Monday, May 18, 2009

Learning objects

This post has been several years in the brewing, simply because I never could get my tail into gear to do the thing with the photograph (see below). But someone asked me via email to explain my stance on LOs and bish-bash-bosh, it was done. So here goes...

My university is quite partial to what it calls ReLOs. Reusable Learning Objects. Little nuggets of learning that can be treated like beads - strung together in different ways to achieve a variety of effects and serve a range of purposes. Nice idea. Very economical.

But let's use an analogy and suggest that the big picture you want to end up with looks like this (a photo I took from my hotel balcony in Majorca two Easters ago - the only sunny day we had that whole trip).
So you go and source a whole lot of images that you can use to compile this finished image.

You find these.Some of them look quite good on their own. Others are slightly boring but functional. At the end of the course/year/whatever you have created something that looks like this:
Notice the three areas of overlap. That's not a disaster of course. But notice the two voids. In fact, if we scrape together all our voids, the result looks like this:Taken out of context, these bits are pretty meaningless. But let's say that they didn't hang together neatly with any of the LOs we were making. What are we to do with them? If we were making cookies, we could scrape them together and bake a single misshapen cookie at the end of the batch. If we were building with Lego bricks, we could simply leave them out. But if we are aiming for our learners to end up with the big picture view, can we afford to leave these bits out? If not, how can we construct a stand-alone LO object out of them?

To me, the LO approach to learning starts us down the slippery slope of tick boxes, reducing learning down to some tidy thing that it simply isn't. I have issue with silos in almost every area of life, and this is no exception. When it comes to learning, lots of little yesses don't always add up to a big yes. Oh, you can carry out assessments of the type that increasing numbers of us are railing against, and you produce quantitative evidence that your learners have indeed learnt the content of each learning object. But little silos of understanding in respect of each nugget are not necessarily going to add up to your big picture because you have removed the most critical component: context.

Does this make sense?


Pop Trash Mutant said...

Hiya Karyn,

Having no experience in the field of education (other than being educated!) my concern as a learner with ReLOs would be::

There is no 'flow' to my learning. It's stop start stop start. My preference as a learner is firstly to grasp the big picture. I need to understand the whole before I look for the knowledge pieces I'm missing. If I can't see the big picture I'm frustrated beyond belief.

Hope that makes sense!


Karyn Romeis said...

@Pop Trash Mutant Thanks so much for stopping by. For my money, your view as a learner is worth as much as that of an educator... and perhaps more. If the learner and his/her needs are not at the heart of any and all learning approaches we adopt, then what's the point?

And just for the record... I think you're right on the money!

Duncan said...

I can understand the appeal of LO's, in that they attempt to avoid duplication, and given the amount of resources they can take to construct that's a strong argument. They can also let the boxes be ticked for curriculum coverage, but the weakness with that is it assumes the curriculum can be divided down into discrete chunks. As you rightly say, it neglects the context and any synergy that might arise from the different parts. One analogy might be between a chemical mixture of two elements and a chemical compound - just because you have the right bits in the right proportion doesn't mean you get the end result you were after.

Karyn Romeis said...

@Duncan Yes. This assumption that learning can be divided neatly into discrete chunks bothers me enormously. In order for one such chunk to make enough sense on its own to be re-usable in a range of contexts, there will inevitably be duplication.

Of course, if a person has problems with the concept of a one size fits all curriculum on a national scale in the first place (as I do)... then I guess the box ticking for curriculum coverage loses a lot of its weight ;o)

Anonymous said...


I rarely leave a response that simply iterates "my feelings exactly" but I have nothing much more to add on the way you built your argument. So what I offer is approval (for what it's worth :-).

You know, I thought the learning object debate was long dead until someone tweeted a reply to me about learning objects (in response to a tweet I did about sharing) They wrote: "@technogenii sharing is the backbone of Learning Objects (LO), but how many people are willing to share, and how much they would share?"

My reply was simply "the dream of the reusable, shareable Learning Object (LO) has been dead for me for many years now... "(

After having designed over 2,000 hours of "learning objects" destined to being "reused" in my career (proud to say, none in the last 4 years!), you have echoed the exact reasons why I don't agree with them.

Moreover, I think the way you explained it in this post is brilliant and I think you could go much further than a blog post with this. A conference session? A published article?

Karyn Romeis said...

@technogenii Why thank you, ma'am!

Odd that you mention the conference session. When I originally had the idea for this analogy, it was while working on a project for which the project leader was insisting on ReLOs. I was dead set against the idea. I made photocopies of that self-same photo (which tells me pretty much exactly when I had the idea, since it was shortly after my return from the holiday on which it was taken) and cut them to bits to make my point. When I showed it to my colleague, he said exactly the same thing: that this should be a conference presentation. Perhaps I should submit it next time the opportunity arises!

As it turns out, that whole project failed anyway, and I am convinced it was because the project leader was determined to take a cookie cutter to the material when that simply wouldn't do the trick.

I had previously asked to be allowed to get my teeth into the project and to be allowed to run with it, and I still wish I had been given that chance because (a) I believe I could have made it work and (b) I believe it would have opened up a market for my organisation that (at that stage) wasn't being addressed by anybody.

Anonymous said...


Are fools for not giving you that opportunity. In fact, they robbed themselves of one.

I think that going forward with this might be the perfect calling card for attracting a set of forward-thinking clients.