What are Learning Objects and how to create them

We aim in this article to simplify some of the terminology that we use in the elearning community. Specifically, this piece focuses on debunking ‘what are learning objects (LOs) and how are they used?’ in learning technology. We will also discuss and explain ‘content chunking’, including some core tips for creating ‘chunks’.

Tips to create Learning Objects 

To begin, let us explore what learning objects (LOs) actually are. Some practitioners might simply say that they are ‘collections of content items’. elearning industry define them as ‘knowledge packages’. However, there have been many debates about how to define the term. For example, see, Churchill, 2006, who argues that there is a need for an extended discussion on the definition of learning objects (LOs).

Perhaps an exploration of the purposes of LOs might help us to frame what they actually are.

What are the purposes of LOs?

Let us first look at a definition from the Open University (OU), a long-standing innovator and prime-mover in online education. The OU defines a learning object as “small, self-contained digital units of learning [that] can be created that can then be combined, reused or adapted for repeat usage”. So, perhaps the elements to pull out from this are that a LO is a piece of learning content that has to be:

– short;

– stand-alone;

– online; and

– created in a common format.

If an item of content meets this criteria, then (in theory) it should be easy for ‘authors’ and content creators to use it for creating other items of learning content (either with the LO or with other items). Perhaps one of the most important aspects of a LO is the efficiency involved for ‘authors’ or learning-content creators of being able to re-use or re-package existing learning content. The production time-saving can be very considerable.

Additionally and importantly, of course, learning objects should have ‘an educational purpose’ or a learning objective attached to it, as listed in the Text box.

Overview of a Learning Object (LO). A list of components.

LO categorisation process and ‘tagging’

 Accordingly, a LO needs to be categorised or tagged in learning technology systems (such as in, eg, a LCMS, which contain a ‘digital repository’) with the ‘learning objective’ for easy retrieval and manipulation – or re-use, if amending or creating new learning modules.

We are able to illustrate this point with this image taken from the eXact learning LCMS, which shows the functionality this system allows in order to provide full metadata, for easy retrieval from the digital repository.


A screenshot displaying the dashboard from the eXact learning LCMS of Metadata tags available

A screenshot displaying the dashboard from the eXact learning LCMS of Metadata.


Types of learning objects

There are many different types of learning objects. So extensive is the plethora of different LO types that there are a number of online repository collections of learning objects (some of which can be seen and accessed here), which are devoted to diverse educational collections of LOs. It is well worth exploring these to gain an understanding of the variety of LOs available. In addition, this online repository collection has been categorised by subject by Google. There are also many other online lists of links to others, which can be found by searching online.

Content chunking – what is it?

The purpose of Content ‘chunking’ is to meet the fundamental problem of users or learners only being able to retain a certain amount of information in a certain space of time.  Specifically, Miller, (1956), highlighted the problem that “the span of immediate memory impose severe limitations on the amount of information that we are able to receive, process, and remember”. Hence, Miller suggested that ‘chunking’ information together in a short enough form improves the chances of us being able to absorb and remember certain amounts of information. There have been debates about how many items of information can be retained, but between 5 and 9 have been discussed as the norm. This resonates with the trend for creating ‘bite-size’ content or ‘microlearning. We have written elsewhere about the qualities and benefits of ‘microlearning’. We have also created a Microlearning Infograph as an aide-memoire, for those who would like a brief overview.

Top tips for content chunking

So, if you’re planning to create content that resonates with learners, what are the core tactics that you need to employ?

 – Use ‘chunking’ in planning the content of the course. IE – in mapping out what a course might contain consider breaking up each of the desired topics into smaller manageable ‘chunks’, while planning. This will help you in creating ‘chunks’ that form a structure and overview of how a course, then module, then lessons and smaller sub-topics, and (eventually) screens containing one chunk. You might decide to plan the ‘chunks’ by storyboarding each screen.

 – Keep the learning objective in mind. This can help you prioritize how and when each ‘chunk’ appears in the course.

 – List! A ‘chunk’ comprising a short list of bullets, numbers or any other preferred ordering system can help learners absorb information (and retain interest), much easier than plain text. Does it work for you in the boxed text on LOs above?

 – Sense-check. Does each ‘chunk’ make sense alone, without other bits of information? If not, you can amend/re-purpose, while ensuring you are not exceeding the amount of content that the learner might be able to take in.

 In the context of re-purposing and creating new ‘chunks’. Here is an example of how content ‘chunks’ can be stored and recorded, specifically in the eXact learning LCMS. The digital repository can be fully searched for specific ‘chunks’, to facilitate easy authoring and re-packaging of learning objects.

A screenshot displaying the dashboard from the eXact learning LCMS of 'chunk' usage from a Learning Object.

A screenshot displaying the dashboard from the eXact learning LCMS of ‘chunk’ usage from a Learning Object.

In conclusion

So now, hopefully, you have a better understanding of learning objects and content chunks, and understand how much more productive using sensibly-sized chunks can be, supported by the functionality of a digital repository and authoring tools within one learning technology system.

Let us know if you would like to see a demo of how this can work or if you have ideas about other topics that you would like to see addressed.

To find out more about our award-winning, scalable, Learning Content Management System (LCMS) get in touch for a demo of our project management and workflow functionality, as well as our other ‘all-in-one’ solution features, such as our award-winning authoringdigital repositorydelivery and informal learning suite then get in touch for more information or a free demo.