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the myth of reuse

Yesterday, during Brian Lamb’s excellent session on mashups, I had a little epiphany. Brian made a throwaway comment about learning object repositories and my mind wandered for a moment, and suddenly a shaft of light pierced the dusty fog in my brain and I realized this truth: reuse isn’t the point.

Back in the mists of time (technologically speaking) I wrote about learning objects, and one of the things I wrote is that learning objects should be designed to make it easy for the creator and others to reuse or repurpose them. This was the conventional wisdom of the day, but I don’t think it holds true any more.

The important thing now is not reusability. The important thing now is customization. It needs to be easy — really, really, ridiculously easy — to create something new. To reverse engineer. To change your mind, customize your message, substitute a different flavor, get the sauce on the side.

Back when I preached reusability, it was hard to make learning objects, and the amount of effort that had to be put into one justified the claim that reusability was desirable. But it needs to not be hard. We need ways that people — and not just geeky people — can decide one afternoon that they want to make a learning object (or call it what you will) and have it ready by dinnertime. It needs to be point-click-drag-click-clickclickclick easy. The tech isn’t there yet, at least not for everyone, but it’s getting very close.

Like Brian’s mashups, these things will have little existing pieces of other things pulled into them. This means the barrier we face isn’t just technological. We need to rethink ideas of ownership, permissions, fair use, and copyright. We need a model that works, so people can grab stuff, make stuff, and share stuff, and assemble it into a learning-object-of-the-moment. These things don’t have to last forever. I want something that responds to my instant need to communicate information by letting me pull words and sounds and clips and pictures and stuff together instantly. Let’s call it the Teachable Moment Authoring System.


  1. great point. we got so hung up on reusability that usability and creation/customization got lost. but, i don’t think you can “author” a teachable moment – those are the magical moments that may or may not happen depending on the chemistry, energy, and context of an instant with a class…

  2. Ninmah says:

    I don’t want to author the teachable moment — I want it to be so simple that I can author IN that moment.

  3. Gardner says:

    Or when “recollecting that moment in tranquility,” or when the “overflow of powerful pedagogy” strikes with all its inspiring force (apologies to Wordsworth in both cases). The idea as I understand it is to make it possible for teachers to build new tools, experiences, prompts, whatever for their students quickly, in response to inspiration or serendipity. It should be as easy to make as a handout–but unlike most handouts, it will be living and generative and interactive. Practical magic.

    I think it’s a great idea, and I think you’re right about learning objects. (I was inspired by Brian’s talk too, but in a different direction–more on that soon.)