About the RLO Strategy White Paper
David Wiley, Ph.D.
Department of Instructional Technology
Utah State University

The white paper is located online here.

The white paper referenced above clearly states that the model described therein is based on Merrill’s Component Display Theory (CDT) work. However, there is a known problem with early versions of CDT. While it succeeds in facilitating mastery of individual low-level objectives, it fails to help learners integrate those low-level performances into the real world, meaning performances above them in the task or job analysis hierarchy. The RLO strategy outlined in the white paper referenced above seems to be based on an early version of CDT, as it exhibits this same weakness.

The RLO model displays only very limited capacity to teach complex, integrated skills (such as router configuration or troubleshooting), and no capacity to assess them. A brief look at the model will demonstrate why this is the case. A simple fix to the existing model is recommended.

The RLO/RIO white paper describes a method of combining 7 +/- 2 RIOs in order to make an RLO. An RIO teaches a single concept, fact, procedure, process, or principle, and has associated assessments (generally two) that test the learners’ mastery of the concept, fact etc. The RIOs are sandwiched between an Overview and Summary, as shown in the diagram below.

The RLO Model, from the Cisco White Paper, p. 7.

The strategy states that the Overview should serve as an advance organizer, listing the objectives and outline for the lesson (RLO). For example, “In this lesson you will learn to 1., 2., 3., etc.” Optionally, a scenario relating the individual objectives to the a job or other real world performance may be included.

The strategy states that the Summary should contain a recap of what the learner just learned, touching on each of the RIOs in the lesson. For example, “In this lesson, you learned to 1., 2., 3., etc.” Optionally, if a scenario was used in the Overview, it can be used to pull together the material in the RIOs.

Teaching Integrated Skills
As can be seen above, if a job scenario is used in the Overview and Summary it is possible to teach how the individual objectives tie together in an integrated performance. However, such a tying together is strictly optional.

Assessing Integrated Skills
Architecturally, as can be seen from the image above, assessment pieces must belong to an RIO. That is, assessment pieces must test an individual concept, fact, etc. In order to test an integrated, real world performance it would be necessary to hang an assessment off the Summary. However, this is not possible according to the strategy outlined in the white paper.

A Simple Fix
The early-CDT weakness could be overcome if (a) scenarios were used in both the Overview and Summary, and (b) the architecture changed so that assessments could be associated with Overviews and Summaries. In the current model, learners can pre-test before interacting with the RIOs by taking the assessments associated with each one. The ability to pre-test on the integrated performance instead is extremely desirable. Also, once the learner has mastered (1) installing a 675 DSL Router to a computer, (2) the lists of user and enable mode commands, and (3) the notions of Network Address Translation and Firewalls, it would be nice for the learner to actually pull these masteries together in order to configure a DSL router to allow Voice-over-IP traffic through both directions with NAT turned on. Personally, I don’t want to hire a network admin who has mastered individual component skills, I want somebody who can actually configure and trouble shoot my router.

Final Comments
Personally, I believe the future of learning objects lies in another direction. However, I believe people pursuing the direction the authors of the Cisco white paper are headed would benefit from this critique.

Comments appreciated.