In the Horizon Report in 2004, the first technology predicted to make the big time for the next year was ‘learning objects’. In some ways, this was not so difficult to pick, as the discussion regarding learning objects had been happening in education circles at least since 2000, and had reached some momentum by 2004.
Learning object proselytisers such as H. Wayne Hodgen dreamed of a world where “all ‘content’ [ie knowledge] exists at just the right and lowest possible size, much like the individual blocks that make up LEGO systems”. Each object would be defined so that we know “which ones to select to match up with each person and situation”. To make this match will require comprehensive personal learner profiling, enabling “new approaches to productivity”. This “revolution” will “realise order of magnitude increases in productivity and performance”.
It was very much an engineering view of knowledge and training.
The Horizon Report defined them more circumspectly.
Learning objects are assemblies of audio, graphic, animation and other digital files and materials that are intended to be reusable in a variety of ways, and easily combined into higher-level instructional components such as lessons and modules.
The learning object approach was debated by vocational education and training (VET) in Australia in 2003- 2004. These were subsequently adopted and funded robustly, setting up a edifice of standards (SCORM), digital rights, metadata (VETADATA) and eventually a repository to house them – the Learning Object Repository Network (LORN). See VET Learning Object Repository
A similar process had been going on in Australian and New Zealand secondary education through the multimillion dollar funding of the Learning Federation.
Despite the investment in this resource development, no critical cost effectiveness evaluation was conducted into their actual usage in VET (although the Toolboxes were to 2007, and have been included in the general E-learning Benchmarking Surveys).
Various experts, however, expressed caution regarding their usefulness. One was David Wiley who, although a strong supporter of the approach, warned that unless the issues of ‘size’ of a learning object, learning ‘context’, copyright and the ability of trainers to integrate and modify them were addressed, then their ‘reusabilty’ was limited. (See, for example, his 2010 conference presentation.)
A local teacher, active in VET, who expressed doubts at the time was Leigh Blackall.
In this interview with Leigh, we explore the whole notion of learning objects, his doubts and how they have been challenged by different learning pedagogies, reflecting digital openness and social networking.
Interview with Leigh Part 1: reflecting on the introduction of learning objects and their limitations [6:18]
Interview with Leigh Part 2: alternatives to the learning object approach: open versus closed systems [5:26]
Interview with Leigh Part 3: inserting digital communications in good teaching practice [5:19]