3.1 The concept of reusability
In order to clarify key issues around reusable learning content, it is essential to understand the concept of reusability – the property, or degree, of being reusable. The literature in the field of educational technology over last decade has been discussing the concept of "reusable resources" with the aim to promote efficiency and quality gains in education (Koper, 2003) through adaptable learning contents. The concept of reusability was initially introduced with the concept of Learning Objects grounded on the "object-oriented approach" in the field of software engineering (Blair et al, 1991; Booch, 1991; Meyer, 1988).
Several studies (Blair et al, 1991; Booch, 1991; Meyer, 1988; Koper, 2003) highlight that reusable educational resources, follow at least three features: abstracted, granular and encapsulated. First, learning resources must be abstracted from a specific pedagogy, context and media in order to be applied in different scenarios. Second, the learning resources must be granular, that means small (e.g. smaller than a course) in order to be applied in different courses. Third, learning resources must stand on their own in order to be aggregated in several ways.
Criticisms around these features, however, have highlighted that well-specified rules, formats and sizes might also destroy the potential reusability. Without some sense for designing an educational resource for reuse, it has been suggested that they might become nothing more than a grab of unrelated and insignificant stuff (Wiley, 2003). Some of this current literature has been highlighting more flexible and pragmatic principles for content development for reuse which have been summarised by the five issues presented in the list below. More details related to these key issues can be found in the publically available series of ICOPER deliverables: D2.1, D4.1, D5.1, D6.1 and D7.3a. In summary the five significant issues are:
Clear learning outcomes: reusable resources can be designed in a way that address our own learner’s needs, and then generalise to hypothetical cases of reuse from there (Wiley, 2003). More information about learning outcomes can be found in the ICOPER deliverable D2.1 (Najjar et al, 2009).
Well-described content: either small chunks or large sections of courses can be pedagogically effective resources for reuse when their content is simple to understand and makes sense (Laurillard and McAndrew, 2003). More information about content development can be found in the ICOPER deliverable D4.1 (Connolly, 2009).
Opportunities for meaningful discourse: reusable content can be more significant when they are designed to be scalable, sustainable (Oliver and McLoughlin, 2003) and sociable (Wiley, 2003). More information about learning design can be found in the ICOPER deliverable D5.1 (Mueller et al, 2009).
Non-authoritative metadata: reusable resources can be more helpful when they offer the opportunity for (re)users to contribute to the metadata, for instance, by cataloguing the variety of real cases in which context can be wrapped around pre-existing resources (Wiley, 2003), or can be versioned for particular groups of learners. (Thorpe et al, 2003). More information about metadata can be found in the ICOPER deliverable D7.3a (Simon and Pulkkinen, 2009).
Principles for accessibility: accessible principles can be very useful for designing resources that can be reused by users with different needs (Treviranus and Brewer, 2003). More information about accessibility and assessment can be found in the ICOPER deliverable D6.1 (Agea et al, 2009).