The Fourth Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning (PCF4)
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Permanand Mohan

Where is the Learning in e-Learning? Changing Emphasis from Learning Objects to Learning Designs

Permanand Mohan
The University of the West Indies, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science

Over the past few years, the concept of a reusable learning object has captured the attention of practitioners and researchers in e-Learning everywhere. If learning objects created by others are reused and re-purposed in new instructional scenarios, this could lead to a considerable reduction in the time, effort, and cost taken to produce new content, compared to developing the content from scratch. To harness the potential benefits of learning objects, several international standards have been developed. Numerous research and development projects are also in progress in many parts of the world, both in academia and in industry.

Despite the potential of learning objects, it has been pointed out that an obsession with low unit cost and a disregard for learning effectiveness have resulted in e-learning material that is interoperable but “puerile, boring, and of unknown or doubtful effectiveness”. By continuing to emphasize the technical aspects of creating reusable and interoperable learning objects, the process involved in creating high-quality, effective learning objects based on sound instructional design principles has been largely ignored by researchers and practitioners. So, the question can be asked, “Where is the learning in e-Learning?” Current development efforts with learning objects seem to be driven by available technology and scant attention is paid to the processes and learning activities that make use of the technology to promote learning. It may be argued that it is not the medium of the Internet that leads to learning success, but the pedagogical design used in conjunction with the features of the medium.

This paper discusses the IMS Learning Design (LD) specification as a means of providing a more holistic solution to the problem of creating reusable, interoperable learning resources for instructors and instructional designers. The specification uses a small vocabulary from which different aspects of the learning process together with physical learning objects are incorporated into a more coarse-grained “containing framework” known as a unit of learning or learning design. A learning design allows an instructional designer to model, in a generic, formal way, the individuals who participate in the learning process, the resources and environments used to achieve certain learning objectives, and the sequence(s) of learning activities that should take place. The paper also shows how it is possible for an instructional designer to plan for collaborative learning (a form of constructivism) using technology such as chat, Wikis, blogs, and sometimes, no technology at all.

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