Knowledge Objects are not Learning Objects: Characteristics of Learning Objects

BTW, thanks, Yan, you really made me think hard! :)

Yan Simard asked me a few questions related to my previous post.

As I was writing I though it was worth to put is as a post rather than a comment.

My answers are:

  • Yes, I think that Google is maybe the best search tool, and maybe it can also become the best learning object search tool. But no, I don’t think that www/Google is still the world’s most efficient learning object repository/search tool.
  • And yes, I think there’s a need to gather/describe Learning Objects in a repository just because learning objects do significantly differ in their essence from what you can find browsing the web.

I guess the heart of it all lays just in that last statement: not everything having information is a learning object, and usually, not even a knowledge object.

We can think of a word processor handbook, a word processor tutorial and a the materials of a course on how to use a word processor.

The first one is just information: this word processor can do this and that.
The second one has experience in it: these are ways to use your word processor. You could call it a knowledge object.
The third one pretends to be a knowledge transferrer: learn how to use your word processor so you can use it on your own. It is a learning object.

If we believe that these three objects are different, then Google, that will find everything without discriminating, is not a LO repository (maybe Google Scholar might become sort of it ;)

I you search the web for Learning Objects Characteristics you’d find, mainly, technical characteristics (reusability, number of elements, type of object, etc.). But their aim is not technical but a matter of concept. The Learning Objects Characteristics under a conceptual point of view could be (list not complete ;) :

  • pedagogical goals
  • target of the course
  • methodology
  • categories/subjects
  • syllabus
  • length
  • teaching load
  • schedule/calendar
  • authoring
  • mentoring/teaching
  • evaluation
  • metadata
  • standards

Not everything in the WWW has these characteristics but everything in a Learning Objects repository should.
And, if you understand these characteristics (technical and conceptual) as fields, then you have a potential database, thus a LO repository, whose main feature is intelligent queries. Google is good, but it is not yet that intelligent :)

Nevertheless, it is absolutely true that “if you look at various learning object repositories, you will find that when yo do a search you get a lot of worthless results” and that some “learning objects don’t significantly differ in their essence from what you can find browsing the web”, but I think this is not the object’s fault, but the author’s, a human error, somebody thinking what he did is a learning object and it is not.

I also agree with you that “the learning object concept is an answer looking for a question and that question has yet to be found” but there’re lots of good approximations to the correct answer :)


If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2005) “Knowledge Objects are not Learning Objects: Characteristics of Learning Objects” In ICTlogy, #16, January 2005. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from

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2 Comments to “Knowledge Objects are not Learning Objects: Characteristics of Learning Objects” »

  1. I agree with the additional caracteristics you are adding to the concept. The only problem is that there is a lack of agreement on it. The only repositories that I know that fulfill the promise of reutilization are being operated and used within the limits of a single organization. This way, an organization can establish its own definition of LO that can even go as far as specifying the background colors or the font employed in addition to pedagogical and technical aspects. The description of LO is useful in that context because the quality and the format are controlled and the human factor that you mentionned can be controlled as well.

    Now if we take such a private repository and try to reuse it within a different organization, we might end up with less good results from the fact that the needs are not necessarily the same. Using, describing and retrieving LO are very contextual experiences. Unified descriptions seem particularly weak at being reused. I believe that descriptions of LO are paradoxically the less reusable aspect of LO ;-)

  2. I totally agree with you :)

    That’s because I said that the biggest problem of it all was due to human error, in the sense that we’ve yet to agree in one and only LO definition, characteristics, etc.


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