be able to fit within a variety of sequencing strategies and contexts, so each object should make sense as a stand-alone unit of instruction.
  • Standardized. The mix-and-match approach requires that each object meet preset requirements, in terms of both graphic design and content, so that different combinations of learning objects will combine seamlessly.
  • Broadly accessible. Rather than targeting a very narrow audience for a specific course offering, the designer should target the broadest audience practicable for each object.

Special Considerations
A learning-objects approach can allow an organization to standardize content common to multiple courses, standardize the "look and feel" of courses, and cut down on course development time while increasing ROI by amortizing development costs across a wider range of course offerings. However, this type of approach can’t be implemented haphazardly; it requires a clear, well-planned strategy for implementation and clear specifications for the type and "size" of objects to be developed, as well as for content, language, templates, metadata, etc., to be used.

For more information, you may want to take a look at some of the following resources: