Three Objections to Learning Objects

I was actually on my way to bed last night when I discovered someone (Mike) had started a Learning Object entry in the German Wikipedia (Lernobjekt). As his source he gave a studen't term paper on LOs, repeating all the rubbish that is published about LOs.

LOs are just what compter scientists think learning is all about, because their extremely narrow view of the Real World (tm) consists of just seeing technology, not human beings. Learning is percieved as being the consumption of digital tidbits, preferably sugar-coated ones. There is almost no understanding of the didactics and pedagogy that take place in a learning situation, or that learning is quite different in primary, secondary, teriary, and continuing education. For all the nonsense written about it, there is now way to specify mathematically who a learner is or how she learns or what she needs to know. Luckily - we are, actually, human beings and not bots.

So at midnight I changed all the "is" verbs to "is said to be", added some doubt and one reference, and then started in this morning bright and early looking in earnest for more references. I found Brian Lamb's "Oh No! Yet Another Learning Objects Presentation" which links to Norm Friesen's "Three Objections to Learning Objects".

This is a wonderful paper, published in the non-virtual world at McGreal, R. (Ed.). 2004. Online Education Using Learning Objects. London: Routledge. Pp. 59-70. It includes many good quotes from other obscure but dead-on right papers. Let me summarize his objections:

Objection 1: What's a learning object, anyway?

He is so right - if you collect up all the definitions of LOs and put them together, you get everything but the kitchen sink, kind of like EMACS.

Objection 2: Where is the Learning in E-Learning Standards?

My usual crack is that standards are so important because there are so many of them. Not everyone gets the joke. I had a thesis student try and use SCORM to export eLearning material from one learning management system and then import it to another one, both purportedly SCORM compliant. She failed, although her efforts were valiant. I did not tell her that I didn't think it would work. I wanted to see someone who believes that this will work because it is a standard, after all, test it. It could just be cranky me that thinks that SCORM is useless. Of course, maybe she missed just the right place to set a check or she was holding her tongue wrong. But if someone who has studied computer science successfully is not able to make it jump through hoops, how is the social studies teacher going to make out?

Objection 3: Education in a Militarized Zone?

Learning objects and e-learning standardization bear the imprint of the ideology and culture of the American military-industrial complex" - this is exactly a feminist objection to a lot of what passes for science in computing. Here we have "learning" being reduced to learning the one true correct way of pulling the trigger, if you will. A soldier is trained to be interchangable, to follow orders without thinking. Education, on the other hand, is supposed to traing people to think critically. Okay, maybe I am old-fashioned, but I want people to learn to sift the evidence and think for themselves, that is the point of what I do.

I love Plutarch's description of education:

"We must encourage [each other] - once we have grasped the basic points - to interconnecting everything else on our own, to use memory to guide our original thinking, and to accept what someone else says as a starting point, a seed to be nourished and grow. For the correct analogy for the mind is not a vessel that needs filling but wood that needs igniting - no more - and then it motivates one towards originality and instills the desire for truth. Suppose someone were to go and ask his neighbors for fire and find a substantial blaze there, and just stay there continually warming himself: that is no different from someone who goes to someone else to get to some of his rationality, and fails to realize that he ought to ignite his own flame, his own intellect, but is happy to sit entranced by the lecture, and the words trigger only associative thinking and bring, as it were, only a flush to his cheeks and a glow to his limbs; but he has not dispelled or dispersed, in the warm light of philosophy, the internal dank gloom of his mind ."

Thanks for the paper, Norm. I shall quote it all of next week at the GMW2005 conference. Maybe I will print out copies to hand out. I am planning on attending all the Learning Objects sessions and asking each speaker if they have empirical evidence of their claims of reuse and lower costs and better education. What a bitch I am!

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