The problem with definitions – or how I learned to get over learning objects and start making good e-learning instead

At the risk of labouring yesterday's piece about learning objects, I did just want to write another paragraph or two to address something that has been raised in some feedback I've had. Is there any specific reason that you can think of why there needs to be definition of learning objects (LOs) that's as agreeable to an educational technologist as to an educationalist (assuming we agree what distinguishes those different kinds of people)? I suggested yesterday that perhaps this is why there's so much discord when talking about LOs. Firstly because you can't have more than one definition or interpretation for the same thing as that's just asking for problems in an area that requires some degree of precision. How can you write a piece of software to handle data that few people can even agree upon? And second, who says there even needs to be an educationalist's definition of LOs?

Perhaps LOs are only meaningful to educational technologists or the people who write the software to manipulate these data. The end user, the teacher let's say, doesn't really care what you call the parts, they just want to achieve a specific end point, creating a PowerPoint file or creating some e-learning for example. Learning the names of all the parts often just gets in the way. That's why users don't read software manuals, because good software should be unambiguous and as intuitive as possible. Who cares if you guys can't agree what a learning object is, I just want to create something I can use to teach my students. I've heard words to that effect many times when talking to colleagues. It's a bit like, well at a stretch any way, whether or not to use HTML tables or CSS to structure your web pages. How many people care about that? Sure, they care about the output, how well a web page works in different web browsers, but probably for most people they just trust that the folk who make the web page editing software will sort that out and just give the user the best solution. Same with LOs in my opinion.

So now when I'm in a meeting with my fellow academics and learning objects crop up in the discussion, I just say they're bits of reusable e-learning material and everyone gets it and we quickly move on to talking about the really interesting stuff. Like how to create really effective e-learning materials.

Enough about learning objects for the time being. So now, who's going to add metadata to my learning objects… 😉