In his comprehensive look forward into The Future of Online Learning, Stephen Downes, takes a look at where we have come over the past 10 years and looks forward another 10 years. (See my other comments on "learning communities" and the "learning marketplace.")
Downes also reviews the idea of "modularity" or what has been referred to as "learning objects." He is not quite ready to abandon this idea even though he acknowledges that this idea has been not been as promising as many thought. In general, he reminds us that the "lego" metaphor has not been useful. So far educational content has not been reduced to small chunks of material that can be easily assembled into larger learning units. He has a couple of ideas that seem to help move this conversation forward. First, he suggests that the reuse of learning objects may need to shift from the teacher's hands to the learner's hands. In other words, he suggests that rather than teachers assembling content and connecting it together, the student collects learning materials and assembles this material for themselves.
He also comments that the size of a given unit of learning is shrinking. Rather than thinking about learning coming in course-size units he writes, "a 20 or 40-hour course may be appropriate in an in-person learning environment, shorter courses are more appropriate online, as short as ten or fifteen minutes."
In the end, he acknowledges, "None of our metaphors, such as Legos or atoms, describe this version of modularity appropriately. I once used the metaphor of objects in an environment....the objects function autonomously, connected, interacting, but not joined." Here is acknowledges Wienberger's idea about "everything being miscellaneous." Although this is true, this does not mean that it is not useful to create particular types of miscellaneous units that can be assembled into largeer integrated structures.
This does not seem to help us move forward. I remain unconvinced that we have either the right metaphor or the right "unit" in which to construct learning. I remain convinced that the simplest learning unit is a "question and answer." This is the smallest learning transaction and could form the basis for constructing larger learning units.