Version 65 (modified by teemu, 13 years ago) (diff)

changing the order of the template chapters

Demonstration of LO template prototypes

Editors: Teemu Leinonen, Hans Põldoja, Tarmo Toikkanen

Contact details:: MediaLab, University of Art and Design, Helsinki

email: teemu.leinonen _at_

Keyword list: templates, collaborative learning, learning objects


Collaborative learning challenges the traditional roles of teachers, learners and learning material in a learning situation. In the design of online learning object templates we have attempted to answer these challenges. First of all we are aiming to support teachers as they learn to function in collaborative learning situations. We do this by providing templates that guide teachers to author material that has a pedagogical function in a collaborative learning environment, and also allows the teachers themselves to collaborate in authoring this material, thus experiencing collaborative work and learning in online environments for themselves. The resulting learning objects created with these templates are designed for maximum accessibility, interoperability, and versatility. This means that the learning objects created with the templates can be used in various learning scenarios, situations and environments. In this report we present the rationale and design results of the first three online learning object authoring templates that will be supported by the upcoming LeMill system (deliverables D3.3 and D3.4).


In WP3 we have designed prototypes of learning object templates, which content authors can use to create learning objects easily following the framework specified by the template. This report presents the rationale behind the design of these learning object template prototypes that will be implemented in the LeMill server software (deliverables D3.3 and D3.4). The goal is to provide online tools for teachers to collaboratively author learning resources that in turn support and encourage collaborative learning.

At first in this report we present the general design rationale behind the design of the learning object templates. Then we present three templates with contextual scenarios explaining what kind of situations they are designed for. Furthermore we provide template design documents demonstrating the user interface and human computer interaction.


Learning objects

The concept of "learning objects" is about a decade old. In 1994 Wayne Hodgins named the CedMA working group as "Learning Architectures, APIs and Learning Objects" (Polsani 2003). Hodgin's idea was to have interoperable pieces of information that could be combined like LEGO blocks (Jacobsen 2001). Since then there have been number of attempts to standardize "learning objects". In 2002 IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee agreed on the Learning Object Metadata (LOM) standard (IEEE, 2002). At the same time it defined the "learning object" as follows:

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

IEEE's definition has been criticized by a number of authors (for instance: Sosteric and Hesemeier, 2002; Polsani 2003; Leinonen 2005). The main concern has been that the definition is too broad. If everything is a "learning object", nothing is a "learning object". Because of this, in WP3 we have decided to use a slightly different definition. In WP3 we define a learning object as follows:

"“Learning object is any entity, digital or non digital, that is or is aimed to be used for learning, education or teaching.”'

This means that a person aiming to create a learning object is expected to hold some kind of vision about how and in which context the object could be used in learning, education or teaching. The "learning object likeness" of any object is defined only in the situation where it is finally used. If the creator's intended use of the object in learning, education, or teaching is never realized, the object will simply loose the "status" of being a "learning object".

In WP3 we also decided to make a clear separation between "pieces" and "materials". Pieces are not learning objects – not even learning assets (pieces of learning content that are smaller than learning objects, and thus not usable by themselves). A piece can be a single image, short audio file, or short video clip. A piece is something that is probably not very useful as such in a learning situation but can be used as a part of larger material or “learning object”. For this reason pieces do not carry any education or learning specific metadata with them. Only material – built out of pieces - are learning objects. As material are learning objects, they also carry learning object metadata (LOM) with them.


Templates are patterns used to create documents. Many people are familiar with templates from word processing and presentation software. However, it is not clear how much they are actually used. In WP3 we use templates for creating learning material.

In WP3 templates are patterns for creating learning material (learning objects) from pieces. The pieces can be in the person’s own hard disk or can be found in the CALIBRATE federation of repositories or in an online database. These media pieces – images, audios or videos – may be added into predefined slots in the template, and the textual content may be written or pasted into dedicated.

Collaborative learning

Collaborative learning is an umbrella term for learning activities taking place in the form of an interaction among a group of people. The 'density' of intensity of the collaboration can - for instance - be broken down to five steps:

(1) Solo activity where there are individual objects, individual scripts of processes, and little or no communication between subjects;

(2) Coordinated activity with individual objects, but shared scripts of working processes, and little or no communication between the subjects;

(3) Cooperative activity with one shared object and script of process and some communication;

(4) Collaborative activity with shared objects, various shared alternative scripts of processes and lots of communication;

(5) Co-constructive activity with shared objects, but also the scripts of processes are objects to work on with lots of communication.

In WP3 we try to support all these kinds of collaborative learning, from solo activity with little or no communication between the individuals to co-constructive activity that is continuously developing its processes. On the other hand, we try to enhance collaborative learning among the students by enabling them to take advantage of the learning materials provided by the system, but also (by encouraging them to communicate with?) teachers and possibly other content producers to learn collaboratively when (co-) constructing learning material. (Comment: sentence is unclear)

Online tools for learning

Online tools for learning can be roughly divided into tools for (1) delivering learning content and for (2) tools for communication. However, this separation – especially in a digital online world – is rather artificial. Learning content is, of course, always communicative. It is always made by someone to be used by someone in some learning situation and context. In the digital online environment the state of affairs is different. First of all, the learning content can be under continuous review and improvement. Wikipedia is probably the most well known example of this. Also tracks of online communication may actually become learning content. Newsgroups, online discussion fora and blog posts are examples of tools that are often primarily used for communication but, as all the communication is recorded and archived, the material resulting from the use of these tools can also be used as learning material.

In WP3 we are aiming to support the production of shared learning material in a communicative process. The results of the process are expected to be used as source material that will support the students' co-construction of their own material in a communicative process. The students' own online collaborative processes will be supported with online tools that are particularly designed for this purpose. Fle3 Learning Environment ( is an example of a such a tool.

Challenges of collaborative learning

Collaborative learning, much more than traditional teacher-centered learning, focuses on learner interaction rather than material delivered or presented by the teacher. This leads to the development of new criteria for learning material, and eradicates many traditional perspectives on how we view content. For example, we no longer see material as information that must be "learnt" per se; at the beginning of the learning proces, learning material should not give full answers as this might hinder in-depth learning (Hakkarainen et al., 2005). The material should rather motivate students to build communities of inquiry around the topics. The material should also be easily available as a source that is used in the collaborative learning process.

The major challenge in collaborative learning is the appropriation of new methods of teaching and learning by the teachers themselves. Most teachers are not versed in collaborative pedagogical practices and very easily fall back on teacher-centered practices, even if the material they use could support a more collaborative learning approach. This is the challenge that collaborative learning material also faces - it must be interesting, enticing, and motivate learners to investigate further.

Another challenge is the various methods of working collaboratively - in the class room, in small groups, from home using network connections, from museums, etc. Increasingly there is a requirement that learning material must be available and usable anywhere, anytime.

Templates for Online Learning Object Creation

The templates presented here are merely the first three that are being designed in detail and implemented fully. From the use of three first templates we will gather research data and aim to come up with research results that will help us to improve the current templates and design more templates. We assume that with five templates, which will be all developed in the course of the project, we will cover large majority of needs of making learning material for collaborative learning.

The design process of the templates has attempted to answer the above challenges as well as possible. Some general guidelines are:

  • Maximal accessibility;
  • Aim to cover number of different learning situations, contexts and locations;
  • As simple and intuitive user interface as possible; and
  • Usefulness in collaborative learning situations.

The three templates demonstrated in this report are rather different from each other. The first, the Progressive Inquiry Context Template, is probably the most ambitious try to support the progressive inquiry learning process with rich media content that will invite and motivate and take up students to the rather demanding process. The second, the Multimedia Page Template, is a generic page that is expected to be useful in number of different kind of learning situations. The template itself is simple, but the actual content of the multimedia pages can vary from images, audio and video clips to interactive Flash-applications and simulations. The third template, the Presentation Template, is in the first place designed for the needs of active online teachers and teacher students, who once in awhile are giving presentations of their work in different kind of events. We believe that this tool is important to gain critical mass of users to LeMill. Even that the presentation materials are mainly aimed for “documenting events” they can be used also as a learning material, especially in the cases when the presentation includes audio (later video) recording of the talk.

Progressive Inquiry Context Template

The Progressive Inquiry Context Template (PILOT) is used to support the progressive inquiry knowledge building process in the Knowledge Building discussion tool found in the Fle3 learning environment (Põldoja et al, 2006). Each PILOT consists of two parts - (1) a text version of the course context description and (2) a rich media teaser that is introducing the course context.

The following scenario describes typical usage of the PILOT:

According to her national educational curriculum, a six-grade teacher is starting a course in her classroom on wetlands. The course should have a perspective on environmental conservation and lead a student to understand what the wetlands are and why they are important. The teacher is an expert in the progressive inquiry learning method and has been using Fle3 with her students for several years. She has read about using PILOTs to support progressive inquiry and she is interested in trying out one of these templates. To compile a rich media PILOT she must record a voiceover audio and find relevant images to be displayed in the background. She makes some changes to the course context from last year and divides that text into 5 parts. The most complicated part is recording the voiceover audio, but after some attempts she manages to get good sound quality with her laptop built-in microphone. She easily finds some wetland photos from LeMill and adds them to the PILOT together with the voiceover recordings. After looking through the result she adds some keywords and research questions to the rich media PILOT. When she is starting her course in Fle3 she can import the text part of PILOT to Fle3. The course context will also have links to the rich media PILOT in LeMill.

LeMill will provide online templates that help teachers to write the text version of PILOT and compile a rich media teaser that has images and voiceover audio. In the first page of the template users have to write the title, short description and full description of the context.

Template demo 1/3 at:

After writing the text content, the users can add the first scene. They are asked to upload (or search from Pieces) a background image and a voiceover audio clip. It is also possible to add up to three keywords that will be displayed during that scene.

Template demo 2/3 at:

After the first scene users can add additional scenes. The final scene must have initial research questions that guide students to raise their own study problems and start the knowledge building discussion.

Template demo 3/3 at:

A typical rich media teaser will have about 5 scenes that last in all for about 2-3 minutes. It is possible to import PILOTs from LeMill to Fle3 Knowledge Building. In the Knowledge Building tool the teacher can make some final changes to the text part of the PILOT and start the course.

The rich media part of the PILOT will be a Flash movie that can play the uploaded voiceover audio and display the keywords and research questions on top of the background images.

Multimedia Page Template

The Multimedia Page template is the default template for creating learning material in LeMill. It enables users to compose media rich learning material that may include not only text but also photos, sound clips and videos. The template is designed so that the user has control only over semantically meaningful HTML formatting options (<em>, <strong>, etc.). Users have limited control over layout and no control over colours and typography. This way we can ensure that all learning materials look professionally designed, are legible and can be easily read, and are accessible using all modern web browsers.

The following scenario describes typical usage of the Multimedia Page template:

Lisa is a music teacher who is developing learning material (Comment: the problem with using the word material is that it does not have a singular use in English -i.e. it is OK to talk about a learning resource but you never talk about "a learning material") about Beethoven. There is a comprehensive article in Wikipedia, but it doesn’t fit her needs. She wants to have learning material with samples from famous compositions. Lisa writes some most important facts about Beethoven to multimedia page template and adds a photo that she was able to find in LeMill. She knows that there is a good selection of Beethoven’s compositions in the Internet Archive. She can add these clips to LeMill as pieces. There is no need to worry about copyright issues because the clips are in Public Domain. She adds a selection of sound clips to multimedia page template and publishes the material. This is a valuable addition to information that students can find from the textbooks.

The Multimedia Page template consists of text areas and piece placeholders. Text area has four symbol formatting options (bold, italic, subscript, superscript) and four block level formatting options (heading, paragraph, blockquote, preformatted text). It is also possible to create bulleted lists, numbered lists and hyperlinks. Users can have only one level of headings in the Multimedia Page. This prevents them from creating overly long documents with complicated structures. We expect that the typical granularity for Multimedia Page is for use in one lesson, not in a whole course. To have all the material for one course in one place users may use the "collections" of LeMill, or use some learning management system (LMS), or simply create another "course web page" with links to the Multimedia Pages.

It is not possible to insert images inside the text area. Images, sound clips and videos can be inserted in piece placeholders between text sections. Sound clips and videos will be played in Flash-based players.

Template demo at:

Presentation Template

The Presentation template enables users to publish presentations in LeMill. Our aim is to provide a possibility for those users who have done a live presentation somewhere to share it with people online. This way teachers can share their ideas, reflect on their own presentation and get ideas from other teachers' presentations. The Presentation template is not designed for sharing the presentation file so that somebody can take it and reuse for their teaching. (Comment: I think reviewers might have difficulty appreciating the usefulness of this template? Has it been co-developed with teachers? If so, it might be good to mention this here and why they wanted this sort of template, rather than saying that this is something WP3 thinks teachers need.) In WP3 we believe school education should not become lecturing with Powerpoint.

The following scenario describes typical usage of presentation template:

Mary is an English teacher who is an expert in using ICT in her teaching. From time to time she is invited to give presentations on that topic. Recently she was having a workshop about using blogs and social software in international study projects. Teachers who participated in the workshop became very interested in social software. In the evening Mary took some time to publish the presentation in LeMill. She exported the presentation as image files in her office software. In LeMill she wrote a short background info and uploaded the images to the presentation template. Mary decided to leave out some slides which were not so relevant for the web version of her presentation. She e-mailed a link to her presentation page to some of her colleagues and wrote a little note about it in her blog. A few weeks later she was invited to give another workshop on social software. She decided that next time she will record her presentation and put the audio file on the LeMill presentation page with the slides.

In the presentation template the user has to write the title of the presentation and some background information (when and where the presentation was given). It is also possible to upload an audio recording of the presentation. Initially three placeholders for presentation slides are displayed. The user is expected to upload individual presentation slides as image files. (Comment: upload individual slides seems a bit longwinded to me.) It is also possible to search for images from existing pieces in LeMill. Below each slide the user can write a short caption where she can explain the slide or provide other information that is important for understanding the presentation.

Template demo at:

The presentations will be published as series of slides that are all visible on one page. (Comment: If we have any initial evidence that teachers like this approac and formt , we should mention it here).


These online learning object authoring templates attempt to answer the various challenges posed by collaborative learning approaches. The templates are deliberately kept simple, small, and restricted, so that teachers are not tempted to create overly detailed materials that leave nothing for the learners to discover. The Progressive Inquiry Context Template is aimed at providing examples of interesting, motivating learning objects, whose main functions are to present a theme to learners and open questions, rather than provide answers. The combination of images, questions, and voiceover produces very captivating materials (Comment: see earlier comment - one cannot really say a very captivating material - plural necessary) that are more fun to look at than just pages in a book.

Viewing of the objects created with these templates has been made as easy as possible - they are all viewable in a normal web browser, using an easy-to-remember, simple URL, without authentication. This makes linking into them from any learning platform very easy, and also allows learners to independently search and browse for them.

Finally, in order to effectively teach using a collaborative approach, teachers themselves should routinely collaborate among their peers. As these templates are online, they allow teachers to collaborate when authoring. This provides the teachers with a good opportunity to experience the benefits and problems of collaborative work for themselves, allowing them to better function as teachers in a collaborative learning environment.


The authors would like to extend their thanks to the entire WP3 project partners whose feedback and opinions have helped the design process immensely. We also acknowledge the research and work done by EUN and the other CALIBRATE partners in the CALIBRATE project and in previous research and development projects. They have provided the foundation upon which this current work is based.


Hakkarainen, K., Lipponen, L. & Lonka, K. (2004). Tutkiva oppiminen - järki, tunteet ja kulttuuri oppimisen sytyttäjänä. WSOY, Helsinki.

IEEE P1484.12.1-2002 Draft Standard for Learning Object Metadata, Learning Object Metadata Working Group of the IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee (2002). Retrieved July 18, 2006, from

Jacobsen, P. (2001). Reusable Learning Objects. Retrieved July 18, 2006, from

Leinonen, T. (2005). Urinal as a learning object. Retrieved July 18, 2006, from

Polsani, P.R. (2003). Use and Abuse of Reusable Learning Objects. In: Journal of Digital Information, Volume 3 Issue 4, Article No. 164, 2003-02-19. Retrieved July 18, 2006, from

Põldoja, H., Leinonen, T., Väljataga, T., Ellonen, A., Priha, M. (2006). Progressive Inquiry Learning Object Templates (PILOT). International Journal on E-Learning. 5 (1), 103-111. Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Sosteric, M., Hesemeier, S. (2002). When is a Learning Object not an Object: A first step towards a theory of learning objects. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. 3 (2). Retrieved July 18, 2006, from