Critique of Learning Objects - Block 2, Activity 6

In this post we’ve been asked to comment on one of three critiques of learning objects.

First, a confession

I have a dumb feeling that I should know what a learning object is in a previous activity and to be honest, I saw some mention of the term, but sort of glossed over it.

So a ‘Learning Object’

Something like a lego piece but made or constructed specifically with e-learning in mind. In principle it is de-contextualised, but has enough features to allow it to ‘slot’ into any learning context and/or paradigm. Like lego pieces, you could theoretically slot different modules together to configure (in principle) any number of courses. This makes the promise of ‘Open Education’ seem to be almost inevitable.

Trouble in Paradise?

The main jist of the critiques from all three parties seems to be that no-one has a real handle on what a Learning Object is. I will focus on the specifics that  Norman Friesen makes. 

Firstly, the strong points that the ‘strength’ of the ‘Learning Object’, neutral and decontextualised; is also its primary weakness. In order to be able to slot modular wise in with any other learning object, it eventually becomes meaningless. This is perhaps because, as Friesen points out, the terminology most likely came from the programming environment of ‘object oriented’ programming (such as C++, or Java). Having respositories of tool sets (‘objects) that can be quickly thrown with other tool sets to build a brand new programme. 

Friesen also feels that it is hard to have a robust definition of ‘e-learning’ whilst maintaining the very flexibility that is the learning objects hall mark. In principle this is because the learning object is supposed to strive for neutrality which, in Friesen’s point of view (I happen to agree), is the antithesis of learning, which tries to impart a way of seeing the world, or understanding it. None of this is ever ‘neutral’ or ‘objective’.

Finally, Friesen feels strongly that the e-Learning paradigm that tries to adopt the modularised ‘learning object’ approach to course construction, is actually a specifically identified pedagogical discourse from the military. Three characteristics of military pedagogy are:

  • technological innovation
  • command & control
  • systems thinking

In other words, that learning objects and the philosophy behind it, might yield impressive results in a strongly hierarchical and standardised military organisation, it will not work for more open ended public civil education where creativity and lack of uniformity are often encouraged and lauded (Einstein wasn’t exactly honoured for his aproach to maintaining the scientific status quo).

I found this activity very stimulating, ie I liked the idea that scholars in eLearning are actively ferreting out apparent dead end alleys.

Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.  -Will Durant