Note: Downes goes into detail on many aspects that are not necessary for this course. You do not need to read the article in detail – your aim is to gain an understanding of what learning objects were and why they were seen as important.... and you'll see why I was unhappy. It's utterly sloppy design to leave you reading the whole thing before telling you not to!
This week's activities then follow on with one of the most spectacularly vague tasks ever, and judging by the stuff coming up on the course blog aggregator, I'm not the only person who thinks so. Our task is to look at several repositories of "open education resources" (OERs) and evaluate the suitability of the material presented for assembling a course on "digital skills".
I'm presuming that they've chosen the task title "digital skills" to allow it to be an open task, but they've taken the original MOOC philosophy to its erroneous ultimate conclusion. The philosophy of MOOCs (as embodied in change.ca) is the idea of learner independence, and the notion that learners work better when they can choose what to work towards, but yet unrestricted choice has been shown to be absolutely crippling, because with open choice comes indecision. (If you're interested in this idea, check out Barry Schwartz's TED talk The Paradox of Choice.)
Consider also that many of the great artists imposed limits on themselves, such as Pablo Picasso's famous "blue period" (not that I personally rate Picasso's work much), in order to stimulate extra creativity.
But here I am with an excruciatingly vague task description, and there's nothing in the task to force me to narrow down and focus on a particular aspect of the large potential space of meaning before I am expected to wade through gigabytes of texts and videos looking for things that are specifically relevant or useful.
And the course to date hasn't given us any real guidance on how to evaluate the usefulness and applicability of the material anyway. And we're back to this idea that there's no rules, and that individual creativity and "engagement" with material will show us the way, throwing out all the hard-learned lessons in pedagogy, instructional design and other closely related fields.
It is far easier to do a complex task by following a defined process than to try to intuit the process by attempting to complete the task. Early guidance can develop good patterns of activity that are internalised over time and become automatic.