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Learning Object Standards in Education: Translating Economy into Epistemic Atomism
Linköping University, The Tema Institute, Technology and Social Change. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-7206-2046
2011 (English)In: Science as Culture, ISSN 0950-5431, E-ISSN 1470-1189, Vol. 20, no 4, 513-533 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In the early 2000s a technological standard for modular learning material, so-called Learning Objects (LOs), was developed by a group of organizations and individuals. The vision behind developing this technical standard was to create online courses as a jigsaw of independent ‘off the shelf’ pieces that could be found in a database and assembled as you please. Using a computer program, it would be possible to choose the desired materials and join them into a course. In this standardization process, the chief problem of online education was argued to be high production costs, so LOs were performed as a means to lower these costs by achieving economies of scale. Furthermore a technical method, modularization of LOs, was proposed as a means to achieve this aim. It was argued that modularization would be more efficient if course content was broken into ‘packages’ with small ‘granularity’. The economic purpose was, as Actor–Network Theory would put it, translated into technological design. Additional translations put into play links between modularity/ granularity and the treatment of LOs as ‘atomic’. Atomic LOs were to be self- contained, non-sequential, and contextless digital objects. Lastly, in an extreme argument by one of the key proponents, LOs were performed as being the road to a new atomic science of education. By enacting Learning Objects in this manner, a specific materiality of learning was geared toward what I call ‘epistemic atomism’: the performance of knowledge as discrete and basic entities—as stable reference points which exist ‘out there’, beyond any social contextuality.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2011. Vol. 20, no 4, 513-533 p.
Keyword [en]
standardization, translation, knowledge, atomism, economy, education, Learning Objects
National Category
Sociology Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified Computer and Information Science Pedagogy
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-53612DOI: 10.1080/09505431.2011.605923ISI: 000299214300006OAI: diva2:290193
Available from: 2010-01-26 Created: 2010-01-26 Last updated: 2014-10-08
In thesis
1. Letters & Bytes: Sociotechnical Studies of Distance Education
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Letters & Bytes: Sociotechnical Studies of Distance Education
2009 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Alternative title[sv]
Brev och bytes : Sociotekniska studier av distansundervisning
Abstract [en]

This dissertation studies the social aspects of technology in distance education trough the lens of history – in the form of correspondence education – and a possible future – in the form of a project of technical standardization, Learning Objects. The studied cases form a reflexive tool that allows the present of distance education to be seen in perspective.

In the case of correspondence education, the dissertation shows how the mundane technologies of correspondence letters, grading-forms, answer-templates and self-tests create a specific mode of organizing distance education that bridges the rift between the two major trends in educational modernity: massification and individualization. This attempt brought with it specific consequences for the organization of correspondence education: educators tried to devise methods for individual instruction, but at the same time they tried to industrialize the production through the mass-production of instructional letters. Hence, particular identities and modes of organizing education and arose. The correspondence education cases are studied through conference proceedings and archive material.

The contemporary cases study the heterogeneous construction of technical standards for the exchange of distance education material between computer systems, so-called Learning Objects. Through these cases, the dissertation shows that Learning Objects are closely tied to a dream of economies of scale and a market for distance education material with particular epistemic and technical consequences. Furthermore, the cases show how the attempt to create economies of scale results in an object oriented and modular way of reusing educational material; and how this modularization leads to an objectified mode of handling knowledge with emphasis on atomization of knowledge, as well as the protection of intellectual property rights through DRM-Technology.  The contemporary cases are studied through technical standards and text-analysis.

Abstract [sv]

Denna avhandling är en sociologisk studie av distansutbildningsteknik. Denna studeras genom ett historiskt fall i form av korrespondensutbildning - och en möjlig framtid i form av lärobjekt, vilket är ett tekniskt standardiseringsprojekt. Båda fallen utgör ett reflexivt verktyg som gör det möjligt att se dagens distansutbildningi perspektiv.

När det gäller korrespondensundervisning, visar avhandlingen hur vardagliga tekniker i form av korrespondensbrev, berygsblanketter, svarsmallar och självtester skapade ett särskilt sätt att organisera undervisningen som sökte överbrygga klyftan mellan två stora trender i utbildningsmoderniteten: massifiering och individualisering. Detta försök förde med sig specifika konsekvenser för organiseringen av korrespondensundervisningen där skolorna försökte ta fram metoder för individuell undervisning, samtidigt som de försökte industrialisera undervisningen genom massproduktion av korrespondensbrev, därmed uppstod också särskilda identiteter och sätt att organisera utbildningen. Korrespondensundervisningen studeras genom konferensmaterial och arkivmaterial.

De samtida fallen studerar den heterogena konstruktionen av tekniska standarder för utbyte av distansutbildningsmaterial, så kallade lärobjekt, mellan datorsystem. Genom att studera lärobjekt visar avhandlingen att de är starkt kopplade till en dröm om stordriftsfördelar och en marknad för distansundervisningsmaterial med särskilda epistemiska och tekniska konsekvenser. Försöket att skapa stordriftsfördelar resulterar i ett objektorienterat och modulärt sätt att återanvända undervisningsmaterial. Denna modulering leder till ett objektifierat sätt att hantera kunskap med tonvikt på atomisering av kunskap och skydd av immateriella rättigheter genom digital rättighetsskyddsteknik Det samtida fallet studeras genom tekniska standarder och textanalys.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköpings universitet, 2009. 186 p.
Linköping Studies in Arts and Science, ISSN 0282-9800 ; 498
sociology of technology, distance education, education, history of education, correspondence education, Learning Objects, standardization, actor-network theory, associations, translation, dispositif, tekniksociologi, distansutbildning, utbildning, korrespondensundervisning, lärobjekt, standardisering, aktörsnätverks teori, översättning, associering, dispositif
National Category
Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified Sociology History of Technology Pedagogy Information Science
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-53620 (URN)978-91-7393-518-0 (ISBN)
Public defence
2009-12-18, Vallfarten, Linköpings universitet, Linköping, 10:15 (English)
Available from: 2010-02-03 Created: 2010-01-26 Last updated: 2014-10-08Bibliographically approved

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