There's No Such Thing as a Learning Object
May 16, 2006
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Michael Feldstein succinctly captures the problem with learning objects: "I believe the term 'learning object' has become harmful. It hides the same old, bad lecture model behind a sexy buzz phrase.... We learn by doing. We consider. We compare. We measure, discuss, debate, critique, test, and explore. We try, fail, and try again. Learning is an activity. It's a process. Given this undeniable fact, the term 'learning object' can only be an oxymoron. An object is a thing. We don't learn from things. We learn from doing things." Total: 1987
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Re: There's No Such Thing as a Learning Object

My response to Michael Feldstein: Michael, of course we learn by doing. This is not a revelation, but to state as you do that "We don't learn from things." is unsupportable if not nonsensical. We learn about everything from things. Yes, by doing, but doing with "things". Things can be physical or conceptual. I have no problem with the term "instructional objects", but many would claim that their lessons are NOT instructional. So, if you encapsulated them in some form, they would be available for use for learning NOT instruction. And yes, you are correct, such objects have been around under other names for some time. The point as I see it of "learning objects" is NOT to challenge any specific view of learning but rather, much more simplistically to facilitate the exchange and reuse of ANY type of digital learning content/application in ANY application on ANY computer. Why is this a problem? Metadata too has been around for a long time e. g. library cards. They help us find content for learning. What is the problem with digital library cards (metadata)? You state: "many types of learning require more than just the transmission of content." I believe that ALL learning requires more than content transmission. But there is NO learning without some content either physical or conceptual. You feel that this is "why teachers have never been replaced by books on tape and why they never will be replaced by podcasts." I think you should wake up and smell the coffee. Teachers are still around but in many ways they have been "displaced" rather than replaced. They must now more than ever be facilitators of learning rather than transmitters of content as in older models. Also, more people are learning more skills and attaining more knowledge WITHOUT teachers than ever before in history. You state: "Learning is an activity. Teaching is an activity designed to stimulate learning. Put these two activities together in a feedback loop and you have "interactivity." " AND if you put a child with a toy with no teacher there is interactive learning without the teacher. Put me with your article and I am learning interactively without a teacher. You state: "I believe the term "learning object" has become harmful. It hides the same old, bad lecture model behind a sexy buzz phrase. If we're really serious about stimulating learning, then we should think in terms of something like a cognitive catalyst." I WORRY about you if you think 1. that "learning object" is a "sexy buzz phrase". It has been around for some time now and sexy is is NOT and never has been. Also I really worry for you if you think "cognitive catalyst" is sexy! And reading your description of a "cognitive catalyst", to me it is a LO under another name. It would not be the only type of LO but it could be rendered interoperable as one. Would you not want your cc's to be interoperable among different applications and system??? You state: "Content is important -- Taken by itself without the learner and the cognitive process, a "learning object" is the pedagogical equivalent of a sentence fragment. It is only occasionally appropriate and often fails to communicate." Of course, but if you can use your cognitive catalyst on any device using any system isn't that better than one that is only usable in one environment?? Michael thx for your stimulating provocation. Perhaps you could help me. I have been searching for the person or persons who is claiming that LOs work on their own without interactions as we see them above. Do you have a reference? I feel people are creating straw dogs to attack, but maybe there is someone out there, Rory [Comment] [Permalink]



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