Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Learning objects or not

Here is a post from Rob Reynolds of Explanazine, entering in to the debate about the appropriateness of learning objects. This is a discussion that shuttled back and forth between the various members of my team at work some months ago. While I appreciate Rob's excellent analogy, and agree with it on the one hand, as a learning designer I find it difficult to conceive of learning with no object.

I have a particular problem with the thought of hard skills/technical subjects losing their learning objects. I know that assessment is another hotbed at the moment, but I'm not sure how one would assess competency without predefined learning objects. And I remain adamant that things like driving, building, demolition, surgery should retain a process of objective assessment against a predetermined (regularly revised) set of performance criteria. There is just no way I want my house built or my surgery performed by someone who hasn't jumped through that hoop. Try as I might, I can't shake the old fashioned view on that score!

However, I agree that learning - both theoretical and practical - is a journey rather than a destination, and no-one has ever truly arrived. IMHO, there should be an expectation that a person will spend a certain percentage of their time on CPD, and an accountability for this should form part of the review process. Skills degradation is all too real - particularly for overworked professionals.

Over the past few years, the term "lifelong learning" has moved from the realms of the learning professional into general usage. Research supports the idea that older people who continue to engage in mental challenges can retain a greater measure of the mental acuity and reduce the risk of dementia - something BUPA made much of in an ad campagin a couple of years back. In fact, for many of us the line between life and learning has become so blurred that lifelong learning is pretty much a tautology - a bit like lifelong communicating, if not yet quite as self-evident as lifelong breathing. And yet there are still many professionals out there whose workload and additional commitments simply do not allow the time for work-related learning. Our challenge as learning professionals is to reach these people. To make learning accessible even to them.

Hopefully ubiquitous learning will begin to do the trick - taking the learning to the people, rather than bringing the people to the learning. While I'm still not sure how we would design learning material with no learning object, the gradual demise of the online course, and the move towards ever smaller JIT granules of information delivered anywhere, anytime will hopefully reach an ever widening audience. Of course, the words "horse" and "water" spring to mind here: you can take the horse to water, you can even take water to the horse, but if the horse is particularly disinclined (or ornery, as my American friends might say)...

At this point, this is where affective change is required. The issue of accountability for CPD that I mentioned earlier. This approach requires the simple matter of changing the way the whole commercial world approaches performance appraisals.

Hmm. Well that's my week planned!

If only...


Anonymous said...

Hi Karyn,

The Explanazine article is talking about Learning Objects, whereas you seem to be talking about Learning Objectives.

They're two very different things. Learning Objects are a concept that tries to treat chunks of "learning materials" totally independently. See:



Anonymous said...

Thanks, Mark. Reading back over my post, I can see where I've blurred the line.

However, perhaps it's because I'm a bear of little brain (and I'm probably going to show myself up horribly, here), but I can't see how we're going to continue down the road of ubiquitous/JIT learning if we don't create discrete, bite-sized chunks that can be consumed anywhere, any time (on a standalone basis, if need be) by a busy individual who is facing a very specific issue right here, right now.

Surely the only alternative would be a backward step to linear navigation?

I'm obviously going to have to do some more homework on this one!