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Reusable learning objects: what are they and do they work?

In this video Heather Wharrad talks about what RLOs are - their key characteristics and features.
RLOs provide a visual and engaging way of enabling anyone to share their stories, knowledge, and expertise. Whether you are a patient, healthcare professional, family member, student, or lecturer, you are all experts and have a story to tell. Here are some examples. In this RLO, students who have dyslexia tell us about the positive experiences they have while on work placement. Here, a healthcare worker talks about his friend Steve who has trouble with verbal communication. Steve co-authored this RLO. “Hello, my name is Tom” is about a young with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, or ASD. This RLO is aimed at those who provide support for children with ASD.
This RLO, looking at service improvement in health and social care settings, presents stories from a range of health and social care workers who have successfully improved working practises in their own area of work. So let’s look at what an RLO actually is.
RLOs have been around for a long time, and education and designers have defined them in all sorts of ways. Some may argue that RLOs have gone out of vogue. However, the health communities we work with have seen the impact of RLOs in different areas of healthcare and recognise the values of the RLOs and the ASPIRE approach to their development. Hence, we’ve stayed with the term RLO. Whilst the technology platforms and visual form of the RLO have changed over time and will continue to do so, the basic principle of what RLOs are hasn’t changed because they are based on sound evidence, and most importantly, we know they work.
For some, an RLO is any digital resource– even just a single digital image such as a photograph or an x-ray image. For others, it’s a whole online module. At HELM, we’ve always defined our RLOs somewhere in between these two extremes. Our description of an RLO is that they are short and self-contained multimedia interactive digital resources that address a specific learning goal or aim. So let’s break down the term Reusable Learning Object and explore these concepts in relation to RLO design. Reusable– this refers to the idea that the digital resource can be shared with others other than those they were originally designed for. This has implications for how the resource is designed.
You need to take into account the needs of potential users of the resource to get widest possible use and reuse. Learning– here, we made a distinction between transmitting knowledge in a passive way and engaging the user so that learning takes place. We do this in all sorts of ways, by adding activities providing analogies to describe a more complex idea, by adding quizzes for learners to gauge their understanding. This is where the pedagogy. Pedagogy refers to how people learn, so we often refer to pedagogically designed RLOs. Object– this gives us the clue that the RLOs are self-contained and portable.
Some people have used the analogy of LEGO bricks to describe this feature of an RLO, so the RLOs can be used on their own standalone resources, linked together to form a set of resources, or even to build a whole module. We have found that by involving key stakeholders in design workshops right at the start of the RLO development process, leads to RLOs that are well-aligned to what the users want, and this leads to reuse of the RLOs. We have run hundreds of storyboard workshops involving patients and carers, researchers, students, lecturers, and healthcare professionals, who’ve partnered us in creating RLOs. In this MOOC, you may meet other participants who want to develop an RLO in the same area as you.
It would be great if you could work together on your storyboard and specification.
When we asked students what they liked and disliked about some of our first eLearning packages before RLOs, they told us they wanted smaller, bite-sized resources that they could keep going back to check their understanding. Other research in multimedia learning has suggested the RLOs should be between about 6 and 16 minutes, and divided into between five and nine sections to optimise learning. So this is our ideal structure for an RLO. By focusing on a specific learning goal or aim, RLOs can be kept small and focused. In this slide, we are going to dissect an RLO to look at its characteristics. The learning goal is to understand why the use of protective gloves is important in certain situations in clinical practise.
This first screen introduces the topic, and you can see the other sections of the RLO at the top. Section three contains a drag and drop activity, and section four, a short video. These sections are followed by two more sections presenting more information about appropriate and inappropriate glove use. And having the self-assessment at the end of the RLO allows the learner to test themselves on what they’ve just learned. The RLOs all have text and an audio commentary to deliver the main messages or learning content. Some users of the RLOs prefer to learn by reading text, others by listening to someone talking. So it’s good practise to offer both options.
Audio is particularly helpful when there’s an animation or another type of visual presentation on the screen. In this case, reading text at the same time as watching the visual would be difficult. What we’re going to do is get the learners actively involved. In RLOs, we add elements to help the user to engage with the content by encouraging them to actively do something. It’s a bit like getting students in a classroom setting to do something to interact with the lecturer, rather than sitting back and passively taking in what the lecturer is saying. Which media components you use depends on the story you’re telling and the message you want to get across to your audience.
So you can begin to see how you build the RLO by presenting your story or idea using different media. But how do we know whether they RLO is effective? The last sections of the RLO include additional resources and a feedback form. Next week we will introduce you to the ASPIRE process. The E in ASPIRE refers to evaluation. So all the RLOs have a short feedback form which users can optionally compete and send back to us. This feedback form is one of the ways we evaluate the RLOs. In this map, you can see how we’ve collated the information from the feedback forms to show where people using the RLOs have come from.
They include the general public, people working and studying at universities, schools, and colleges, people from healthcare trusts, charities, and companies. This represents only a small number of people who have actually used the RLOs. It’s just those who have returned the feedback form to us. And in this slide, you can see all the users who’ve used the RLOs across the world. This is in at least 40 countries.
So now you know more about RLOs. Do explore the Helm Open site, and browse some of the RLOs that we have been developing with lots of partners over many years. Identify some of the characteristics we have described in this week’s session. Which RLOs do you particularly like, and why? Which features of RLOs would you like see in your own specification? How do RLOs differ from websites and other online resources you’ve used? Do share your thoughts on the discussion board. We’d love to hear your views.
Reusable learning objects or RLOs are a great way to share your stories and expertise. RLOs are self-contained, multimedia E-Learning resources addressing a focused learning goal or aim. In this video you will find out about what RLOs are – their key characteristics and features.
In fact, RLOs have been around for a long time and educators and designers have defined them in all sorts of ways. Some may argue that RLOs have gone out of vogue – however the health communities we work with have seen the impact of RLOs in different areas of healthcare and recognise the value of the RLOs and the participatory approach to their development.
Discussion points
Whilst viewing the video focus on which features of an E-Learning resource you think are important:
  • their size;
  • the type of media used;
  • the activities;
  • animations.
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