The Reusability Paradox

David Wiley, The Reusability, Collaboration, Learning Troupe at Utah State University, Mar 03, 2003
Commentary by Stephen Downes

This odd article, apparently written by David Wiley (but just as apparently credited to the The Reusability, Collaboration, and Learning Troupe at Utah State University) is intended to cast doubt on the usefulness of small (and thus more resuable) objects: "the more reusable a learning object is, the harder its use is to automate. Identically, the less reusable a learning object is, the easier its use is to automate." Why? Because "The internal context of a small object constrains the number of external contexts into which it could fit much less than the internal context of a large object does." In other words, a small object simply doesn't contain enough information to indicate where the object might be useful. On the other hand, while a larger learning object may contain a great deal of information relevant to its potential use, this very fact limits the number of places it can be used. All true, but this argument depends on a limited understanding of what can be known about an object, large or small. The authors are seriously misled by their characterization of internal and external context; there is no such thing as an internal context, and so the only contextual information to be had about an object is external. So I wouldn't give up on the project just yet; there is much more that could be said about context, objects and reuse.
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