As more and more educational institutions begin implementing hybrid and fully online courses, instructional design processes will become exceedingly important. Design committees will not only need to evaluate course structure and learning outcomes, they will also need to create flexible learning environments. Traditional classrooms employing auditory learning techniques provide a platform that is easily customizable as objectives change and student perceptions evolve. Due to the requirement of extensive front-end content development, online and hybrid courses are much more difficult to alter on the fly.
Just-in-Time course customization and delivery can be achieved through the use of Learning Objects. By using this building blocks approach to institutional course design, instructors and designers can build flexibility into their courses through a measured process of “chunking” material and building small learning objects from the resulting content. These learning objects can then be swapped in and out of courses, and be reused and recycled between individual courses that contain similar learning objectives. Using learning objects efficiently and effectively can enable the construction of customized learning environments to meet the specific yet changing needs of students, and create a sustainable course creation policy for the educational institution as a whole.
What is a “Learning Object”
A learning object is a customizable learning tool that can be incorporated in different courses to meet different needs. The granularity of learning objects (or how specific the objects are) allows institutions to use certain objects across several courses due their independent nature. For example, you could consider a LEGO™ piece to be a learning object. The pieces are “interchangeable, stackable, and small enough to create a wide variety of structures.” (Nash, 2012, p. 291).
In the educational environment, a learning object could be a presentation object like a short video lecture that focuses on transmitting content to the student, helping them identify and describe subject matter. Objects could also take the form of practice units, simulations, and conceptual models that help students explore and elaborate the subject matter (Nash, 2012, pp. 293-294). Many of these objects are interchangeable within a course, making it possible to enhance courses on the fly without duplicating the complicated process of course development. In addition, this flexibility gives an institution the ability to reuse objects across multiple courses, providing instructors a repository of content and giving students common tools they can master in order to ensure success throughout a program of study.
Learning Object Best Practices
Learning objects are the ideal tool in learner-centered course design. Students, particularly in online courses, possess a myriad of differing learning styles. In the classroom, it is possible to adapt lectures and discussions in real time to fit the various learning styles of students. In the online environment, content is more static, leading to fewer opportunities to adapt to specific styles. Different types of learning objects can be utilized to alleviate this issue. For example, a podcast can be provided to fit the needs of an auditory learner, whereas a simulation can be provided for the kinesthetic learner. Having alternative types of interaction with content can also help create bridges to course outcomes and build connections between course content and individual experience (i.e. Connectivism).
One of the prominent advantages of building courses using learning objects is the ability to create and use repositories of existing objects (Nash, 2012, p. 296). An institution can catalog all of the chunked content developed by their instructors, and make those resources available across the curriculum. Thus, as the object library grows, instructors and students will have access to more and more resources to optimize learning potential. There are also public, peer-reviewed repositories like the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching that exist to share educational resources across institutions and disciplines. The possibilities for content inclusion using learning objects become more substantial every day.
Learning Objects in the Future
As technology continues to evolve, education practices will continue to change, and learning objects will become an emphasis of the 21st century classroom. One teaching philosophy that is gaining steam is that of customized and individualized teaching. In this teaching ideology, the proliferation of quality learning objects will make it possible for students to consume materials at their own pace, incorporate prior knowledge, and exhibit mastery of the skills they are expected to learn. The learning objects will also make it possible for instructors to efficiently adapt their course components to meet the needs of their students.
Finally, students will come to expect these high quality learning objects in their courses, essentially requiring the educational community to drop the “one size fits all” course model. The growth of formal and informal repositories will make it possible for instructors to keep up with emerging technologies, especially as students adopt different computing platforms. Without learning objects, it will become increasingly difficult for instructors and instructional designers to meet the ever-changing demands of students, and provide exceptional learning opportunities at both the course and institutional levels.
How have you implemented learning objects in your teaching environment? Let us know in the comments below!
Nash, S. S. (2012). Learning Objects. In R. Reiser & J. Dempsey (Eds.), Issues and trends in instructional design and technology (3rd ed.) (pp. 290-298). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.