Comment & Analysis: Why Context Is King

Scott Wilson, CETIS, Sept 19, 2001
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Nice commentary about the nature of learning objects. According to several presenters at the IMS conference in Ottawa last Ausust, "The informational content of the learning experience only gains meaning from the environment in which it is presented; for example, the purpose of the learner, their physical environment when interacting with the content, and the values of the community of which the learner is a part." Fair enough, but then, the argument runs, for something to be a learning object, it must incorporate both information and context, or as Norm Friesen says, "it must have a specified pedagogical purpose." I'm not sure I agree with that. To be sure, when an object is used, it must be used in a learning context with a specified purpose. But it does not follow that the object itself is not separable into its component (pedagogical and informational) parts. And there are good reasons why we want to be able to separate them: we want to use a single piece of information in several contexts, for example. So we need to be careful: if learning object metadata 'locks in' a specific pedagogical purpose, then we will find ourselves needlessly replicating informational content, or failing to find relevant informational content coded for a slightly different pedagogical purpose.
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