Over the last few years there has been a rapid transformation of published information into digital knowledge objects or learning objects. These objects are video, audio, graphics, photos, special purpose calculators, simulations, interactive data displays, and text. YouTube and The Khan Academy collections are built on video objects while open courseware collections, and collections such as iTunes U, often include video, audio, presentation slide, photo, and text objects.
A different type of publisher, The New York Times, has started creating and publishing digital learning objects in support of its analytically-oriented news stories. These high quality special purpose calculators and interactive graphic presentations are excellent examples of digital learning objects.
The development of accessible collections of digital objects is emerging as new architecture for published knowledge. Understanding of the value of these collections is growing rapidly, especially in higher education. A great example is the prospect of a new higher educational consortium, Unizin, developing and supporting a significant Learning Object Repository (LOR).
The widespread availability of tools such as recommendation engines, automated adaptive learning, and, in particular online communities and user-generated content, mean that “smart” digital collections and communities will grow in importance in education, decision support and knowledge management. Digital tutorial collections and learning/knowledge sharing communities are already best practice in workplace training and workplace knowledge management systems. Extra-employer workplace-oriented tertiary education and training — from medical education at first rank universities to for-profit vocational training in engine maintenance and repair — is moving in the same direction.