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The Evolution of Learning Object Repository

The Evolution of Learning Object Repository

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Published by: nemra1 on May 19, 2011
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JOURNAL OF DISTANCE EDUCATIONREVUE DE L’ÉDUCATION À DISTANCE, 2002VOL. 17, No 3, TL•NCE SPECIAL EDITION/ÉDITION SPÉCIALE RCE•TA, 67-79
The Evolution of Learning Object RepositoryTechnologies: Portals for On-line Objectsfor Learning
Griff Richards, Rory McGreal,Marek Hatala, and Norm Friesen 
Abstract
Learning objects are the digital files that are used to construct e-learning experi-ences, and repositories provide mechanisms to encourage their discovery, ex-change, and reuse. Portals for On-line Objects in Learning (POOL) is a consortiumproject of the TeleLearning NCE to build a learning object repository scalable to thenational level. Funded in part by the CANARIE Learning Program, POOL effortshave resulted in the development of two focal technologies: POOL, POND andSPLASH, a distributed architecture for a peer-to-peer network of learning objectrepositories; and CanCore, a practical metadata protocol for cataloguing learningobjects. The authors conjecture that the technology of learning objects andrepositories is in an early phase of development and that significant evolution canbe expected as user communities form, protocols emerge for the functional linkingof these structures, and the underlying technology becomes less visible.
Résumé
Les objets d’apprentissage sont les fichiers numériques utilisés pour construire desexpériences de
e-learning
et les banques dobjets fournissent des mécanismes pourfavoriser la découverte, l’échange et la réutilisation de ces objets. Les portails pourles objets d’apprentissage en ligne –
Portals for On-line Objects in Learning
(POOL),est un projet de consortium du RCE-téléapprentissage ayant pour but deconstruire, sur le plan national, une banque dobjets d’apprentissage adaptablesautant pour les grands que les petits nombres d’utilisateurs. Financé en partie parle programme Canarie, les efforts de POOL ont donné comme résultat le dévelop-pement de deux technologies importantes: POOL POND et SPLASH. Il s’agit d’unearchitecture distribuée pour un réseau de pair à pair de banques d’objets d’appren-tissage ainsi que d’un protocole pratique de méta données pour référencer lesobjets d’apprentissage (CanCore). Les auteurs pensent que la technologie desobjets d’apprentissage et des banques d’objets d’apprentissage est dans une toutepremière phase de développement et que l’on peut s’attendre à une évolutionimportante au fur et à mesure que des communautés se forment, que des proto-coles émergent pour la liaison fonctionnelle de ces structures et que la technologiesous-jacente devient plus transparente.
 
Overview 
During the seven years of the TeleLearning NCE, the use of Web tech-nologies for on-line learning has found widespread adoption. Learnersand instructors find the Web a convenient medium for educational andadministrative transactions and have spurred an unprecedented invest-ment in time and resources in the creation of materials and network infrastructure for distance and augmented learning. Digital learning ob- jects are the computer files that store graphics, lessons, animations, andother computer-mediated activities that constitute the content and processactivities of on-line learning. As knowledge assets in an e-learningeconomy, they represent an ever-increasing store of intellectual propertyand educational capability. Although many learning objects could be re-used in different instructional contexts, much of this investment is used forhighly specific audiences and remains unknown beyond the immediatecreators and consumers.Repositories are built on database technology, but seek to go beyondsimple warehousing to provide mechanisms to encourage the discovery,exchange, and reuse of learning objects. This article describes the evolu-tion of Portals for On-line Objects in Learning (POOL), a consortiumproject of the TeleLearning NCE, and chronicles the lessons learned in ourefforts to build a learning object repository scalable to the national level.Funded in part by the CANARIE Learning Program, POOL has contrib-uted to the development of two enabling technologies: “POOL, PONDand SPLASH,” a distributed architecture for a peer-to-peer network of variously sized learning object repositories; and CanCore, a practicalmetadata protocol for cataloguing learning objects.
Learning Objects: the Building Blocks of E-Learning 
Although their definition varies among authors and organizations, learn-ing objects are essentially the digital files that are used to generate e-learn-ing activities. They include audiovisual media files, Java applets, andinteractive exercises that make up the learner’s experiences. Whether ag-gregated in generic categories or split into groups of 
information objects,instructional objects,
or
reusable learning objects
, digital learning objects arethe basic building blocks of the e-learning experience. There are a numberof detailed introductions to learning objects. Downes (2001) comparesthem to the reusable programming elements of object-oriented computerprogramming. In their Cisco Systems White Paper, Barritt and Lewis(2000) provide an example of a reusable learning object strategy con-strained to a specific instructional model based on Merrill’s componentdisplay theory, and Wylie (2001) compiles a number of interesting articles
68GRIFF RICHARDS, RORY McGREAL, MAREK HATALA,and NORM FRIESEN
 
that examine their pedagogic nature and the implications for higher edu-cation.The promise of digital learning objects lies in reusability. If constructedappropriately, warehoused wisely, and catalogued accurately, a learningobject might find usage beyond its original audience and instructionalcontext. Given the relatively high cost of developing good learning objects,the promise of reusability receives considerable attention from adminis-trators and publishers who are trying to amortize the cost of productionand maximize the potential return for each of these digital investments.Reuse and wider use may also bring greater recognition for the author.For educators the promise of reusability goes beyond the economicargument to encompass notions of quality (Bowden & Marton, 1998) andthe reuse of exemplary teaching strategies in other contexts. The CampusAlberta Repository of Educational Objects (CAREO, (www.careo.org) andMERLOT (www.merlot.org) are Web portals founded partly on thepremise that academic peer review of learning objects can improve thequality of learning objects and enhance the quality of on-line education.Learning objects are posted not just to advertise their availability, but alsoso that others can observe how they are crafted to suit the needs of thelearners, see how they can be adapted into new instructional settings, orhow the instructional strategies might serve as models for other contentareas.Early references to learning objects often oversimplified the notion of their being the building blocks of e-learning: to be combined in manycreative ways to suit the needs of the learners. Although this attractiveanalogy implies that standardization is the key to interoperability, like realbuilding blocks, we can expect learning objects to come in many shapesand sizes and commercial brands that for reasons of functionality, sophis-tication, and competitive marketing will probably not all be compatibleand interlocking. Fortunately, like children, learners will be oblivious of this fact and will integrate them into their learning experiences and usethem in ways unimagined by the original designers and creators.
Learning Object Repositories 
Repositories may be viewed simply as places to put digital objects. Acentral repository would aggregate a collection of objects for a definedcommunity or organization and store them in a single locality. As objectscan vary in number, size, and file type, it is unlikely that a single centralrepository would be able to collect or even physically hold and effectivelyserve all of the available learning objects in any given field (Hamilton,2001). As with libraries, organizations or communities may have a some-thing about everything or everything about something, but having every-thing about everything is unlikely. Thus a decentralized or “distributed”
LEARNING OBJECT REPOSITORY TECHNOLOGIES69

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