What Is A Learning Object And Why Does It Matter?

using the learning object as building block of learning programs

A learning object is the unit of measure for learning programs. Every learning professional needs to grasp this concept if they ever hope to create measurable learning programs. This is a simple concept but one many L&D pros struggle with.

Back in 1959, Donald Kirkpatrick introduced his learning measurement levels (Reaction, Learning, Behavior, and Results).  These levels were a good benchmark for where learning can be measured for success as it progresses within the organization.  A learning object is a set of learning components that combine together to create a learning competency (a knowledge, skill, or attitude change).  Learning objects can be measured at any stage in the impact process.  They can be measured to determine the current state of the competency, learning in the classroom, and application on the job.

Our Measurable Instructional Design certification teaches instructional designers how to design with business outcomes in mind. Outcomes are tied to the learning object. A learning object is a three-legged stool comprised of the targeted objective, its evaluation, and its instructional method.

Objective + Evaluation + Instructional Method = Learning Object

In essence, the learning object represents design decisions.  It shows the design decisions on where we plan to go, how we plan to get there, and how we will know if we got there. Consider how these three things work together to create an outcome.

  1. Objective. This describes where you are going. It defines what a student needs to do, how they need to do it (the conditions of performance), and the level which the student needs to do the task (criteria for success).
  2. Evaluation. Evaluations measure at what level you achieved the performance required. If you achieved the criteria of the objective.
  3. Instructional Method. This describes what learning method was used to achieve the performance.

The combined result of these three things determines the outcome of a learning program. Change any one of these three areas and you’ll have a different outcome.  Therefore, you must measure the performance of these components together to understand HOW the results were achieved.

Learning Objects Are The First Step to Measurable Learning

Measuring the performance of the learning object is the only way you can actually measure if learning programs are effective.  In short, they represent the science of instructional design.

It is the only way you can establish clarity around outcomes as you work with managers and other stakeholders during the learning application phase (applying the skills learned on the job).

It is this formula—objective + evaluation + instructional method = learning object—that removes the guess work from learning program outcomes.

Understanding how a learning program creates change in employees, then being able to measure that change, is foundational for improving business outcomes.

Learning objects can be tracked as students acquire learning and then deploy that learning in an organization. Exams (evaluations) measure if the student learned what they were supposed to and then applied that learning while on the job. Learning objects give you clear, defined targets that make measurement possible.

To sum it up yet another way, learning objects provide a standard of performance (objective), show how we achieve results (instructional methods), and then allow us to test achievement (evaluation) of the standard of performance.  When a learning object is successful, the objective of that learning object is achieved.

At eParamus, our Measurable Instructional Design certification teaches people the basic structure of instructional design. You’ll learn how to create learning objects that result in measurable learning. Want to learn more? Contact us here at eParamus.

Please follow eParamus on LinkedIn and feel free to connect with me, Laura Paramoure, PhD to discuss the learning challenges you face.

Photo copyright: stockbroker / 123RF Stock Photo


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