This page was originally authored by Louise Massey (2007).
This page has been revised by Nancy Castonguay (2008).
The term Learning Object (LO) refers to a variety digital materials that are shareable and may be used to augment teaching and learning in both face-to-face and online education environments through visualization and interactivity with hypermedia. A LO is a tool that mediates learning in such a way that the activity is always student-centered as opposed to teacher-centered.
Learning objects may take the following forms, however there is virtually no limit to the possibilities:
- Flash Simulations
- Whole SCORM courses
- Interactive assessment tools
These Learning Objects are often stored in a database or repository that is available to educators. Learning Object Repositories
Things to Consider Before Creating or Using Learning Objects
Learning objects (LOs) can support and / or enhance learning in various ways, however, there are a few things to consider before incorporating them into a course or a lesson. While some LOs are created with little effort or time, others require a great deal of expertise and time. In order for these highly specialized learning tools to hold their worth through time, they must be created with special considerations in mind. Without the proper instructional organization, these tools may end up being worthless.
A 2006 study conducted in Finland by the Educational Technology Unit of the University of Turku showed that drill-and-practice learning objects (LOs) can distract learners away from the targeted learning outcome.
Nurmi & Jakkola compared the academic achievements of two groups of fifth and sixth graders using a pre-test / post-test method, to see how the incorporation of LOs would enhance learning. Both groups were taught the same concept by the same instructor, however, while one group worked to perfect its skills using a drill-and-practice LO, the other group of students worked along side their teacher in the classroom using traditional writing tools. Students who practiced in the classroom using traditional tools scored significantly higher then the other group on the post-test in two subject areas: Finnish grammar and science.
This was attributed to the fact that students using the drill-and-practice LO to complete a task tended to guess the answers without paying much attention to the targeted concept, show greater concern with the rate at which they were able to complete tasks or questions, and appeared be more concerned with the overall functioning of the LO rather than their intended purpose.
In the same study, the reverse was true for students who used a simulation-type LO to explore a physics' concept. One of two groups working towards the same learning outcome, again fifth and sixth graders, practiced the concept taught using traditional worksheets, while an another group engaged in a simulation-type computer generated activity which allowed them to build and experiment with various types of electrical circuits. Students who used LOs to solidify their understanding of the concept scored higher than those who used traditional methods in the post-test.
Face-to-face instruction affords the benefit of being able to adapt instruction to suit the learner's needs, often on the spot. This is not possible mid-way through an activity mediated by a learning object. Nevertheless, Pythagoras et al.(2006) propose to define learner preferences in a hypermedia environment according to the learner's cognitive characteristics: working memory capacity & inductive reasoning skills.
Working Memory Capacity is Low - (LWMC)
In the case where working memory is low, the LO should be designed to minimize the number of paths and the amount of information presented to the learner so to reduce the frustration level and increase the review time. In formation should be presented in a concrete way and structure should remain constant. Relevance of the information should be augmented so that the learner can capture the essence of the exercise within a limited time frame.
Working Memory Capacity is High - (HWMC)
In the case where working memory is high, the LO should be designed in such a way that higher-order rules must be used and mapping allows for the learner to even create his / her own rules. To minimize boredom, a more elaborate pathways should be in place, therefore requirement a more active involvement on the part of the learner. Too many examples of the targeted concept, for example, will render the activity redundant for this learner.
Studies suggest that versatile learners have less short-term memory than do sequential learners. See Table 2, Pythagoras et al. (2006) :
Inductive Reasoning Skill is Poor
In order to promote the learner's inductive skill, the number of pathways should be increased while their relevance should decrease. The information should be presented in a more concrete form, more detailed navigational instruction should be given.
Inductive Reasoning Skill is Good
In the case where the learner has good inductive reasoning skill, pathways and concretedness of the information should be minimized, again, to avoid boredom.
See Table 3, Pythagoras et al. (2006):
Learning Objects - Stop Motion Video
Watch "The Emergence of Learning Objects" at https://youtu.be/SX4bu3r3Ph8 (created by Faeyza Mufti, January 2016)
Churchill, Daniel, (2005). Learning objects: an interactive representation and a mediating tool in a learning activity. Education Media International, 42(4). 333-339.
Nurmi,S., & Jaakkola, T. (2006). Effectiveness of learning objects in various instructional settings. Learning, Media and Technology, 31(3). 233-247.
Pythagoras, Karampiperis, Taiyu, Lin, Demetrios, G. Samson, and Kinshuk (2006). Adaptive cognitive-based selection of learning objects. Innovations in Education and Teaching International 43(2). 121-135.