MET:Learning Objects in Electronic Learning

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This page was originally authored by Rhonda Kalyn (2009)

Learning Objects used in the creation of Electronic Learning (e-learning) can be thought of as digital building blocks for courses in much the same way as LEGO blocks are building blocks for play (Wiley 2000). Both can be mixed and matched in a variety of ways. The mixing and matching of learning objects can be used to tailor courses to the individual needs of students.

The development of a distance learning course can take 3-5 times longer than a traditional course (Cyrs, Cyrs, & Conway, 2003). Several tools have been developed to streamline the process of e-learning course development with learning objects. Learning objects can be shared in Learning Object Repositories, so that it is sometimes possible to use an existing learning object rather than develop a new one. When an existing learning object is not available, authoring tools can be used to simplify the process for creating of new ones. Finally, there are tools available to help organize learning objects into suitable formats for e-learning.

Sharing Learning Objects

Before authoring learning objects for course development, perform a search for existing learning objects on a topic. Several Learning Object Repositories are available for sharing learning objects that are searchable by subject. Repositories locate and catalogue learning objects by searching for Metadata. Metadata is used to tag learning objects with descriptions of their content (Shepherd, 2009). The Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) has provided us with worldwide standards for metadata. Designing learning objects with metadata allows them to be catalogued in repositories for sharing.

Authoring Learning Objects

When developing learning objects, consider keeping them short by restricting content to a narrow area of focus. This narrow focus makes them more digestible and provides the flexibility to be shared in variety of situations (Shepherd, 2009). If they are too long, users may have to search the entire content for a single element of interest. Smaller learning objects allow users to focus directly on an area of interest, without having to filter through unwanted information (Lasseter & Rogers, 2004) See Design Issues for more suggestions for learning object content.

To simplify the process of authoring learning objects, a variety of authoring tools have been developed that reduce the technological expertise required by authors. There are several authoring tools that are free for public use (Mitchell, 2004; University of British Columbia Arts ISIT).

Examples of Free Authoring Tools

See the following for more examples on authoring tools

Digital Natives in Your Midst? Give them LEGOs to play with… (page 7)

Directory of Learning Tools: Course Authoring Tools

Learning Light Course and Lessson Authoring Tools

Learning Object Delivery

A delivery method will be required to organize learning objects and make them accessible to students. A variety of web-based strategies are available. Some examples include websites, blogs, wikis, and discussion forums. Several Course Management Systems and Learning Management Systems have been developed to help authors to organize course content.

Learning Objects and Instructional Design: The Present and Future

The following animation gives an overview of how learning objects are currently being used by Instructional Designers and what the future holds for the learning object and learners: [length 4:41 min]


Cyrs, C., Cyrs, T., & Conway, E. (2003). 52+ guiding principles for the design of electronic courses: Discovery and revelation. 19th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning, Madison, WI. , August 13-15, 2003. Retrieved from

Lasseter, M., & Rogers, M. (2004). Creating flexible E-learning through the use of learning objects - the university system of Georgia deconstructs existing online courses to create separate files of reusable content. Educause Quarterly, 27(4). Retrieved from

Learning object. (2016, January 28). Retrieved from

Mitchell, J. (2004). Digital natives in your midst? give them LEGOs to play with.... The Dream and the Reality WWW@10, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Terre Haute, Indiana, USA. Retrieved from

Nichan, M. (2001, May 2). LCMS = LMS + CMS [RLOs]. Retrieved from

Shepherd, C. Objects of interest. Retrieved February 15, 2009, from

University of British Columbia arts ISIT. Learning tools. Retrieved February 27, 2009, from

Wiley, D. A. (2000). Connecting learning objects to instructional design theory: A 
definition, a metaphor, and a taxonomy. In D.A. Wiley (Ed.) The Instructional use of Learning Objects. Retrieved February 27, 2009 from