[Edu-sig] re: NLII 2004 Annual Meeting

Toby Donaldson tjd at sfu.ca
Sun Dec 21 15:16:09 EST 2003

> But there is almost nothing here about students or their actual
> experience, process, perspective, input, happiness success, results
> It seems to be more about management and budgets.
> I'd hate to be misreading all this without doing my homework properly.
> I am far outside of the formal school system so I'd welcome further
> analysis and comments

For the last 5 years, I've been in an environment where the sort of
mentality that you describe dominated. It was indeed mostly about
project management, planning, and budgets (which is true of all large
projects, in some sense), although there is certainly a strong rhetoric
of "learner centered" teaching. There was a lot of evangelism, a lot of
people shouting (so to speak) "praise the lord" whenever eLearning was

> Learning Object: Any digital resource that can be reused to support
> learning.

Maybe "learning objects" are a good idea, but this definition is
worthless. The letter "e" is a digital resource that can be reused to
support learning, and so is Internet Explorer, Google, Yahoo!, and my
mother's friend's blog on weaving. From what I've read, the eLearning
people who promote this stuff seem pretty much to have taken it because,
in programming, "object" = "good".

(Cynics might say that the only reason learning objects are popular in
academia is that 1) at least a couple of years ago, it attracts large
grants where the outcomes are as vague as the above-definition; and 2)
it doesn't involve people.

2) is a bit scary once you realize that the push for eLearning in
universities a couple of years ago was almost an entirely top-down
initiative: administrators looking for a cost-effective way to teach
more students. Compared to learning objects --- which never complain,
don't need offices or benefits packages --- people look mighty

But I grant that there is something to the *idea* of learning
objectives, even though the definitions are foolish. I see a much bigger
problem: the learning object camp have no clue about how to actually
re-use learning objects. They confuse *storing* with *reusing*. 

The problem I've had in using learning objects is that they are often
too much work to *configure* for my particular usage. How do I *split* a
learning object, e.g. what if I just want half of a learning object? Or
what if I want to remove mention of one concept because it's inaccurate
(e.g. imagine an animation that talks about 500Mhz as being the fastest
available computers)? What if I want to fix an error, or change a font
to match my other presentations, or add footnotes? Know one can be sure
ahead of time what part of learning object they may want (or need) to

Ultimately, I remain unconvinced that education is that much different
than any other content management problem. I suspect that most teachers
would be better off buying good weblog software as opposed to WebCT, or
its ilk.

Dr. Toby Donaldson
Assistant Professor
School of Interactive Arts and Technology
Simon Fraser University

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