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What is a Learning Object?

Katie Munday
Katie Munday

A learning object is a small piece of information or content that is used in learning. Educational content often comes in a large chunk. The purpose of learning objects is to break this material into smaller units in order to make it more easily digestible for the learner. The term "learning object" most frequently applies to digital resources but also can apply to non-digital ones.

Ideally, a learning object should be both self-contained and reusable. As a result, a learning object can be used many times and in many contexts. One learning object can be combined with other learning objects to create unique lessons or tracks. This enables lessons and tracks to be customized to specific audiences.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

In literature on learning objects, the objects are often compared to atoms or children's toy connecting blocks. Both connecting blocks and atoms are small and are self-contained units. Additionally, both are building blocks that can be used to create larger objects. Finally, both connecting blocks and atoms can be combined with all other connecting blocks and atoms.

Learning objects come in many shapes and forms. A learning object can feature just one type of media, such as text, or it might feature a combination of media types, such as text and video together. Beyond this, a learning object can be integrated, informational or a practice device. An integrated learning object might be a mini-lesson or a mini-case study; an informational one might be a summary, a definition, a model, an example or a story; and a practice learning object might be a test or a review exercise.

Using learning objects has a number of benefits. The fact that they can be customized can be helpful to both those who are designing lessons, such as programmers and learning administrators, as well as those who are receiving the education. Learners can receive instruction that is suited to their strengths and weaknesses.

For programmers or learning administrators, the use of learning objects can make lesson design more efficient. These people are able to update and maintain individual learning objects instead of updating an entire body of content. This also can make the creation of content more cost effective.

One hindrance to the use of learning objects is that many learners prefer to learn sequentially. In this way, the self-contained nature of learning objects might be a put-off. Another possible shortcoming is that if programmers or learning administrators switch to a learning object system, that switch might require retraining and other adjustments. Nevertheless, learning objects have gained in popularity as a way of conveying information.

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