This is a question I come back often. I don't think I have an answer yet, but here is my understanding at the moment.
I asked the question is recipe a learning object before. I have also written two posts about turning it to a Learning object, both triggered by photographs. The first one is a wonderful recipe and the second one on a "physics" (???) problem. In yesterday's post, I also described some cans which I used when I was teaching Physics long time ago.
I would argue that a recipe is NOT a learning object by itself. If you put it in the sitting room, it may be a nice book on the coffee table. But it serves no training or learning purposes. It is the context of how you use the recipe that is the enabling factor.
The first photograph is interesting. Again, by itself, it is just an interesting photograph to look at. However, it is the rectangles and pop-ups that draws the attention and triggered something of the viewers. When it is placed in a discussion forum, the discussion exchange enabled the learning. Hence, I would say that there are two enabling factors here: the rectangles and pop-ups, and the discussion forum.
Yesterday's photograph was turned into a series of interesting exchange in the forum by the interesting title. Again, this title draws the attention of the viewers and triggered something inside the viewers' minds and started the learning process. The enabling factors are the title of the photograph and the discussion forum.
The cans I quoted yesterday are a collection of junks if you do not know how to use them and the purpose of these cans. (After I left the school, the cans were just that unless my successor picked up that idea!) The enabling factor is the set of instruction and the environment the students were in.
All these examples point to two things:
Firstly, some enabling descriptions which trigger something which spontaneously or otherwise set the enquiring minds of the user in motion. I would say that the descriptions (rectangles and pop-ups, title of the photograph and the instruction I gave to my students) are learning objects - their sole purpose of existence (at least from the creator's point of view) is to activate learning. However, interestingly enough, alone they make no sense! Without the photographs and the cans, the learning objects make no sense!
Secondly, there must be a suitable environment to foster the learning (discussion forum OR the laboratory environment). These photographs here do not serve any learning - you can see it, so what! Learning occurs only when the photographs are situated among a group of people (who have all been set into a learning mode) exchanges views and share experiences.
By the way, by reading this post, are you learning?
No, you are not. You have just read an opinion. You may use it to say some good words to me when we meet next time or you may also say how stupid Albert Ip is when you meet my enemies. (just a joke!) There is no utility of this little opinion here. However, if you respond via the comment below and if there are a number of exchanges, the people participating would have learnt something. It is because these people, including myself, would have negotiated a common understanding which will enable a shared meaning among us. For me, knowledge is the holistic collection of all those common understandings which I can use to communicate and hence achieve some useful tasks. A bright idea is just an idea. If this idea can be shared and produce some useful outcome, it becomes knowledge. Learning is the process that we acquire knowledge.