A learning object is "a collection of content items, practice items, and assessment items that are combined based on a single learning objective" . The term is credited to Wayne Hogins when he created a working group in 1994 bearing the name  though the concept was first described by Gerard in 1967 . Learning objects go by many names, including content objects, chunks, educational objects, information objects, intelligent objects, knowledge bits, knowledge objects, learning components, media objects, reusable curriculum components, nuggets, reusable information objects, reusable learning objects, testable reusable units of cognition, training components, and units of learning.
Learning objects offer a new conceptualization of the learning process: rather than the traditional "several hour chunk", they provide smaller, self-contained, re-usable units of learning.
They will typically have a number of different components, which range from descriptive data to information about rights and educational level. At their core, however, will be instructional content, practice, and assessment. A key issue is the use of metadata.
Learning object design raises issues of portability, and of the object's relation to a broader learning management system.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) defines a learning object as "any entity, digital or non-digital, that may be used for learning, education or training".
Chiappe defined Learning Objects as: "A digital self-contained and reusable entity, with a clear educational purpose, with at least three internal and editable components: content, learning activities and elements of context. The learning objects must have an external structure of information to facilitate their identification, storage and retrieval: the metadata."
The following definitions focus on the relation between learning object and digital media. RLO-CETL, a British inter-university Learning Objects Center, defines "reusable learning objects" as "web-based interactive chunks of e-learning designed to explain a stand-alone learning objective". Daniel Rehak and Robin Mason define it as "a digitized entity which can be used, reused or referenced during technology supported learning".
Adapting a definition from the Wisconsin Online Resource Center, Robert J. Beck suggests that learning objects have the following key characteristics:
- Learning objects are a new way of thinking about learning content. Traditionally, content comes in a several hour chunk. Learning objects are much smaller units of learning, typically ranging from 2 minutes to 15 minutes.
- Are self-contained – each learning object can be taken independently
- Are reusable – a single learning object may be used in multiple contexts for multiple purposes
- Can be aggregated – learning objects can be grouped into larger collections of content, including traditional course structures
- Are tagged with metadata – every learning object has descriptive information allowing it to be easily found by a search
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