What is a Learning Object?
The New Media Consortium (NMC), has adopted the following definition of Learning Object as part of its Learning Object Initiative:
"A learning object is any grouping of materials that is structured in a meaningful way and is tied to an educational objective (Johnson, 2003). The materials in a learning object can be documents, pictures, simulations, movies, sounds, and so on."
Although the notion was not contained in the original definition, learning objects are now thought of as being primarily digital, with the ability to be delivered or accessed over the internet or through a network.
Rachel Smith further defines a digital learning object:
"A digital learning object consists of content and an interface. The content is made up of assets, which are the materials or "blocks" that make up the learning object: images, text passages, videos, etc. The interface is the part of the learning object with which the user interacts. It includes the graphic design, navigational elements, and other controls that the user sees. An interface may be as simple as a single web page that presents text and images, or as complicated as a screenful of controls to set the parameters of a simulated chemistry experiment." (Rachel Smith, Guidelines for Authors of Learning Objects, NMC: The New Media Consortium, 2004, pp. 1-2)
Another important feature of learning objects is the notion of metadata, information included with a learning object that helps search engines and online repositories find learning objects related to a specific topic or field.
"Learning objects, especially digital learning objects, can also include metadata, which is information about the learning object itself (as opposed to the information in the learning object that is part of the learning experience). Including metadata with a learning object is useful because that is how search engines and online repositories like the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT, www.merlot.org) locate and identify learning objects. Metadata is like a wrapper that specifies details such as the general subject area and educational level(s) for which the learning object is most appropriate, the copyright and use terms, the author and his or her affiliations, technical compatibility details, etc." (Rachel Smith, Guidelines for Authors of Learning Objects, NMC: The New Media Consortium, 2004, p. 2)
Consult the links below for further information on learning objects:Guidelines for Authors of Learning Objects
An excellent overall introduction to Learning Objects to start with.
Learning Object Repositories, from New Media Consortium
A good list of Learning Object repositories.