- Original research article
- Open Access
LODPRO: learning objects development process
© The Author(s). 2016
- Received: 23 September 2015
- Accepted: 15 June 2016
- Published: 19 July 2016
Research concerning to the use of technology in education has received increasing attention from scholars in recent years. This attention has resulted in new educational materials demanding creative ways to plan, develop, distribute, and evaluate them.
This paper integrates software innovation and management approaches, resulting in an innovative, efficient methodology for the development of learning objects (LOs). The process proposed in this research paper was applied in a case study in which two health-related LOs were developed.
The process proposed in this study is called Learning Objects Development Process - LODPRO. This work contributes to both theory and practice in the development of LOs, a field in which innovative techniques such as Design Thinking and the Business Model Canvas are fundamental.
Based on these results, we conclude that the present study offers a significant contribution to both theory and practice in this field. If used as a method to develop LOs that focus innovation, the techniques of Design Thinking and Business Model Canvas become fundamental parts of the process.
- Learning objects
- Innovation in software design
- Software engineering
Research concerning the use of technology in education has received increasing attention from scholars in recent years. This recent attention has resulted in the transformation of educational materials and the way in which they are planned, developed, distributed, and evaluated. Considering the ease of creating them, learning objects (LOs) have emerged in an attempt to support the teaching process and to disseminate learning through educational content . However, the concept of LOs is polysemic; examples of LOs range from small resources (such as the paragraph of a text) to very large resources (such as an entire training course in a teaching technique) . Broadly speaking, LOs are digital or non-digital instruments used for learning, teaching, or training . For the purposes of this paper, LOs are digital artifacts—in the shape of information bits—which can be used—either individually or as part of a larger effort—to aid learning processes.
Because they are digital artifacts, LOs are very closely related to software . Both of them share similar characteristics in their development and production. To ensure that software is being developed according to their specifications, we must first establish procedures, methods, and objects to be utilized in their development . Therefore, we insist that methodologies and practices in software engineering should also support the development of LOs. Software engineering, however, on its own is not enough to meet all the needs of those developing educational artifacts , calling for the need to identify more specific alternatives.
Given the issue previously discussed, Chalegre et al.  point to the agile methodology as a possible solution. Among other things, this methodology aims to reduce the length and costs to develop software, improve the quality of the final product, adapt to changes, promote daily tasks to reach a final goal, include the client in the development process, and fully integrate the development team. Through these, the agile methodology aims to improve and support the development of LOs, especially as it concerns design difficulties and issues with the multidisciplinary nature of LOs.
To fully support this methodology, this paper integrates four dimensions: software engineering, innovative approaches, business management, and quality management, always seeking elegant solutions that address users’ expectations . As of 2014, a search on the international databases of IEEE Xplore® Digital Library and Scopus®, as well as the Annals of the Brazilian Informatics Symposium, did not yield any conceptual frameworks that included the four previously mentioned dimensions being used in the development of LOs.
This study proposes a process for the development of digital LOs. In this paper, we address the following research questions: considering these four dimensions, which methods and techniques should aid in the development of LOs? How should we integrate these methods and techniques in the development of LOs? This paper is divided into six sections: this introduction, a literature review, related studies, methodology, results, and final considerations (including recommendations for future research).
In our review, we investigated the current state-of-the-art in four areas: learning objects, software engineering, total quality management, and innovative approaches.
There are no formal, universal definitions for LOs; there is only a consensus among scholars that these objects must have an educational purpose . The term “learning objects” was originally used by Wayne Hodgins, in 1994, in the CedMA research group named Learning Architectures, Application Programming Interface, and Learning Objects, which became a reference in the field of computer-assisted learning .
LOs are closely related to the object-oriented paradigm (OOP), given that this paradigm helps to manage and to maintain the code  and increases its capacity for reutilization, maintenance, recovery, and sharing . Thus, LOs are flexible, because they can be easily increased without overcomplicating their level of abstraction or compromising their efficacy .
Software engineering is a method for developing and maintaining systems. Some of its characteristics there is the fact that is a dynamic process; it allows for effective quality control; and it fosters productivity, planning, and management of activities, as well as resources, costs, and deadlines . Software engineering is also a discipline that establishes the principles of engineering, aiming to develop products in a systematic manner, resulting in an effective, trustworthy product .
Software engineering, however, in its traditional manner, can only be applied in circumstances in which the system specifications are stable. The lack of that requirement suggests the use of agile methodologies, justifying the use of these methodologies in the present work .
Processes and tools are replaced by individuals and interactions.
Extensive documentation is replaced by a working software.
Contract negotiation is replaced by collaborating with the client.
Following a plan is replaced by adapting to changes.
The most well-known agile methodologies are: Scrum, Agile Documentation, Crystal Clear, Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), and eXtreme Programming (XP). In this study, we chose to use Scrum; its benefits are evident given that it increased productivity by over 80 % and project quality by 40 % while decreasing cost by 25 % [Cohn 2010, apud ].
The smaller piece of the development cycle of a Scrum project is called “sprint” and is defined by iterations that can last 2 to 4 weeks, allowing the project in question to be versioned at the end of each sprint or to continue being improved in the subsequent iteration . Scrum implements a framework in which activities are conducted by people that assume three core roles : Product Owner, Scrum Master, and the Development Team.
Total quality management
The Plan, Do, Check, and Act cycle (PDCA) is centered around total quality management (TQM) . Shewhart (1931) was responsible for introducing PDCA concepts and the logic of this cycle. However, it was his pupil, Edward Deming, who developed many of the quality management techniques in which PDCA is based. Therefore, the technique is also known as Deming’s cycle, and over the years, Deming became one of the most important scholars of this area .
The PDCA cycle starts with a Plan, which refers to the planning stage of the project. The execution of the planned actions corresponds to the Do stage. The next step, Check, analyzes whether what was produced corresponds to what was planned. Finally, the Act stage includes mitigating possible mistakes or flaws in the product or its execution processes .
This section presents the main innovative approaches to software projects aimed at providing a better understanding of them and to present possible elements that can be added to the development of LOs.
Business Model Generation
The business model is an abstraction about how a business should work and how the organization creates, captures, and delivers value. Therefore, it is of key importance to have a business model that can be understood by all parties involved in the software innovation, and that is not overly complex to the point of negatively affecting the project [24, 25].
Business Model Generation (BMG) is a methodology that works as a guide that inspires the creation of a new business model or the improvement of an existing one. One of BMG’s tools is the Business Model Canvas (BMC), which is simple, comprehensible, and used by many large organizations . The tool consists of nine steps, aimed at capturing different elements involved in the business model, as well as ideas to facilitate the understanding of the project at hand . These steps are customer segment, value proposition, communication channels, customer relationships, revenue streams, key resources, key activities, key partnerships, and cost structure.
Business Process Management
Business Process Management (BPM) can be used in a myriad of contexts. Oliveira et al.  defined BPM as a collection of methods, techniques, and technologies that assist organizations in managing their business; this collection can be used to design, analyze, execute, and control business processes and can, among other things, be shaped by Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN).
BPMN is a graphic notation for specifying business processes; according to Gonçalves et al. , BMPN’s main objective is to give representation to users while also representing the complex semantics of processes. The graphic notation elements of BPMN are used to model most business processes  and were used in this study to support the development process of LOs.
Description of Design Thinking tools
Analysis and synthesis
The analysis is very important to break down complex issues as a way of better understanding them; yet, the creative process is based on synthesis or the collective act to join parts in the creation of complete ideas.
Very necessary when the goal is to obtain a wide range of ideas.
A prototype is any tangible object that allows for the exploration, evaluation, and development of an idea.
A way to communicate an idea with sufficient clarity. Vignettes describe potential situations using words and images.
Some methods are generically used in the development of didactic-pedagogic content, other methods are solely used for the development of software, and there are others that were designed specifically for LOs . This section presents works that are related to the content and context of this study.
A study by Amaral et al.  presents the steps for the development of LOs used by the Rede Internacional Virtual de Educação (International Network for Virtual Education—RIVED) and stresses the importance of team interaction and of using storyboards to route the development of LOs.
Pessoa and Benitti  discuss the elements included in the development process of LOs, focusing on the project’s conception, development, and distribution, but they do not cover innovative approaches to software development.
Finally, the Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation Model (ADDIE), presented in a study by Branch , it is commonly employed in the creation of LOs, but it is not used in innovative approaches to product conception.
Approach of the processes used in the development of LO
Learning object’s development process
We first conducted a literature search covering themes related to this study, more specifically: LOs, software engineering, agile methodology, BMG, BPM, and Design Thinking. We also searched for related works and possible gaps in the literature.
The selection of themes included in this study used a criterion that emerged from literature search, defined as a way to assure that the results would address the research questions and objectives proposed in this study.
Based on the selected elements from each of the four dimensions covered in the literature review, we established the development process for the LOs, here called learning object’s development process (LODPRO). This process was later validated through a case study detailed in the next section.
The present study aimed to demonstrate the applicability of the proposed process, which utilized all of the previously defined instruments. This process offers guidance to those interested in developing LOs, discussing the planning, execution, development, and evaluation phases. Further details on the process will be presented in the discussion section.
The proposed process
Case study on the process’ application
Based on LODPRO, we established the roles of the Development Team, a team of five individuals (two being physicians/customers and three being developers). The team met bi-weekly for 10 weeks in a local hospital that was well-known in the study site (Recife, Brazil); they also met weekly using Skype®.
First, the stakeholders identified the need for and the relevance of LOs that represented the extra-uterine and intra-uterine circulations. As defined by LODPRO, the development process of the LOs begins by creating a business plan (“Plan” phase), which happens during the immersion phase. The project team created this business model using the Business Model Canvas tool. After its creation, the plan was presented to stakeholders involved in the project, who herein on will be called “customers.” While the Scrum Master used Canvas to present the model to the customers, the customers registered their insights in insight cards. This represents the last step of the immersion phase.
The analysis and synthesis phase begins with the creation of a conceptual map by the customers, using both the presented Canvas and the ideas contained in insight cards. We used the brainstorming technique and selected a participant to act as a moderator. The customers came up with a multitude of ideas, and from these, a catalog was developed; the catalog contained a synthesis of all the ideas created in the project.
Task specification to model the business plan
Task: to model the business plan
Purpose: develop a business plan
Responsible: team with the help of stakeholders
Product work: business plan
Description: document that describe the strategies and organizational goals
Product work: business model
Description: it describes how the logical organization creates, delivers, and captures values
Name: Business Model Canvas
Purpose: illustrate and comment on the overview of the business model
Source approach: BMG
The “Do” phase began with the creation of a storyboard using the data collected during the previous phases and following a story line. We decided that two virtual LOs would be developed using the basic techniques of graphic design and sequential narration of images and text. In the analysis phase, we mapped products that had been previously created to understand their specifications and designs.
Task specification develop storyboard
Task: develop storyboard
Purpose: to prepare presentation script
Responsible: Scrum Master
Product work: business model, insight cards, conceptual map, and menu ideas
Product work: have to guide the business model Canvas, insight cards, conceptual map, and menu ideas
Product work: script scenes
Description: transposition script scenes, illustrated in scenarios and actors
Name: paper and pencil
Purpose: a visual representation of a story through still frames
Source approach: Design Thinking
Task specification check learning object
Task: check learning object
Purpose: verification of learning object
Responsible: Scrum Master
Product work: learning object developed
Description: verification of learning object developed
Product work: learning object
Description: checking if the learning object is according to requirements
The “Act” phase corresponds to the validation of the LOs, in which we would try to validate the LOs along with the customer and users. It was not possible to enact this phase due to the limited availability of stakeholders. Therefore, there is a need for future studies that address the validation of the process proposed in the present study.
Task specification validate learning object
Task: validate learning object
Purpose: validation of learning object
Product work: learning object
Description: users/clients validate the learning object developed
Product work: feedback of learning object
Description: users/clients give the feedback if the learning object is developed according to expected or if it needs to make adjustments in learning object
The literature review was the first step in developing the LOs here discussed. In this study, we applied techniques and tools used in innovative approaches. We also included methodologies from business management and software engineering. Based on the fundamental characteristics and definitions of LOs, we established 11 steps: create a business plan, present it using Canvas, create insight cards, elaborate a conceptual map, run brainstorming session, make the mind map, create the storytelling, analyze the project, develop the learning tool, verify results, and validate the learning tool.
The main aim of this study was to propose a development process for LOs that took into consideration aspects of software engineering, innovative approaches, business process management, and total quality management, hoping to accelerate the software development while also mitigating losses in quality and project documentation. We observed that, in some situations, it was necessary to return to previous phases of the process. As an example, when the evaluation of the LO indicated the need for improvements, calling for a return to the previously concluded development phase.
When the stages and steps in the process which needed to be adjusted were defined, the need to graphically represent the process emerged; that is, the need for creating visual elements that represented the LO’s development process. Considering the findings of the literature review on innovative approaches, we found the need for using BPM. This tool aims to provide a graphic representation that is user-friendly and intuitive when representing the complex semantics of the processes . Analysis of the characteristics and objectives at each stage concluded that they should be divided in phases; therefore, we decided to use the Plan, Do, Check, and Act phases from the PDCA cycle.
The proposed process also made use of elements from the agile methodology Scrum to manage the project, and given the aforementioned specifications, we could achieve a building process for the development of the LOs in question.
Based on these results, we conclude that the present study offers a significant contribution to both theory and practice in this field. If used as a method to develop LOs that focus innovation, the techniques of Design Thinking and Business Model Canvas become fundamental parts of the process. This work has also indicated the need for future studies that (i) define roles responsible for executing tasks and (ii) evaluate other innovative tools in a new case study, given that there is a wealth of approaches that are heavily adopted by the market.
This study was financed by the Brazilian Agency “Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior – CAPES.”
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