Saturday, 16 October 2004

When is a Learning Object a Learning Object?

This is a question I come back often. I don't think I have an answer yet, but here is my understanding at the moment.

I asked the question is recipe a learning object before. I have also written two posts about turning it to a Learning object, both triggered by photographs. The first one is a wonderful recipe and the second one on a "physics" (???) problem. In yesterday's post, I also described some cans which I used when I was teaching Physics long time ago.

I would argue that a recipe is NOT a learning object by itself. If you put it in the sitting room, it may be a nice book on the coffee table. But it serves no training or learning purposes. It is the context of how you use the recipe that is the enabling factor.

The first photograph is interesting. Again, by itself, it is just an interesting photograph to look at. However, it is the rectangles and pop-ups that draws the attention and triggered something of the viewers. When it is placed in a discussion forum, the discussion exchange enabled the learning. Hence, I would say that there are two enabling factors here: the rectangles and pop-ups, and the discussion forum.

Yesterday's photograph was turned into a series of interesting exchange in the forum by the interesting title. Again, this title draws the attention of the viewers and triggered something inside the viewers' minds and started the learning process. The enabling factors are the title of the photograph and the discussion forum.

The cans I quoted yesterday are a collection of junks if you do not know how to use them and the purpose of these cans. (After I left the school, the cans were just that unless my successor picked up that idea!) The enabling factor is the set of instruction and the environment the students were in.

All these examples point to two things:

Firstly, some enabling descriptions which trigger something which spontaneously or otherwise set the enquiring minds of the user in motion. I would say that the descriptions (rectangles and pop-ups, title of the photograph and the instruction I gave to my students) are learning objects - their sole purpose of existence (at least from the creator's point of view) is to activate learning. However, interestingly enough, alone they make no sense! Without the photographs and the cans, the learning objects make no sense!

Secondly, there must be a suitable environment to foster the learning (discussion forum OR the laboratory environment). These photographs here do not serve any learning - you can see it, so what! Learning occurs only when the photographs are situated among a group of people (who have all been set into a learning mode) exchanges views and share experiences.

By the way, by reading this post, are you learning?

No, you are not. You have just read an opinion. You may use it to say some good words to me when we meet next time or you may also say how stupid Albert Ip is when you meet my enemies. (just a joke!) There is no utility of this little opinion here. However, if you respond via the comment below and if there are a number of exchanges, the people participating would have learnt something. It is because these people, including myself, would have negotiated a common understanding which will enable a shared meaning among us. For me, knowledge is the holistic collection of all those common understandings which I can use to communicate and hence achieve some useful tasks. A bright idea is just an idea. If this idea can be shared and produce some useful outcome, it becomes knowledge. Learning is the process that we acquire knowledge.


Albert Ip said...

[Richard Clark posted this comment to Haloscan which I have copied over here.]
The question of whether a single "asset" (recipe, picture, sound clip, etc.) is a "learning object" depends on whose definition you accept. The original Cisco definition draws a distinction between "Instructional Objects" (composed of assets) and "Learning Objects" composed of instructional objects. The IEEE LTSC definition, and David WIley's definition, both treat assets as "learning objects" whether or not they are explicitly instructional.

Personally, I tend to use the term "learning object" to describe an asset which is independant of any intructional context but which has been collected with an intent to use it for learning.

Richard Clark | Email | Homepage | 10.15.04 - 10:08 pm | #

Albert Ip said...

The lack of a commonly accepted definition of learning object is fully appreciated. Among all the definitions, one I particularly cannot agree is that ANY digital object with LOM is learning object (ref: IEEE LOM definition). This adds nothing to learning and teaching, except over-emphasised the role of metadata.

That said, I would insist that to qualify an object by the word "learning", it must contribute to the key notion of learning whatever that key notion of learning may be. (Same applies to qualifying any learning material to be object, it must possess some notion of object). In fact, in teaching and learning, we use EVERYTHING and are limited only by our imagination. Hence I also found "learning asset" not to be very helpful. Photographs and recipe are assets. By themselves, they are NOT learning asset. Only when they are used in certain way, with the proper "enabling thing" attached and in the right context, these assets become learning assets.

Richard's notion of adding an element of "intent" is interesting. The enabling devices, quoted in my post, are created with an intent to enabling learning. In this sense, they meet Richard's criteria. However, as noted, by themselves, these enabling devices do not create any learning - frankly, are meaningless. (For example, "How this photograph is created?" without the photograph is imcomplete at best!

At some time, I collected empty cans. I know of many kindergarten teachers collecting empty tissue boxes. These are collected with an intent for learning. Can you guess why kindergarten teachers collect empty tissue boxes? Answer in next comment.

Someone's learning objects may be other's junk.

Albert Ip said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Albert Ip said...

Kindergarten teachers use empty tissue boxes as bricks for children to build castles.