Open Source

Urinal as a learning object

I just came up with a new definition for a learning object. Funny enough I notice that it is not much different than the definition by the IEEE, which I have criticized in an earlier post in here. IEEE’s definition is:

“Learning object is any entity, digital or non digital, that may be used for learning, education or teaching.”(IEEE 2002)

My definition is:

“Learning object is any entity, digital or non digital, that is used for learning, education or teaching.”

Learning object is like Marcel Duchamp’s fountain – the readymade porcelain urinal. It is art, because an artist showed it in an art museum. Before it was brought in an art museum it wasn’t art. Hardly anyone, except Duchamp himself, even thought that it could be used as an art piece.

The same rule works with learning objects. Any object in the world can be used for learning, education and teaching. Any object can actually be exactly the right object to explain some concept or idea. Still they are not “learning objects”. They are only “potential learning objects”. They become learning objects only when they are brought in to learning context by an authority (teacher, publisher, the wise catwoman).

My definition also removes all pedagogy from the learning objects – like Bob McCormick has proposed. We must have descriptions (or case studies) explaining how the object has been used in learning, but never try to encapsulate pedagogy in the object itself. We may approach it by thinking the Amazon book reviews. There is always the “back cover” explaining what is the book about, but at least as interesting than this meta-data are the reviews written by readers.

Why am I thinking this? I was having a short phone discussion with my colleague, Terje from Tallin and Tampere. She is interested in to contribute to our ToolBox development as there are some parts that are closely related to her PhD research. She is interested in to think with us what could be a pedagogical template and how they could be.

While explaining her the basic idea of the Toolbox software – the separation, but loosely joined content, activities and tool entities – I ended up to explain it with the Duchamp example.

The content is content. It becomes learning content when it is brought in educational institution by the actors of the institution (teacher, student). If the very same content is brought in a museum by an artist it is art. The content is not build on a pedagogical template, but the activities are. The pedagogy is in the activities not in the content. Right?

4 replies on “Urinal as a learning object”

Great definition of learning objects. It ain't art unless it's art. It isn't a learning object unless it's used for teaching and learning. End of story. Cuts through all of the theoretical and standards BS to get to the heart of the matter.


Moi Teemu,Well exemplified, this is a very good way to explain the issue.I just put up something related to pedagogical quality of digital learning resources, a continuation of the work of R. McCormick and J. Anderson within a quality framework in the UK. They talk about pedagogical affordance of a LO that gives clues for users on how to use the LO for teaching and learning purposes. The less of it in a LO, the more liberty the users have to use the LO the way they want to. Reversly, it also add with more work for the users, as they have to come up with lesson plans, evaluation, etc. Workshop presentation:…J.Anderson's presentation:… An articleTen Pedagogic Principles for E-learning:…More about quality of e-learning at:


The "formula" we are using in the Tool Box development goes:(Content + Activity + Tools) + Learning Context = Learning Pattern Pedagogical affordance is a useful concept. But there are pedagogical affordances of a) content, b) activities and c) tools and they are all very different (we may call all these "learning objects", like Harold did, but only when they are presented in the context of learning). What people seems to forget is that affordance can be designed. This means that it is made such that one will perceive it.


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