What is learning content?

One of our key findings from Mosaic is that almost anything can be learning content. Yes learning objects are great if they exist, but  in many subjects they don’t, or if they do in about the right quantities to make up about 30 mins of learning.  For our Ancestral Voices course we used about 3 items that the creators would have classified as learning objects, but managed to create a 100 study hours course out of approximately 200 items of pre-existing high quality content from a variety of sources including:

  • Academic articles
  • Media articles (BBC etc)
  • Pod casts
  • Fully online courses
  • Online textbooks
  • Assets – Images/diagrams/maps etc
  • Databases (especially archaeological ones)
  • Sites developed by enthusiasts
  • Academic sites (departmental and individual)
  • Academic project sites
  • Museum sites
  • Blogs

These were not in repositories, usually had no special meta data, but they were discoverable through informed browsing and Google searches. While some of these map very closely onto the sort of content used in teaching and learning for decades, whether online or face to face, many do not.  However what is clear is that, if correctly scaffolded by the course, any content can be learning content.  Many of the discussions currently underway on developing repositories and standards, or more generally on approaches to sharing OERs in the future, work on the assumptions that learning content needs separate considerations , extra metadata and unique locations, something our experience contradicts (see previous posts about this).

Work on discovering, representing and sharing learning designs in particular suggests this is a complex field, and also a very personal one – there is no metadata schema, or standard or representation which can encapsulate the particular value of a particular learning design or item of content to all comers.  Where the value of these lies is individually derived and context specific (See the Mod4L report  for a discussion of this space in relation to learning design in particular).  Thus while improvements to standards and metadata, and development of specialised repositories are not in themselves negative, it seems likely that any benefit accrued by these undertakings is outweighed by the barriers to sharing and discoverability imposed by the extra complexity.  Note that it has been frequently observed that one of the main barriers to academics sharing is not intent (in theory they are happy to do so) but rather the complexity of the actual practice (they are not sure how to, where, don’t have time to consider metadata).  Materials openly available on the web are already found and used (legitimately or not) all the time, tapping into these existing locations and networks, seems more likely to lead to success then additional infrastructure.

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