Learning through video games in problem-solving approach with handling activities. (Part 1 the Learning Object)

Learning is part of our adaptability. But how to optimize learning effectively and efficiently? Besides the traditional teaching materials such as books or texts, the field of information technology and communications (ITC) is constantly growing and increasingly used as a support for learning. In this area of information technology (IT), video games is a live media and omnipresent contact for a wide audience. Video games are a possible way to include objects of learning to be the link between ITC and user tool for easy learning. It is through the playful elements of a learning object in a video game with handling that ITC will be able to dock at the didactic pedagogical environment.

This research ultimate goal is to contribute to the development of learning activities in the problem-solving approach with the help of video games. The actions will be focused on objects of learning and specifically what is done by a person in solving process problems facing a learning object with handling activities. This first article in a series on the subject present the concept of learning object.

Defining a Learning Object

Learning objects are currently expanding. Several organizations have endorsed this domain of research. It is important to try to establish an overall picture of a learning object with handling activities inspire through a video game. This, in order to analyze the learning objects and design a unified interface in the context of problem-solving approach. My goal is not to determine which definition or structure is the best, but to demonstrate that there is no clear consensus about a definition in the study and research about learning objects. Although there are several specific terms, the learning object can be represented by several synonyms : “educational activity, educational object, learning objects and so on”. As we can see, the learning activity is expressed out in different ways. We will observe that its meaning is also interpreted in different ways. To get out of this mess, we will define another possible way to really identify what the student has to perform in relation to a problem-solving approach: this new avenue is the manipulation activity.

The Definitions of a Learning Object

To begin my research, I started looking for a clear definition of the learning activity. Although this area is booming and many works and researches have been made to standardize the concept, the resulting definitions are imprecise. After a brief analysis of different research groups (IEEE, ARIADNE, IMS, WISC, NLII and others), IT ws observed that no precise statement of the meaning of a learning activity has emerged. A finding of Learning Objects Working Group (NLII) a community of various organizations dedicated to ITC, help us to demonstrate the difficulty of having a clear definition of a learning object.

“This is such an emerging field that, to date, there is still no universal definition of “learning object.” For the purpose of this working group, we have gathered many of the commonly cited definitions, considered them in light of the group’s mission, and selected the one we felt best met the NLII’s needs. As more and more organizations get involved, the definitions will evolve. Please check back with the NLII and other organizations frequently for updates.” [EduCause2016]

Their definition shows us one of the variants of a definition of a learning object.

“Learning Objects Definitions:  Learning objects are modular digital resources that are used to support learning. They include, but are not limited to, simulations, animations, tutorials, text entries, Web sites, bibliographies, audio/video, images, graphs, maps, and assessments. They vary in size, scope, and level of granularity ranging from a small chunk of instruction to a series of resources combined to provide a more complex learning experience.” [EduCause2016]

IEEE is also working on learning objects. The IEEE committee name for this topic is the Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC). This committee’s mission is to develop standards, procedures and manuals to assist in the development, deployment, maintenance and interoperability of components of computerized educational systems. The definition of IEEE for the learning activity is as follows:

“Learning Objects are defined here as any entity, digital or non-digital, which can be used, reused or referenced during technology supported learning.” [IEEE2016]

If we analyze this definition, there is no finite set which really determines what is a learning object. The term “entity” used here to describe the learning activity confuse more because an entity is : “Something that has separate and distinct existence and objective or conceptual reality.” (Merriam-Webster 2016). This definition is therefore difficult to use in practice. Fortunately, LTSC provides a more concrete example to define a learning object:

“Examples of Learning Objects include multimedia content, instructional content, learning objectives, instructional software and software tools, and persons, organizations, or events referenced during technology supported learning.”[IEEE2016]

This example remains vague, but helps us to understand better. Unfortunately, we are still not able to clarify the meaning of a learning object. Let’s continue our research with a final definition.

Wisconsin Online Resource Center (WISC) is another consortium dedicated to learning objects. It is a project of online educational resources pooled by several Wisconsin’s educational institutions. The purpose of this project is to accelerate the development of courses, as well as increasing the quality of courses. This in order to minimize the time and costs related to the development by encouraging the sharing of resources between the different teachers. Learning objects as the WISC are Web oriented, within a defined framework and has small learning plots. They are small and can be included within a course or lesson. Learning objects are flexible, mobile, adaptable and can be used in multiple environments and bridge the various subjects taught [WISC2016]. This definition makes the restriction that a learning activity is Web oriented. So in that sense, an educational software without access to the Internet cannot be a learning object. Although it focuses on a specific set of objects, this definition remains vague and excludes several existing educational tools.

Gilbert Paquette, head of the Interuniversity Research Centre for Innovation and Research on Technology in Education / Learning. (CIRTA), does not speak of learning objects, but in different layers that make up a whole. At the top we find the learning unit which is the basic element. This learning unit is also called “learning events” and is indecomposable and describes a teaching scenario. The lesson plan is defined by a learning scenario for the learner. For the teacher it’s called an assistance scenario. Both scenarios represent the activities for learning and support. Finally, we find the lowest level of educational activity which consists of instructions. These instructions detail two types of activities : the learning activity carried out by the learner and support activities carried out by the teacher [Paquette2002]. This definition is by far the most detailed  from the other presented above.

Of course each organization has its own variant for the definition of learning object. Although they all attempt to shed light on the learning object, they remain undetermined. So there is a visible difficulty in clearly defining a learning object. If we cannot clearly define a learning object maybe can we describe how it is structured.

The Structure of a Learning Object

The structure of a learning object is another aspect that requires a study to define the learning object itself. Unfortunately, the problem is redundant. While many groups and projects use learning objects, their structure is unique to the working group that designed it. These groups try to integrate between them their learning object structure, in order to exchange knowledge, but as there is no consensus on a precise definition of the learning object, their structure remains also tinged by their vision and is therefore difficult to integrate. This structure could be a multiple choice questionnaire (MCQ), a questionnaire with development questions, collections of exercises with and without answer or any other teaching material print or Web base existing or to be. Another aspect of this problem is that these groups have developed their own learning objects structure in isolation. One of the advantages of this choice was to facilitate the monitoring of experiments, to ensure a high quality product and content that have consistency between learning objects made in the same workgroup. Unfortunately, the disadvantage is that there is no real consensus on the structure of a learning object.

An example of these existing structures is the Cisco Reusable Learning Object (RLO) \ Reusable Information Object (RIO) approach structure. RIO is a unit that can be combined with many other RIO to form a structure called RLO. Inside an RLO we have an overview, a summary, an evaluation and (7 ± 2) RIO that is following the theory of George A. Miller. The RIO is contained within an RLO.


Figure 1: RLO ( Reusable Learning Object ) of Cisco [Cisco1999]

A RLO is based on one objective dedicated to a specific activity. So each RIO is built on an objective that supports the overall objective of the RLO. Within the RIO we find three items namely: content items, practice items and assessment items.


Figure 2: RIO (Reusable Information Object) de Cisco [Cisco1999]

Each RIO is built according to a single goal. This approach tends to favour the “know-how” more than other knowledge. This structure meets all centred approach to teaching objectives. In parallel this structure harmonizes with the different objectives of the current educational teaching program for high schools in Quebec that will be discussed later in this series. [Cisco1999]

Even though Cisco’s approach is focused on the objectives, other theories are based on a competency context path as predetermined in the Québec education program for the high schools cycle.

Even if it is difficult to have a clear consensus on the structure of a learning object, the indexing structure is standardized. This is the result of the work of the IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC) that led to the standard WG12: Learning Object Metadata (LOM). Several organizations, including the ARIADNE Foundation financially supported by the European Union and the Swiss government. Another organization the IMS Global non-profit organization whose mission is to support the adoption and use of learning technologies through the world, worked with the IEEE standards. Even though this is not a structure for a learning object, this standard unifies the way of indexing a learning object.

Here is an example of an indexing structure for a learning object with the IEEE LOM. This graph shows us the nine main categories: General, Life Cycle, Meta-Metadata, Technical, Educational, Rights, Relation, Annotation and Classification. It is within these categories that the information is grouped together.


Figure 3: Indexation structure of a learning object with IEEE LOM. [IEEE2016]

It is important to note that the information in the different categories is not static and that repetition is permitted. A notable point is that because the entrance to this information related to a learning activity and the terms that will be used are at the discretion of its creators, I ask the question: Are the impressive amount of information fields to register are to compensate for a lack of information related to an apprehension of possible un-interest of learning object creators? Another problem raised by Yolaine Bourda is : With a combination of indexing techniques used by librarians, she highlighted the fact that indexing does not consist of the whole book but on each chapter and on each of his paragraphs [17]. This in my view, delegated the responsibility for the proper functioning of reuse in this system, to the creators of learning objects.

A clear description of learning objects remains elusive. On the side of its structure, it remains disparate and specific to the working group that developed it. The standardization of indexing of learning objects using the LOM standard is a positive point that will surely be the root of future research on learning objects.


  1. [IEEE2016] IEEE; 2016; Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC), Systems Interoperability in Education and Training; http://ltsc.ieee.org/wg12
  1. [WISC2016] WISC, ( Wisconsin Online Resource Center ); 2016; http://www.wisc-online.com
  1. [Bourda2001] Bourda, Yolaine ; 2001; Supélec, Plateau de Moulon, Cahiers GUTenberg no 3940; p71- 79; http://www.gutenberg.eu.org/pub/GUTenberg/publicationsPDF/39-bourda.pdf
  1. [Cisco1999] Cisco; 1999; Systems Reusable Information Object Strategy Definition, Creation Overview, and Guidelines, Version 3.0;
  1. [EduCause2016] Educase; 2016; NLII ( National Learning Infrastructure Initiative ); http://www.educause.edu/eli
  1. [Paquette2002] Paquette, Gilbert; 2002, l’ingénierie pédagogique, Pour construire l’apprentissage en réseau, Presses de l’Université du Québec

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