Sunday, August 31, 2008

Reusable Learning Objects vs. Reusable Content Objects

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” - Albert Einstein.

Why do I start with such a quote, you may wonder...

Well, I am in a phase where I am trying to understand the advantages and disadvantages of using a Reusable Learning Objects (RLOs) strategy. And at this time, I am focusing more on the disadvantages. (much has been said about the advantages anyway!)

I must admit that in my earlier days of being an instructional designer, I never quite realized the disadvantages of using RLOs. I considered them ID's (SCORM's) gift to mankind! RLOs offered the much-in-demand, customizable, structured training - which could be easily converted from one form to another (irrespective of media) and allowed for standardization, easy update, and quick maintenance! It epitomized the implementation of the concept of 'chunking' and never could I implement info mapping as perfectly as in a RLO.

But all that was until I thought 'content was king'.

But then things changed. For the learning industry and me.
We realized that 'context is king' - and content is freely available to all.

Unfortunately, RLOs don't pack any (or much) context! And that's where the basic flaw exists. Now, the quote by Albert Einstein would probably make some sense. When using a RLO strategy, by design, we are reusing objects (chunks of information) - for different audience - different needs - at different times - and expect different results! (Effective training?) Now, how is that possible?

The concept of Reusability Paradox highlights this flaw. It says - with an increase in pedagogical value, the potential for reuse decreases. Pedagogical value is generated with the help of context. Therefore, the more context you add, the less reusable the learning object will be. However, in true 'learning terms', the less context you have, the less meaningful the object will be.

Additionally, RLOs - by design - are restrictive in the amount of information to be covered for each learning object. The smaller a RLO, the more reusable it is. But the smaller the RLO, the less meaningful it could be too.
So, where does it leave any space for the more constructivist approaches to learning using lengthy, discursive material?

Am not saying, a RLO strategy is good or bad. It has its advantages and many have reaped benefits too. But it also has its limitations. In the ideal case, we use RLO where it fits best. The question to be answered is where does it fit best? Can I teach problem-solving, analytical abilities using a RLO? Or is RLO more suited to procedural, task-based skills? Obviously, one size doesn't fit all.

But on a bolder note, how about calling Reusable Learning Objects as Reusable Content Objects. Why?
Because am questioning whether RLO (strategy) is more of a content organization model...and not a learning model and do RLOs really cause learning...

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