I learnt many things while at a conference in Bern earlier this month. Apart from the finding that Bern is a beautiful city and was where Einstein developed his Special Theory of Relativity (I was fortunate to be able to visit his flat, now a museum at 49, Kramgasse), I also learnt much about reusable learning objects (RLOs) or more precisely, what other people thought about RLOs.
What I learnt was that despite the many exciting advances we've made in working with these instructional quanta, the concept of RLOs is still light years (no pun on Einstein) from most teacher's every day lives (and I expect those of learners though it was primarily a conference for teachers). Exactly what an RLO is, why they're important, more importantly exactly how you might use them, and even more fundamentally, what tools you might use to do these things were issues about as far away from everyday teaching as you could imagine, at least for most people. There was a tangible feeling of 'so what' about much of the RLO discussion, at least amongst the non-techies. As an aside the techie discussions about RLOs was very constructive but more about that in a later post.
The biggest issue is I think the lack of inexpensive, easily available, easy to use desktop tools, for without such tools people can't experiment, try out for themselves, and get their hands dirty with RLOs. Sure, there are some great tools out there but many are either development projects or are sophisticated systems yet to make a big impact on campuses. Also true, many of the popular VLE vendors sell products that claim to use learning objects, but often these are not low-level or low aggregation RLOs, the systems are not proper content management systems nor do they offer the kinds of authoring tools that authors need.
What we are going to need before working with RLOs becomes as familiar as word processing or at a stretch web page creation are studies on the ergonomics of RLOs, human computer interaction studies, and a deeper analysis of how educators can use RLOs to built teaching packages and more importantly how RLOs are going to benefit the learning process. We need a tool for RLOs just as familiar a word processor is for words. Though please not like Microsoft Word 😉