I attended a workshop on reusability the other day. Reusability is a big thing. We have 10 thousand middle school science teachers spending time and resources to come up with a better way to teach Netwon’s laws of motion. Why not create one really good way and let everybody reuse it?
But Robby Robson, the leader of the workshop, made an interesting observation. He said that, “context is the friend of learning and the enemy of reuse.”
For example, if I say that John Smith is the Homer Simpson of learning theorists, in a few short words and in a few short seconds, anybody familiar with the Simpsons will know that John Smith is not a very good learning theorist. Context is a very powerful learning tool. If I can describe or teach something within a framework that is already understood by the learner, then they will learn the information quicker, they will be able to recall it for a longer period of time, and they will likely encode it at a deeper level. Context is a beautiful thing to a teacher or an instructional designer. But if something is deeply embedded in context, the usability is drastically reduced. For those unfamiliar with the TV show The Simpsons, the above comment would mean nothing. It will take me more time and more words to describe John Smith the learning theorist.
So the obvious question becomes, do you design your learning artifacts to be efficient or reusable?