How Reusable Learning Objects Can Help You Design Online Courses Faster

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Instructional design requires a lot of time, energy and resources to ensure truly remarkable results. That’s why the growing use of Reusable Learning Objects (RLOs) can be a great addition to the arsenal of tools available to course developers. These tools can be creatively reused to save time when designing eLearning lessons or creating editable course templates.

RLOs 101 – What Are They?

An RLO is an instructional design element that can be used for multiple purposes. They are usually small components that are developed for a specific use in one courses, but which can be conveniently reused in multiple future projects, often with a few simple custom edits.

For example, a video that’s produced for a particular eLearning course (say, Financial Literacy) could also be repurposed to serve an instructor-led classroom course, or be reused in other self-paced courses that are related to a similar concept or topic (like Accounting, Budgeting, Tax Preparation, etc).

It’s Not a Shortcut, It’s a System Unto Itself

Not every course you make needs to be designed from scratch. In fact, if each one is, you may end up with some very confused students (and design collaborators) who expect to encounter the same UX, same information delivery, and same visual design aspects each time they take one of your courses.

By comparison, imagine the dread you’d feel if every car you drove had a different user interface. That might put you off driving for good. But instead every car uses a variations on a core design template, so drivers of multiple vehicles won’t have to waste precious time figuring out how each one works.

Build Once, then Use Again… and Again

Good organization and time management are critical to producing efficient online training, meeting your deadlines, and staying sane. By looking at the bigger picture during your course design and development phases, you’ll start to see opportunities to build RLOs that can be creatively re-used for multiple applications. The time you invest now in creating those RLOs will pay dividends later, because each time you reuse an element you’re saving future development time — and over the course of multiple lessons all those saved design hours really add up.

What Can Become an RLO?

While not all training materials work well as RLOs, the following elements can often be repurposed:

  • Quiz and test formats
  • Visual layouts
  • Icons and reference images
  • Problem-oriented learning
  • Exploratory learning modules
  • Performance support courses
  • Blended learning environments
  • Job support tools
  • Help systems

5 Tips for Designing Reusable Learning Objects

Here are a few tips Instructional designers can apply when designing and applying RLOs.

  1. Modularize your content: Just like modular furniture that’s built using standardized components (nuts, bolts, screws, etc.), plan your eLearning courses in a modular fashion so they’ll rely on the same components (videos, graphics, assessments and quizzes) to come together.
  2. Size appropriately: If RLOs are built correctly, they can fit neatly within almost any related curriculum. Therefore, when building reusable content, make sure your components aren’t too large. For example, don’t create one single 60-minute video; create 10 six-minute segments instead. That way, each video can be conveniently plugged in wherever appropriate within the overall course design, rather than having to reusing a longer video that’s only partially applicable to a related topic.
  3. Be neutral: Wherever possible, create objects that are neutral without any specific cultural references. For instance, if your slides for a course about “Safety Procedures Around Fire Hazards” are gender neutral or industry independent, ISD professionals will be able to plug-and-play those RLOs for future courses designed for any audience or any industry.
  4. Get help: A large collection of RLOs can quickly become unmanageable and overwhelming. Therefore, eLearning professionals should work with Content Management Systems (CMSs) that can help create, organize and track their component inventory. That way you won’t have to go on the eternal “object hunt” each time there’s an opportunity to reuse one of your previously developed components.
  5. Leverage agnostic development tools: To benefit the most from your investment in RLOs, choose tools that are accessible, customizable, and responsive, such as CourseArc’s course development system that interfaces with multiple digital course delivery systems. Designing for the most commonly-used operating systems and browsers will also result in greater flexibility in course deployment while maximizing your return on investment (ROI)

RLOs in CourseArc

CourseArc lends itself very well to applying RLOs. It allows you to set up themes and icon banks that are independent of the content itself. Our built-in boilerplate functionality makes it easy to define reusable content. CourseArc also makes it easy to create reusable modules, like orientations or individual lessons, which you can then employ in multiple courses.

Image by Juhan Sonin via Flickr Commercial Use Creative Commons License

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