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Reusable Learning Objects: What are they and what can they do for you?

By Austin Laird, Distance Learning Administrator, Central Web Support

At this yearís WebCT Users Conference, I attended several presentations on reusable learning objects (RLOs) in the online learning environment. RLOs have been a hot topic for some time but the conversation has only recently become more focused and defined.

If you Google for RLOs youíll find many different definitions and examples from various universities and companies; while there is a common thread between these definitions, they all are different. In this article, Iíll give a working outline of what RLOs are and point you to some real life examples that you can use almost immediately in your online learning environment (read: WebCT). Granted, Iím no expertóour resident experts on the subject are the folks who are studying this in the School of Library and Information Science and in our Center for Distributed Learningóbut I would like to see the use of RLOs here at UNT become more prevalent and perhaps this article will be a catalyst for some of you to create your own RLOs.

What IS an RLO?

For the sake of brevity I am glossing over the background and foundation that RLOs are built on, but keep in mind that RLOs are a part of the bigger goal of interoperability and reusability of learning materials (based on IMS, SCORM, AICC, etc; using XML,SOAP, etc). Basically, an RLO is any piece or collection of content that can be used in a course. An RLO can be as simple as an html file, a PowerPoint presentation or a Flash demonstration. These smaller items can be put together to build a larger RLO such as a learning module, quiz or some other larger piece of content. Generally though, an RLO as I am talking about is digital, small and portable.

A reusable learning object should be sharable and practical for use in multiple courses across several disciplines, and it should have a pedagogical goal. You should be able to track and identify the content and integrate it into your Course Management System fairly easily. These simple ideas become complex problems for content developers. I attended a great presentation given by Zoe Salloom from Georgia State University (GSU) who discussed just how GSU is meeting the challenge of creating RLOs with and for their faculty. One way they are developing RLOs is by creating templates that can be easily populated with course specific content and used in various ways in the online classroom. For instance, they have setup a series of games, like Jeopardy, where the faculty member simply inputs the questions and answers and the game is built for them that they can then place in a WebCT class or even use in a face to face class. The games are great study guides and test preparation tools that are also fun for the students. This type of RLO is a little bit different in that you can share the content with others but you can also just share the tool to deliver the content.

GSU also presented some of the other RLOs they have been developing, including an amazing flash animation of the inner-working of a muscle. As they get permission from each designer, GSU is posting their learning objects for all to use in their learning object repository they are building. There are also other such repositories out there, such as MERLOT.org and learning-objects.net.

Get your own RLOs

I encourage you to visit these sites and download  RLOs for your own courses. You will discover a large network of instructors and instructional designers like yourself and will be able to contribute your own work to the growing number of shared reusable learning objects.