Connecting learning objects to instructional design theory: a definition, a metaphor, and a taxonomy
Learning object characteristics. The characteristics in Table 1 are described below.
Learning object type definitions. The five types of learning objects have been exemplified and their characteristics have been described. While the creation of strict definitions for these types is an ongoing effort, the author's current best thinking with regard to definitions of each type is captured below.
Connecting learning objects to instructional design theory
The main theme of this chapter has been that instructional design theory must be incorporated in any learning object implementation that aspires to facilitate learning. The taxonomy of learning object types presented in this chapter is instructional design theory-neutral, making it compatible with practically any instructional design theory. (The taxonomy’s explicit references to domain-dependent and domain-independent presentation, instruction, and assessment logic, which must come from somewhere, keep it from being instructional theory agnostic.)
Wiley (2000) posited and presented three components of a successful learning object implementation: an instructional design theory, a learning object taxonomy, and “prescriptive linking material” that connects the instructional design theory to the taxonomy, providing guidance of the type “for this type of learning goal, use this type of learning object.” In addition to providing a worked example of this process, Wiley (2000) also presented design guidelines for the five learning object types.
Previously, any person or organization who wanted to employ learning objects in their instructional design and delivery was required to either create their own taxonomy of learning object types or work in an ad hoc, frequently higgledy-piggledy manner. Taxonomy development requires significant effort above and beyond normal instructional design and development, and is certainly one cause of the current poverty of instructionally-grounded practical applications of learning objects. However, any instructional designer may potentially connect the instructional design theory of their choice to the theory-neutral taxonomy presented in this chapter via the creation of “prescriptive linking material,” a considerably simpler exercise than the creation of a new taxonomy. It is the author’s desire that the development of the learning object taxonomy presented herein will (1) speed the practical adoption of the learning object approach, (2) allow the simplified application of any instructional design theory to the learning object approach, and (3) provide a common ground for future research of the instructional technology called “learning objects.” Application of the “prescriptive linking material” approach and scrutiny of the taxonomy will help both improve significantly over time.
Like any other instructional technology, learning objects must participate in a principled partnership with instructional design theory if they are to succeed in facilitating learning. This chapter has presented a possible partnership structure. If learning objects ever live up to their press and provide the foundation for an adaptive, generative, scalable learning architecture, teaching and learning as we know them are certain to be revolutionized. However, this revolution will never occur unless more voices speak out regarding the explicitly instructional use of learning objects – the automated or by-hand spatial or temporal juxtaposition of learning objects intended to facilitate learning. These voices must penetrate the din of metadata, data interchange protocol, tool/agent communication and other technical standards conversations. While instructional design theory may not be as “sexy” as bleeding-edge technology, there must be concentrated effort made to understand the instructional issues inherent in the learning objects notion. The potential of learning objects as an instructional technology is great, but will never be realized without a balanced effort in technology and instructional design areas. We need more theorists.
The development of this chapter was funded in part by the Edumetrics Institute and NSF grant #DUE-0085855.
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