The term learning object has no formal definition, but is commonly understood to be “any entity, digital or non-digital, which can be used, re-used or referenced during technology supported learning”. This encompasses multimedia files, software tools, self-assessment documents, instructional content, and a wide range of other formats, media and functions.Due to this diversity, and the typically high associated cost of producing such material, it has become necessary to adopt a standardised structure and syntax for metadata (which contains key information about each learning object), enabling the quick and accurate discovery, evaluation and use (for example, in a Learning Management System) of such objects.
The two most common types of metadata model for learning objects are content packaging (which describes how multiple objects are used and navigated as part of a larger package), and learning object metadata (which describes the attributes of a single object).
The most widely adopted model for learning object metadata is the IEEE LOM. This metadata model is sub-divided into nine main sections:
- General. This includes typical ‘Dublin Core’ type information, such as identifier(s), title, description, and keywords.
- Lifecycle. A history of what changes have been made, when, and by whom.
- Meta-Metadata. Information about the metadata record, rather than the resource (e.g. who created the metadata, and when).
- Technical. Technical information and requirements, such as file-size, location, platform requirements and duration (e.g. for sound files or movies).
- Educational. Pedagogical characteristics, such as intended audience, typical learning time, and difficulty.
- Rights. Intellectual property rights, cost and conditions of use.
- Relation. Relationships with any other resources.
- Annotation. Comments on the use of the resource, typically by third parties.
- Classification. How the resource is classified in any number of classification schemes (e.g. curricula).
Apart from the generic ‘model’ – which contains over 50 distinct elements – the IEEE have also created bindings of the model in both XML and RDF. Of these, the XML binding is by far the most commonly used by existing publishers and software packages.
As the IEEE LOM model is a generic, all-encompassing standard, and is therefore too cumbersome/detailed for many organisations, a number of smaller, lightweight application profiles have emerged, which include the learning object metadata in SCORM, and the UK LOM Core.
 A ‘binding’ is a formal syntax/schema for the model.
 In this context, an Application Profile refers to a new model that is created from the subset of another.
 Or, to give it it’s full title, IEEE 1484.12.1 – 2002. See previous footnote for URL.