What Are Learning Objects?

This resource explains what learning objects are and how they may be used in a learning event. It also explains the purpose of the learning design.

A learning object (LO) is a digital, open educational resource that is created to assist in a learning event. Learning and reusability reside at its core. Each learning object will have a learning design.

Why Use Learning Objects

LOs are often used in teaching of troublesome concepts or to illustrate content and engage learners. Educators use learning objects for a variety of reasons. Learning objects can:

  1. help address a learning objective.
  2. assist learners to solve problems or explore subject areas in different ways. This allows learners with different learning styles to explore different paths to a solution, enhancing the learning experience for all.
  3. allow educators to give learners access to materials they may otherwise not physically be able to access.
  4. make a lesson more engaging and interesting.

Using learning objects, and sharing with others, give educators and developers an opportunity to collaborate and engage in a community of practice to enhance learning environments and the craft of teaching.

Use In Learning

There are some arguments that learning objects lack substance, because to enable it to be reusable the context in which it was originally used needs to be minimal. This paradox refers to an object’s granularity. The more granular a learning object is, the more reusable it is in other contexts. The more integrated a learning object is, the less reusable it is in other contexts.

less granular = more context = less reusable (okay)

more granular = less context = more reusable (better)

A learning object without its educative context is meaningless. Whereas a learning object that has a clear and detailed learning design will counter this challenge. The metadata connected to an object that can help provide the context of a learning object.

Learning Design

The learning design is the description of the educational context (where and how) in which the object is used. It may take the form of an learning objective. A learning object may have more than one learning design.


16th Century European Explorers
Source: Linney
Animated map to show the routes of European explorers from Spain, Portugal, France and Britain and their discoveries during the 16th century.
Learning Design:
“To trace the routes of the first European discoveries of North America in the 16th century”.
Object Purpose:
To help learners visualize the European routes used to travel to North America during the 16th century.
An Introduction to MLA Style
Source: Linney
Librarian explains how to cite sources according to the 7th edition of the MLA Handbook in an engaging and personal manner.
Learning Design:
“Demonstrate how to cite sources using the 7th edition of the MLA handbook.”
Object Purpose:
This learning object was part of a series of videos explaining how to use MLA style for learners.
Managing Business Inventory
Source: Linney
A good example of using a visual story to teach material. It takes the lesson and applies it in an entertaining and “real-life” scenario.
Learning Design 1:
“How to organize for inventory control using ABC analysis.”
Learning Design 2:
“How to decide how much to order using economic order quantity analysis.”
Learning Design 3:
“How to decide when to place an order using the two-bin approach.”
Object Purpose:
To give learners an amusing and educational real-life scenario on how to manage inventory for a small business.
Demand vs Price/Quantity
Source: Linney
The Supply and Demand interactive graph tool is a hands-on tool for students to see the immediate effects on demand when supply goes up or down.
Learning Design:
“Students can learn about how the shift in demand of a product or service affects the price and quantity required and vice versa.”
Object Purpose:
To help learners visualize the direct impact of the demand of a product versus the price and quantity of the product.


  • DELT. (2006). Learning Object Repository Report: Draft (April, 2006). Distance Education and Learning Technologies. St. John’s: DELT.
  • Friesen, N. (2009). Open Source Resources in Education: Opportunities and Challenges. Retrieved from http://www.osbr.ca/ojs/index.php/osbr/article/view/911/880.
  • Littlejohn, A. & Buckingham Shum, S. (2003). (Eds.) Reusing Online Resources. (Special Issue) Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2003 (1). Retrieved from wwwjime.open.ac.uk/2003/1/
  • McGreal, R. (2008). A Typology of Learning Object Repositories. In Handbook of Information Technologies for Education and Training 2nd Edition. Adelsberger, Pawlowski and Sampson (editors) Springer: Berlin Heidelberg.
  • Wiley, D. A. (2002). Connecting learning objects to instructional design theory: A definition, a metaphor, and a taxonomy. In D. Wiley (Ed.), The instructional use of learning objects. Bloomington, ID: Agency for Instructional Technology and Association for Communications & Technology. Retrieved from http://www.reusability.org/read/
Resource created by Vanessa M. & Jane C.