Museums and the Web 2005
Screen Shot: A schematic representation

Reports and analyses from around the world are presented at MW2005.

A Learning Objects Repository Management System for Museum Education

Ana Carolina Bertoletti de Marchi, Raquel Mello de Miranda, Antonio C. da Rocha Costa, Universidade Catolica de Pelotas, Brazil


This paper presents a system for managing repositories of learning objects that has been adapted for use in the support of education in museums. The system is able to manage several repositories of learning objects conformant to the IEEE/LOM specification, with metadata extended with a few items to make the standard more suitable for use in museum education. Besides having repositories of learning objects, the system also allows the creation of topic maps that help to index and retrieve learning objects according to the way they are effectively being used in the context of the museum. This complements the intrinsic description of a learning object provided by its producer and registered in the learning object metadata, with an extrinsic description provided by the museum educational coordinator. That description situates the learning object in the real context of its use, sustaining a better management of learning objects in dynamic environments like educational Web-based environments for museums.

Keywords: learning objects, repository of learning objects, metadata, topic maps


It is usual to distinguish (Colley et al. 2002; Carron and Carr-Hill, 1991) different forms of learning, according to the degree of formal involvement required from the students:

  • Formal learning: occurs in systematic ways, in educational institutions; it is usually obligatory, and leads to formal certificates;
  • Non-formal learning: occurs in systematic ways, is non-obligatory, and usually occurs in parallel to formal learning; does not necessarily lead to formal certificates;
  • Informal learning: occurs in unsystematic ways, in daily life, in non-obligatory ways; in fact, usually results from unanticipated opportunities.

Although we think that learning in museums should be considered essentially informal, the organization of expositions is regularly planned to further the learning of visitors, and  teachers and students comprise a significant part of such visitors; therefore, formal learning is a prominent activity in museums.

This paper concerns the Information Technology tools that museums can use to further the formal learning that their visitors can benefit from while visiting. In particular, it concerns Web-based resources that can help the pre-, in- and post-visit formal learning activities of visitors.

The work is specially concerned with the technology of learning objects, technology that recently has furthered the use of computers in education by producing systems and standards for production, delivery and consumption of educational material in modular, interchangeable and interoperable formats on the Web.

First, we present M-LOM (Museum Learning Object Metadata), a proposal to extend the IEEE-LOM model of descriptive information for learning objects with a few items conceived to help the construction of descriptive information for learning objects that refer to concrete objects belonging to museum collections. IEEE-LOM (IEEE 2003) is a standard for the structuring of descriptive information about learning objects that helps the interchange of learning objects on the Web, as well as their operation in different software platforms.

Then we present GROA, a learning objects repository management system that supports both stand-alone and Web-based storage, indexing, classification and retrieval of learning objects. The structure and functionality of GROA's two main parts (the repository of learning objects and the network of topic maps for classifying and indexing learning objects) are described in some detail.

Finally, we conclude with an overview of the future development of GROA and discuss its possible applications.

Learning Objects and the IEEE-LOM

As broadly defined in (IEEE, 2003), a learning object is "...any entity, digital or not, that can be used, reused or referenced during technology supported learning"

In the more restricted sense used in GROA (Sec. 5), a learning object is a resource (a digital file containing a document, picture, video, computer program, etc.) together with a descriptor, a set of descriptive information (called metadata) about that resource. See Fig. 1.

In cases where the learning object is mainly concerned with a concrete object, like   objects belonging to museum collections, the resource part of the learning object is an empty dummy file.

Screen Shot: The basic structure of a learning object

Fig 1: The basic structure of a learning object

In every learning objects repository management system, the metadata should follow some standard that prescribes a definite structure for such metadata, allowing for their interoperability among the diverse platforms and systems involved in the use of the learning objects.

The IEEE-LOM standard prescribes a set of 9 categories of metadata, each composed of several items, as shown in Fig. 2.

Screen Shot: Categories and items

Fig 2: Categories and items of the IEEE-LOM model

If GD_bio is a learning object containing the biography of a particular Brazilian photographer called G. Dimuro, typical items in the descriptor of that learning object would be:

General.Title = G. Dimuro – Uma Trajetória na Arte Fotográfica em  Pelotas

General.Language = Portuguese

General.Description = Biography of G. Dimuro, a photographer in the City of Pelotas, Brazil, in the early 20th century

General.Keyword = Biography, Photography, Pelotas

LifeCycle.Contribute.Role = Creator

LifeCycle.Contribute.Entity = A. Costa

LifeCycle.Year = 1999

Technical.Location = Library, section 2.12

Educational.LearningResourceType = Text

Educational.SemanticDensity = High

Educational.IntendedEndUserRole = Teacher

Educational.Context = High-school

The proposed M-LOM extensions add to some of those categories, as described in Sec. 4.

Topic Maps

Topic maps are an indexing and information structuring means, that have achieved the status of an ISO standard (ISO/IEC 1350:2002).

A topic map defines a multi-dimensional space of topics, characterized by sets of attribute-value pairs, related to each other by means of associations, and connected to particular resources by means of occurrence relationships. It creates an abstraction level over a set of information objects (like the learning objects stored in a learning objects repository).

Topic maps provide for indexes to the information objects, thus structuring the space of such objects, allowing meaningful navigation over them, as well as informed searches and retrievals.

A schematic representation of a topic map is shown in Fig. 3. Topics are represented by circles, information objects by rectangles, associations by solid lines, and occurrence relationships by dashed lines.

Diagram: topic map

Fig 3: A schematic representation of a topic map over a repository of learning objects

Topics in a topic map can (but need not) be organized hierarchically, through a hierarchy of topic types. For instance, one can have a hierarchy (like South-Brazilian photographers à Brazilian photographers à South American Photographersà American Photographers) for the organization of information about photographers in a collection of photographies.

Topics may be associated by any specific association relevant for the envisaged application. For instance, one can associate a topic named G_Dimuro (a particular Brazilian photographer) with the topic Pelotas (a particular city in Brazil) through the association birthplace.

Moreover, a particular learning object named GD_bio may be declared to constitute an occurrence of the topic named G_Dimuro_biography, which in turn may be associated to the topic G_Dimuro through the association biography_of.


Standards for metadata documents in museums have been variously proposed and used, e.g.:

  • SPECTRUM, for describing museum catalogs (SPECTRUM, 2004);
  • CHIN, for heritage information (CHIN, 2004)
  • MIDIIS, proposed by CIMI (Consortium for the Computer Interchange of Museum Information) for the digital information exchange between museums (CHIN, 2004).

None of the mentioned standards refers to the educational uses of museum collections. For such purposes, other standards have been used (e.g., the Dublin Core [DublinCore, 2004], the IEEE-LOM [IEEE, 2004], etc.), none of which were specifically designed  to contemplate the needs of education in museums.

Friesen (2004) mentions two main ways that have been used to extend the IEEE-LOM model: combining the IEEE-LOM elements with elements from other specifications, possibly introducing new categories to the standard; and defining extensions to the IEEE-LOM elements while preserving its set of categories.

The Customized Learning Experience Online Laboratory (CLEO, 2004) is an initiative that follows the second extension pattern, aiming at business learning. The extensions comprise alternative vocabularies for the items of the IEEE-LOM, as well as new elements to be added to the extant categories.

We have followed the CLEO form of extension of the IEEE-LOM model to introduce our proposed extensions. Those extensions direct the storage of semantic information about collection objects used in museum education.

In particular, we have defined extensions to the following categories and elements:

  • Additional vocabulary for the Location element of the Technical category;
  • Introduction of a PhysicalDescription element (numbered 1.9), in the General category;
  • Introduction of an EducationalLevel element (numbered 5.12) in the Educational category;
  • Introduction of an Owner element (numbered 6.4) in the Rights category.

Table 1 presents the new elements and their features.

Num. Name Size Order Value Space DataType
1.9 PhysicalDescription 1 Non-specified   String
5.12 EducationalLevel 1 Non-specified Level 1, Level 2, Level 3,

Level 4, Level 5, Level 6,
Level 7, Level 8, Level 9,
Level 10, Level 11, Level 12
Vocabulary (select one)
6.4 Owner 1 Non-specified   String

Table 1: the new elements and their features.

The Physical Description element allows the description of the physical aspects of the objects in the museum collection. The Educational Level element allows a precise specification of the recommended educational level of use of the learning object The Owner element allows the identification of the object's owner,  useful information in common cases where the owner of the object is not the museum itself.





Value Space


1.9 PhysicalDescription 1 Non-specified   String
5.12 EducationalLevel 1 Non-specified Level 1, Level 2, Level 3,

Level 4, Level 5, Level 6,
Level 7, Level 8, Level 9,
Level 10, Level 11, Level 12
Vocabulary (select one)
6.4 Owner 1 Non-specified   String


GROA (Gerenciador de Repositórios de Objetos de Aprendizagem) is the learning objects repository management system that is being developed at UCPel to support Web-based educational systems with easy manipulation of learning objects.

The system is structured into two main parts: the learning objects manager, and the topic maps manager.

The learning objects manager supports all the usual administrative functions required from a repository system (user management, access control, etc.) as well as the manipulation and search of metadata in the descriptors of the learning objects stored in the system.

The topic maps manager allows the creation and handling of topic maps to index and classify learning objects. A central, general purpose topic map can be created by the learning objects administrator for use by all users of the system. Besides, users can create their own specialized topic maps, to structure the space of learning objects according to  personal preferences. Both kinds of topic maps can be searched by all users of the system.

GROA can be used as a stand-alone application, with the user at the same computer where it is installed, and it can also be used remotely in two ways:

  • By a regular user, through a Web-based interface, using an HTML navigator;
  • By application programs (like Web-based learning systems), through the XML-RPC.

In the second kind of remote use, the internal functions of GROA are made available to the remote application through special procedure calls formatted according to the XML-RPC protocol formatting standard.

A third way to benefit from GROA is to embed it in a Web-based learning environment so that the environment can store its documents directly in an internal GROA system, thus treating them automatically as learning objects, and immediately making them available for other remote learning environments. This approach has been adopted in the ENSINET system, the Web-based learning enviroment that we developed at UCPel (ENSINET, 2004).


We have presented the GROA learning objects repository management system and the extensions that we have proposed to adapt the IEEE-LOM model to educational learning in museums.

The adoption of GROA, extended with the proposed IEEE-LOM extensions, in the MUZAR museum at UPF, made more precise the development of descriptors for the learning objects that we are developing for that museum. In particular, they helped teachers to precisely indicate the educational level at which they aimed the learning objects to be used, and the museum administrators to precisely indicate the physical location of the objects in the museum's exhibition.

Packaging and sequencing of learning objects according to the SCORM standards are already available in the GROA system, as well as its embedding in the ENSINET environment.

GROA is being extended with several new features recommended by the IMS consortium, in particular those concerned with remote accesses, so that it becomes standardized.

GROA and ENSINET were implemented on the Zope platform ( and in the Python language (


Carron, G. and R.A. Carr-Hill (1991). Non-formal education: information and planning issues. IIEP Research Report n. 90, Paris.

CLEO – Collaborative Partners (2004). CLEO Extension to the IEEE Learning Object Metadata. Available at:

CHIN – Canadian Heritage Information Network (2004). Available at:

Colley, H. et al. (2002) Non-formal learning: mapping the conceptual terrain, a consultation report. Learning and Skills Development Agency. Available at

Dublin Core (2004). The Dublin Core Standard. Available at:

ENSINET– The ENSINET Web-based Learning Environment  (2004). Available at:

Friesen, N. (2004) Semantic and Syntactic Interoperability for Learning Object Metada. In: Hillman, D. (ed.) Metadata in Practice. Chicago, ALA Editions. Available at:

IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC) (2002). Standard for Learning Object Metada IEEE 1484. Available at:

SPECTRUM (2004). Available at:

Cite as:

de Marchi, A., R. de Miranda and R. da Rocha Costa, A Learning Objects Repository Management System for Museum Education, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2005: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 31, 2005 at