Editor: Nicolas Balacheff, CNRS, Laboratoire d’Informatique de Grenoble
Contributor: Erik Duval, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
A learning object is “any entity -digital or non-digital- that may be used for learning, education or training” (IEEE LTSC 2002).
Comments on the history
The first functional use of the term “learning object” is often attributed to Wayne Hodgins, who used this expression in the early 90s (Polsani 2003, Saum 2007). The attention was drawn to this concept by the need for a more effective and efficient approach to eLearning , through the possibility of reusing educational/learning resources. In 1996, several events marked the emergence of the concept (Saum 2007), among them the European funding of ARIADNE  for the sharing and reuse of educational resources, the start of the Advanced Distributed Learning initiative  . the setting up of the IMS Global Learning Consortium , the creation of the trademark “rapid learning object” by EM-Assist Inc., and eventually the formation of the IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC).
educational object, teaching material, learning material, learning object metadata, reusable learning object, unit of study, instructional unit, learning resource, SCORM
Chinese: the most common translations are 学习对象 / 学习元 (cn) and 學習元件/學習物件 (tw) which literally mean "learning target". This may introduce a misunderstanding. However, 學習元件 which literally means “learning element” would be closer to the definition.
There are several definitions of “learning object” (see esp. Saum 2007): this diversity raises questions about the robustness of the concept either from an educational perspective or from a computational perspective. From an educational perspective, the definitions range from any object which may be used for a learning purpose, to the requirement that this object has a demonstrated pedagogical value. From a computational perspective, the definition raises the issue of granularity, some requiring the learning object to be atomic, and the issue of interoperability which explains the importance of technical standards related to this concept. A debatable issue is the independence of the learning object from specific instructional or learning theories.
IEEE LTSC  (2002) Draft Standard for Learning Object Metadata. IEEE-SA Standard 1484.12.1. New York: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.
Polsani P. R.  (2003) Use and Abuse of Reusable Learning Objects. Journal of Digital Information 3 (4)
Saum R. R.  (2007) An abridged history of learning objects. In: Northrup P. (ed.) Learning Objects for Instruction: Design and Evaluation. Hershey PA: IGI Global.