On the inanimate nature of learning objects

One of the risks of writing things is that your readers will, whether through ill-will or simple misunderstanding, completely miss whatever message you’re trying to communicate.

Such is the case with my RIP-ping on Learning Objects post. I must have read ten blog posts or emails now thanking me for putting the nail in the learning objects coffin. Are people even reading what I’m writing? Let me quote myself:

There have been lots of articles around the blogosphere of late ringing the death bell for learning objects. It’s hard to tell if they’re right or not…. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about these declarations since they started appearing, and I’ve come to the somewhat troubling conclusion that I don’t think I care if learning objects are dead or not…. So whether learning objects are dead or not, I couldn’t say. And to some extent, who cares?

Now, I may not be able to understand my own writing, but this does not appear to be a sweeping victory for the people who came to my site hoping for a learning objects eulogy.

For the sake of clarity, I’ll try a more explicit approach to explaining my feelings:

  1. Learning objects are neither alive nor dead. They were not chucked out of the Garden of Eden. They will not be reincarnated or resurrected. They will neither burn in the seventh level of Hell nor bask in Paradise with seven virgins. They have not taken on a life of their own, and they haven’t given up that life either. They’re inanimate parasitic design memes, and this makes them completely indestructible.
  2. Anyone who foresees the day when I am no longer interested in educational resources that are reusable across pedagogic contexts should take out a slightly damp cloth, rub their crystal ball in small, circular motions, and then look into it again. The pedagogic reusability of educational resources is at the very core of the idea of open education, to which I fully expect to dedicate my entire so-called career.
  3. To all those who gloried in the struggle to answer the question “what is a learning object?”, or to those who asserted their manhood against the only slightly less unanswerable “how big should a learning object be?”, and who want to continue on, I say: go right on ahead. You keep going down that road. It was nice knowing you. If I ever see another taxonomy of learning objects (including my own), I may throw up.
  4. It may be true that people are finally waking up to the realization that engineers are not going to solve the hard learning objects problems – that issues of context are far more complicated than issues of technical interoperability – but this doesn’t lessen the core value of learning objects, which is reusability across pedagogic contexts.
  5. It may be true that talk of automated, intelligent, adaptive, some-virtual-Harry-Potter-waves-his-phoenix-feather-core-wand assembly of learning objects was “somewhat naive.” But this doesn’t lessen the core value of learning objects, which is reusability across pedagogic contexts.
  6. It may be true that one day we call them Crumple-horned Snorkacks or Vermiciuos Knids instead of learning objects. But that won’t lessen their core value, which is reusability across pedagogic contexts.

So say whatever you want, but don’t attribute it to me. I’m as firm a believer in the value of reusable educational resources as I ever have been. Actually, my feelings have not changed significantly from those I expressed in the conclusion to my 2000 paper Getting axiomatic about learning objects: In defense of the by-hand assembly of learning objects:

It has been the goal of this paper to tear down the notion that the automated assembly of every learning object with every other learning object – even when “learning object” is defined narrowly – is possible, and to demonstrate that non-automated solutions to learning object assembly are not only legitimate, they are desirable.

We need people in education. People and learning objects are a powerful mix. And call them what you will, digital reusable educational materials *will* eventually revolutionize education. You might want to actually read my RIP-ping on learning objects post to see how.