Learning objects

Look closely at this post’s title: a phrase, or a sentence?

I freely confess I haven’t much patience with SCORM and the relentlessly hierarchical, content management frame of mind. I feel about these things much as I used to about the Novell network at a former job. I recognized at once it was messy, complicated, and not something I wanted to have expertise in. I adopted as my mantra, “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout linkin’ no lans.”

I certainly agree that information and resources have the potential to affect many different situations. In practice, however, I’ve seen learning objects treated much more like objects than like learning.

falling_objects1.jpgOne project I worked on dealt with EEO procedures in a federal agency. As we developed online courses, SCORM orthodoxy required that no lesson referred to anything covered in another lesson. The rationale was that the “learning objects” could be “repurposed,” which is like being reused but costs a lot more.

In other words, another agency in theory could take these objects and string them electronically into its own EEO procedure course. And apparently they’d do that oh so efficiently because of the content management and whatnot.

Here on Earth, what would really happen is that some human being would rewrite the examples, changing a case study from an immigration officer to a wage-hour investigator. All the other content — charts, steps, procedures, topic and lesson structure — would be identical to the original course, because the procedure was identical across agencies.

All the learning object packaging, all the SCORM manifests, were simply a top-down approach to warehousing information, apparently with the idea that the photo used to illustrate an employee making a claim could someday reappear in a completely different context.

Photo by privatenobby / LLewleyn Williams a.k.a. SCUD.

2 thoughts on “Learning objects

  1. yeah, i think one of the dangers of working with SCORM — at least the way SCORM developers *want* you to work with it — is that you spend way too much time focusing on the technology end of your elearning course and not on the content and instructional value.

    the best courses are highly customized… SCORM’s ‘repurposing’ ideals are commendable, but usually lead to somewhat generic courses.

    Also (as far as I know), SCORM doesn’t address stylistic and file format differences between SCOs; what if one was designed with a bright blue HTML/CSS scheme while the other uses Captivate with a deep red scheme? The visual and functional disconnect would certainly have a negative affect on the course’s effectiveness. To my knowledge, SCORM doesn’t address this issue except to say “make your stuff as boring and plain as possible.”

    Because of all this, I only use SCORM to handle course communication issues (ensuring portability between LMSs) and don’t worry about reusability with other SCOs.

  2. Philip, thanks for being a voice of reason. (I do rant recreationally at times.)

    I have no problem with portability between LMSs, as far as it goes; that’s just packaging.

    You’re certainly right about the stylistic differences, let alone the technological ones — and often clients in their first efforts have a hard time picturing how all the storyboards and assets add up to a course. So it’s sometimes hard to communicate the value of graphics (illustrations, text with graphic elements) that are integrated into an overall design scheme.

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