Completing the Learning Object Lifecycle
Luis de Marcos, Carmen Pages, José Javier Martínez, José Antonio Gutiérrez, Juan Manuel de Blas
and José María Gutiérrez
Dpto Ciencias de la Computación, ETS Ingeniería Informática, Universty of Alcalá
Ctra. Barcelona km 33.6, Alcalá de Henares, Spain
Keywords: Learning object, learning object lifecycle, digital rights, digital rights management, e-payment.
Abstract: The learning objects paradigm actually drives the majority of researches and commercial developments in e-
learning field. Nevertheless, this paradigm has been harshly criticized due to the fact that it has not achieved
the objectives proposed in its initial definition. This, together with some false assumptions surrounding the
e-learning concept, have led costumers and organizations to the belief that e-learning have not met its initial
expectations, and have borne e-learning marketplace to a expansion lower than was expected. This paper
describes how two emerging areas within e-learning field, digital right aggregation to learning objects and
payment systems integration, can help the learning object paradigm to meet its initial expectations and can
help the e-learning marketplace to go beyond its current barriers. Digital rights and e-payment will enable to
complete the learning object lifecycle in an automated way, thus permitting on-demand, high-quality, low-
cost learning.
E-learning, when was initially conceived, was said
to become the greatest potential market over the
Internet, but “despite massive investments in both
hardware and software, there has yet to emerge a
viable market for e-learning products. Only course
management systems […] and PowerPoint lectures
[…] have been widely accepted.” (Zemsky &
Massy, 2004). These spectations have not been met
due to: (1) false assumptions and myths that have
surrounding e-learning since its very beginning
(Rosenberg, 2006; Zemsky & Massy, 2004), (2)
technology limitations associated to e-learning
(Barr, 2006; Sloman & Buren, 2003), and (3) lack of
pedagogical and didactic issues in technology-
enabled learning approaches (Feldstein, 2006;
Friesen, 2004; Sosteric & Hesemeier, 2002). E-
learning needs to overcome these problems and
limitations in order to fully achieve its marketplace
Within e-learning, the learning object paradigm
drives almost all initiatives. This paradigm
encourage the creation of small reusable learning
units called learning objects. These learning objects
are then assembled and/or aggregated in order to
create greater units of instruction (lessons, courses,
etc) (Wiley, 2000).
The technologocial-related problems in e-
learning are associated to the learning objects
paradigm and its related technologies. Among these
problems, two are gaining increased importance:
Copyright issues are left out of consideration (Bohl
et al., 2002), and the integration of payment
gateways within current e-learning systems in a
flexible way (Hämäläinen et al., 1996). On the other
hand, the society demands lifelong, on-demand,
adapted, high-quality learning, E-learning
technology must acommodate these problems in
order to as become flexible as the society demands.
This paper presents a solution to address right
management and payment integration problems
around e-learning initiatives.This solution is based
on the learning objects paradigm and it is viable
within the current available learning technology
status. Section 2 depicts this conceptual model
proposal, that is based on the definition of a
complete lifecycle concerning learning objects, since
its creation to its final delivery, billing and charging.
In section 3 the proposed model benefits are
de Marcos L., Pages C., Javier Martínez J., Antonio Gutiérrez J., Manuel de Blas J. and María Gutiérrez J. (2007).
DIGITAL RIGHTS AND E-PAYMENT IN E-LEARNING - Completing the Learning Object Lifecycle.
In Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies - Society, e-Business and e-Government /
e-Learning, pages 540-544
DOI: 10.5220/0001284805400544
presented. In section 4 the technological steps
necessary to made this solution operative are
described. And finally, section 5 outlines the extra
developments that could be done in order to improve
the proposed model and the e-learning solutions.
In order to automate the learning object process, the
complete lifecycle of that objects should be
considered. In the same way that in object oriented
paradigm the object lifecycle comprises from the
object creation to its destruction, in the learning
objects paradigm the initial and the final points must
be defined.
The learning object lifecycle begins when the
reusable learning objects are created by the content
creators. According to current literature, the learning
object lifecycle ends when that object is delivered to
the final learner (Daziel, 2002; Grewal et al., 2005).
Even if this delivery is done successfully according
to copyright restrictions (i.e. allowing access to
authorized learner or denying it to unauthorized
ones), we consider that this lifecycle should not be
completed until the moment the author gets the
return of investment of its initial development.
Figure 1 presents the learning object lifecycle
within the proposed framework. According to that
model, content providers create the initial learning
objects (LO). A digital right (DR) specification
(called rights object) must be attached to each
learning object to complement it in a twofold way:
First, it ensures that the copyright restrictions are
distributed with the object; and second it may
content the payment data (price, payment mode,
etc.). Payment data will not be attached when the
objects are intended for free use, but the rights
specification should be attached to the learning
object even if the object is intended for free use, “if
for no other reason than to avoid the risk of
inappropriate commercial sale of free public domain
items” (Daziel, 2002).
The learning object (with its digital right
specification) is then stored in a repository. This
repository, and other distributed repositories across
the Internet, must publish its learning objects
information in order make possible for federated
search engines to find them. When the resources are
published, instructors use a LCMS (Learning
Content Management System) to built courses by
assembling learning objects. These learning objects
have to be retrieved from the local repository or
from remote repositories using the federated search
system. The LCMS is hold responsible for
presenting license agreements to instructors, and
instructor must accept the licences in order to
include the learning objects in the courses.
After the learning experience (course) creation,
the course must be published in the LMS (Learning
Content Management System), so that the final users
(learners) can access the learning contents. Learner
connect to the LMS and access to the courses
designed by the instructors, when a specific learning
object needs to be accessed, it is delivered to the
learner so that he or she can receive the instruction.
In order to complete the learning object lifecycle,
one more process and two more flows are required.
A ‘payment management’ process must collect the
payment data from learners (provided by the learners
or by the organization he/she belongs to) and the
learning objects usage (retrieved from the LMS) in
order to execute the charges related to the learning
objects the have been accessed. The payment
management could handle extra issues, such as
billing and invoicing, discounting, payment modes,
etc. The LMS is hold responsible for presenting
license agreements to learners, and learners must
accept the licences so that learning objects could be
delivered to them.
Finally, the payment management process pays
to the content creator the owed amount for the
learning object usage. The payment management is
depicted as a process in Figure 1 and it could be
integrated in the LMS, it can be implemented as an
external system, or the service can be handled by
(outsourced to) third parties.
First of all, the proposed model makes possible an
automated and flexible processing of the learning
objects. The automated processing produces a cost
reduction due to the lowering of administrative tasks
and administrative staff that the organizations are
carrying nowadays to accomplishing such tasks. The
flexible processing is achieved due to the capacity of
the model to serve and charge the learners only for
that objects that are really using. This encompasses
(1) ‘the broader view of e-learning’ (Rosenberg,
2006), that it is the e-learning capability to deliver
critical-content and lifelong-learning, and (2) the
PaWYRN (pay-what-you-really-needed) model
(Binemann-Zdanowicz et al., 2003) for learners.
DIGITAL RIGHTS AND E-PAYMENT IN E-LEARNING - Completing the Learning Object Lifecycle
Figure 1: Learning Object Lifecycle.
WEBIST 2007 - International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies
Static and dynamic pricing models (Gruene et
al., 2005) are enabled, so that organizations can offer
contents in a tailored way regarding its necessities
and opportunities. Also, several payment models
(pay-at-once, pay-per-feature, pay-per-time) can be
used (Binemann-Zdanowicz et al., 2003).
Flexibility is also available to content providers
and instructors. Content providers could buy
contents to other content providers to ‘adapt’ it or to
‘include’ it in its own content in a flexible way by
making the suitable changes in the license definition.
Anyway, content providers could make its content
license-unchangeable in the digital right definition.
ROI (Return of Investment) and copyright are
guaranteed to the content creators. We think that this
is necessary to create a viable open e-learning
marketplace. Current open systems developments
lead to free systems and contents that are nonviable
for profit-driven organizations.
Courses assembled with learning objects from
different sources are made possible, while payment
to each of these source-content providers for its
objects usage is guaranteed.
Each component (and actor) of the system, and
its responsibilities, are clearly depicted. With such
separation, several organizations can enter into the
e-learning marketplace, and each organization will
offer one or more services. So, we could have in the
e-learning arena content providers, publishers and
repository managers (including repository system
vendors), federated search engines providers or
searching services providers, copyrights holders and
managers, LMS and LCMS vendors, and payment
The model comprises the complete learning object
lifecycle and enables a flexible control, delivery, and
payment of learning objects. But, what are the
technological requirements to make the model
First of all, compliance with current e-learning
standards and specifications is necessary. LOM
(Learning Object Metadata) standard (IEEE, 2002)
should be used to catalogue learning objects in order
to enable precise searches. Digital Repositories
Interoperability specification (IMS, 2003),
developed by IMS, should be used in order to ensure
learning objects storage and retrieval interoperability
among repositories. And SCORM (Shareable
Content Object Reference Model) specification
(ADL, 2004) should be used in order to ensure: (1)
courseware interoperability among different
platforms (LMSs and LCMSs), and (2) a common
pattern for describing and reporting access to
learning objects, so that learner could be charged for
them and content providers could be paid.
Available specifications must be extended to
incorporate digital rights and price modelling within
individual learning objects. Current literacy quotes
the lack of concepts in current standards for the
integration of copyright and price (Binemann-
Zdanowicz et al., 2003; Bohl et al., 2002; Downes,
2003; Gruene et al., 2005), and it present some
methods (and even implemented systems) to cover
the identified lacks. These methods include: (1)
Integrating digital rights expression languages
within the learning objects description. The digital
rights description could be attached to the learning
object or it could be stored externally and pointed by
the learning objects (Daziel, 2002; Grewal et al.,
2005). (2) Extending current metadata descriptions
to include digital rights or pricing models (Grewal
et al., 2005; Gruene et al., 2005). And (3), defining
new methods of integration regardless of current
specifications (Binemann-Zdanowicz et al., 2003;
Tschiedel et al., 2003).
Finally, the developed system/s should be
integrated with current commercial payment
gateways. For that purpose content provider and
costumer (learner) needs should be considered as
well. Possible payment models include pre- and
post-payment, as well as micro- and macro-payment.
Some improvements are considered for further
research in the near future. These include the
Automatic content adaptation based on learner
needs. Intelligent tutoring systems (ITS) and
adaptive learning systems are an active research line,
whose researches offer some possibilities that should
be reviewed in order to improve the proposed model.
Automatic content adaptation regarding interface
and corporate image issues. Organizations are
actually facing large investments just in content
adaptation to different platforms and to corporate
image interface requirements. The proposed model
should be extended to handle this issues by defining
methods that clearly separate interface and contents
in learning objects, and use
transformation/combination methods to create the
final content.
DIGITAL RIGHTS AND E-PAYMENT IN E-LEARNING - Completing the Learning Object Lifecycle
Web service integration. Web services can
improve interoperability between platforms, between
contents, and between platforms and contents. An
approach of the model from the web services side
could be described
Negotiation systems (so that different actors
could negotiate, between them, the terms and
conditions of learning contents) and more flexible
rights management (so that actors can deal, accept,
refuse, change or negotiate the rights flexibly) are
just another potential research lines.
Finally, not only learning object lifecycle should
consider, but e-learning lifecycle should be
considered as well. E-learning comprises the whole
learning process from the initial definition of the
learning objectives to its achievement and
notification (Daziel, 2002; Gruene et al., 2005). The
relation between the e-learning lifecycle and the
learning object lifecycle must be researched, aiming
the largest automation possible of the e-learning
process, while improvement of e-learning paradigm
and e-learning objectives are also taken into account.
ADL. (2004). Shareable Content Object Reference Model
(SCORM). The SCORM 2004 Overview: Advanced
Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative.
Barr, A. (2006). Revisiting the -ilities: Adjusting the
Distributed Learning Marketplace, Again ? Learning
Technology Newsletter, 8(1/2), 3-4.
Binemann-Zdanowicz, A., Schulz-Brüncken, B.,
Tschiedel, B., & Thalheim, B. (2003, 24-26
September). PaWYRN - Flexible e-Payment for
Adaptive Content in the e-Learning System DaMiT.
Paper presented at the Leipziger Informatik-Tage LIV-
Jahrestagung 2003, Leipzig. Germany.
Bohl, O., Scheuhase, J., Sengler, R., & Winand, U. (2002).
The sharable content object reference model
(SCORM) - a critical review. Paper presented at the
International Conference on Computers in Education
Daziel, J. (2002). Reflections on the COLIS (Collaborative
Online Learning and Information Systems)
Demonstrator Project and the "Learning Object
Lifecycle". Paper presented at the Proceedings of the
ASCILITE 2002 Conference.
Downes, S. (2003). LOM Rights. Retrieved 07-11, 2006,
Feldstein, M. (2006). There´s no such thing as a learning
object [Electronic Version]. eLearn Magazine.
Retrieved 05-18-2006 from
Friesen, N. (2004). Three objections to Learning Objects
and E-Learning Standards. In R. McGreal (Ed.), (pp.
59-70). London: Routledge.
Grewal, A., Rai, S., Phillips, R., & Fung, C. (2005, August
4-7). The E-Learning Lifecycle and its Services: The
Web Services Approach. Paper presented at the Second
International Conference on eLearning for
Knowledge-Based Society, Bangkok, Thailand.
Gruene, M., Lenz, K., & Oberweis, A. (2005, 03-06 Jan).
Pricing of Learning Objects in a Workflow-Based E-
Learning Scenario. Paper presented at the Proceedings
of the 38th Annual Hawaii International Conference
on System Sciences, 2005. HICSS '05.
Hämäläinen, M., Whinston, A. B., & Vishik, S. (1996).
Electronic markets for learning: education brokerages
on the Internet. Commun. ACM, 39(6), 51-58.
IEEE. (2002). Learning Technology Standards Comitee
(LTSC). Learning Object Metadata (LOM). 1484.12.1:
IMS. (2003). Digital Repositories Interoperability - Core
Functions Information Model: IMS Global Learning
Rosenberg, M. J. (2006). Beyond e-Learning: Approaches
and Technologies to Enhance Organizational
Knowledge, Learning, and Performance. San
Francisco (USA): Wiley.
Sloman, M., & Buren, M. V. (2003). E-learning learning
curve: Will they come, will they learn ? Paper
presented at the Conference Name|. Retrieved Access
Date|. from URL|.
Sosteric, M., & Hesemeier, S. (2002). When is a Learning
Object not an Object: A first step towards a theory of
learning objects. The International Review of Research
in Open and Distance Learning, 3(2).
Tschiedel, B., Binemann-Zdanowicz, A., Schulz-
Brüncken, B., & Thalheim, B. (2003). Flexible e-
Payment based on Contend and Profile in the e-
Learning System DaMiT. Paper presented at the
Proceedings of the World Conference on E-Learning
in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher
Education (ELEARN2003), Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
Wiley, D. A. (2000). Connecting learning objects to
instructional design theory: A definition, a metaphor,
and a taxonomy. In D. A. Wiley (Ed.), The
Instructional Use of Learning Objects.
Zemsky, R., & Massy, W. F. (2004). Thwarted
Innovation: What Happened to e-learning and Why.
Pennsylvania (USA): The Learning Alliance at the
University of Pennsylvania.
WEBIST 2007 - International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies