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Reusable Learning Object Methodology – A way to design blended learning

It was in 2004 when I was introduced to the Reusable Learning Object methodology. Our training manager was awesome — he was business savvy, empowered us to do what we needed to do, BUT he didn't have a learning development background.

One day, he confidently instructed us that we now must design our training using the Reusable Learning Object approach. He gave a few more words of explanation and then let us ‘sort out the details’. My lasting memory of that time was one of our Senior Instructional Designers (whose courses were some of the best I’ve ever taught) scoffing at this approach, explaining how it just wasn’t possible, and neither practical... Needless to say, we never did it.

Fast forward to the present day: all the training myself and my team now develop is based on our Reusable Learning Object Methodology — or RLO — and yes, I truly believe that my old training manager was right!

What is a Reusable Learning Object (RLO) methodology?

A Reusable Learning Object is a digital self-contained and reusable entity:

  • an RLO is a small unit of learning typically ranging from 1 to 15 minutes — so for example, it can be a video, animation or a quiz;
  • an RLO is self-contained — so it does not reference other RLOs directly, allowing each RLO to be taken independently, or collated with others, which can then easily be re-ordered, thus providing great flexibility;
  • an RLO is reusable — so a single RLO might be used as part of training but also a Change Management campaign, or a single RLO might be used for the end of every course, thus providing consistency;
  • an RLO can be easily aggregated — so more RLOs can be grouped into larger collections of content, to create the traditional course structures we are used to;
  • an RLO is usually tagged with metadata — so each RLO has descriptive information allowing us to easily find content, and can then also be used to measure effectiveness.

How can RLOs be used in a learning strategy?

Well, multiple RLOs can be combined together using various tools, to create an effective learning course. The outcome learning course is often managed through a learning management system (LMS).

Depending on how the management of the learning content is evolving, the RLO methodology becomes more and more applicable, serving up bite-sized learning chunks.

Why use the RLO methodology?

There are many advantages to using reusable learning objects when developing your effective training program. For example:

  • the development time is less than that for traditional courses;
  • the content can be approved at an RLO level rather than at a course level, so there is less dependency on those time-poor Subject Matter Experts;
  • the content can be used regardless of the style of the instruction (self-paced, instructor-led, or blended), so RLOs can be used when creating an online course and can also be easily used to produce a face-to-face instructor-led course;
  • instructional designers can easily make amendments to content at just the RLO level, making version control easier;
  • ... and a whole host more.

Where did the RLO concept come from?

Me and my team at Learning Specialists can’t take credit for the Reusable Learning Object concept. In fact, Cisco created a White Paper back in 2003 that explains it thoroughly.

What we did do though is evolve our RLO Methodology based on our own experience, and continue to improve how we implement it.

Whether my old training manager read this White Paper or knew it existed, I will never know — but he was the first manager who had the conviction to tell us his opinions, point us in a direction while allowing us the freedom to still follow our own path.

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