Learning Objects to Support Inquiry-Based, Online Learning
Chandra Hawley Orrill
The current move toward reusable, easy to build tools for supporting information acquisition in learning environments (Downes, 2000; Merrill & Group, 1998; Myers, 1999) is an important one for further consideration. While there are undoubtedly advantages to the development of these learning objects, we have, as a field, overlooked the most important aspect of the tools – how they support student learning. The discussion on learning objects thus far has focused largely on their design and technical development (e.g., LTSC, 2000). The purpose of this chapter is to describe one potential use of learning objects – as support tools in a project-based action learning environment. This environment depends on student immersion in real-world problems with scaffoldings of various kinds to support their inquiry (Jonassen, 1999). Further, and perhaps most critically, it includes social interaction among peers (e.g., Duffy & Cunningham, 1996; Jonassen, 1999; Savery & Duffy, 1995). “The process of using technology to improve learning is never solely a technical matter, concerned only with properties of hardware and software. Like a textbook or any other cultural object, technology resources for education – whether a software science simulation or an interactive reading exercise – function in a social environment, mediated by learning conversations with peers and teachers” (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999, p. 218).
As conceptualized by the ID2 group (e.g., Merrill, 1999; Merrill, 1998; Merrill, Jones, & Li, 1996), learning objects offer ease of development, a high degree of interchangeability, and a higher degree of individualized learning than traditional group-focused instructional interventions. However, these objects grow out of and exemplify a strong information processing foundation (Driscoll, 1994). After all, used as standalone teaching agents, they rely exclusively on the notion that information – which, in this belief system is synonymous with “knowledge” (Mayer, 1999) – is a commodity that can be transferred from the computer to the student. Once the student has seen the information and studied the information, she will be able to pass the test on that information. And, presumably, once the student has processed the information, she will be able to use it as part of a larger knowledge base. In the current conception, there is also a strong leaning toward the notion that people should learn small amounts of discrete information at one time and slowly build a network of these information chunks. For instance, an object may teach a single process or idea. Once that content is mastered, the student will move on to the next process or idea. Each object is discrete and separate from the next. In the end, however, the student is expected to tie these discrete pieces together in order to understand larger ideas. In this additive approach to education, it would be assumed that if a learner were to study maps of each region of the world independently, that learner would eventually be able to create a representation of the entire world. Finally, there is a strong emphasis in the common conception of learning objects on the traditional “presentation, practice, feedback” model that is regarded as an exceptional tool in helping deliver information to students. That is, the learning object presents the information, provides the student with an infinite amount of practice, and provides a test that allows the computer to provide feedback. This harkens back to the view that because computers are infinitely patient, the student is free to work on the material for as long as necessary, and, if she fails to master the content, she will be able to revisit the learning object. Of course, it does not embrace, or even acknowledge, the notion that the...