Learning objects offer a new conceptualization of the learning process: rather than the traditional "several hour chunk", they provide smaller, self-contained, re-usable units of learning.
They will typically have a number of different components, that range from descriptive data to information about rights and educational level. At their core, however, will be instructional content, and probably assessment tools. A key issue is the use of metadata.
Learning object design raises issues of portability, and of the object's relation to a broader learning management system.
Most generally, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) defines a learning object as "any entity, digital or non-digital, that may be used for learning, education or training". More specifically, and pointing out the extreme breadth of the IEEE's definition, Wiley describes a learning object as "any digital resource that can be reused to support learning". (Emphasis added.)
Chiappe defined Learning Objects as: "A digital self-contained and reusable entity, with a clear educational purpose, with at least three internal and editable components: content, learning activities and elements of context. The learning objects must have an external structure of information to facilitate their identification, storage and retrieval: the metadata. " (Chiappe, Segovia, & Rincon, 2007).
The following definitions focus on the relation between learning object and digital media. RLO-CETL, a British inter-university Learning Objects Center, defines "reusable learning objects" as "web-based interactive chunks of e-learning designed to explain a stand-alone learning objective". Daniel Rehak and Robin Mason define it as "a digitized entity which can be used, reused or referenced during technology supported learning".
Adapting a definition from the Wisconsin Online Resource Center, Robert J. Beck suggests that learning objects have the following key characteristics:
A mutated learning object is, according to Michael Shaw, a learning object that has been "re-purposed and/or re-engineered, changed or simply re-used in some way different from its original intended design". Shaw also introduces the term "contextual learning object", to describe a learning object that has been "designed to have specific meaning and purpose to an intended learner".
If all of the properties of a course can be precisely defined in a common format, the content can be serialized into a standard format such as XML and loaded into other systems. When you consider that some e-learning courses need to include video, mathematical equations using MathML, chemistry equations using CML and other complex structures the issues become very complex, especially if the systems needs to understand and validate each structure and then place it correctly in a database.
Some examples of learning object projects include:
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